Vegetable gardening in August in Southwest Florida
August is a challenging month for the vegetable gardener in Southwest Florida. Our hot, humid, rainy weather is not conducive to growing our more common vegetables. For instance, while the season for my cherished Jersey tomatoes may now be peaking in New Jersey, preparation for tomato planting is just beginning here. This seems counterintuitive to those of us who grew up gardening in the north. Fortunately, the University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agriculture (UF/IFAS) provides planting guidance in many valuable resources. Two of these I frequently refer to are “The South Florida Gardening Calendar” and the infographics titled, “Edibles to Plant This Month.” Both resources give a month-by-month account of what to do and plant not only for vegetables, but for flowering plants, bulbs, and herbs as well.
With the direction of these resources, I have spent the last several weeks preparing my vegetable garden by solarizing the soil in my self-watering containers. This six-week process is a method of using solar energy to heat the soil to temperatures high enough to kill soil-borne diseases, pests, and weed seeds. It requires covering the soil with clear plastic and sealing it so that heat will not escape. Adding compost to the soil after the six-week period reintroduces beneficial insects and organic matter making it ready for fall planting.
According to these calendars, there are a few plants that will tolerate our August climate. They are the more heat loving vegetables such as tropical spinach, eggplant, squash, pumpkin and, yes, tomatoes. In fact, the best time to transplant tomatoes into the Southwest Florida garden begins in August and ends in February. Consider succession planting or planting a few plants at a time over an extended period to lengthen your harvesting season.
If you are interested in planting tomatoes there are several UF/IFAS documents to guide you. A quick review highlights the best practices for successful tomato growing. These practices include planting tomatoes in full sun and in very well drained soil. If space is limited, plant in containers with compost rich, organic soil. Additionally, container growing helps protect tomato plants from root damage by nematodes, a microscopic worm that lives in the soil.
It is important to note that not all tomato varieties do well in Florida given the extremes of our climate, the variety’s susceptibility for disease, and the possible introduction of pathogens. Ozores-Hampton and McAvoy (2017) provide a list of Florida friendly tomatoes in their article, “Tomato Varieties for Florida.”
Consequently, it is essential to buy disease resistant tomato seeds and seedlings from reputable nurseries and to create a “clean” weed-free environment for growing your plants. Research also shows that microirrigation is recommended as overhead irrigation can exacerbate disease potential. (Sullivan, 2020)
Whatever vegetable you are motivated to grow, help ensure your success by planting at the right time, in the right place, and following the tried-and-true practices researched and developed by the agents at the UF/IFAS.
Deborah Haggett is a Lee County Master Gardener Volunteer and a member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral. Visit us at www.gardenclubofcapecoral.com