Many homeowners, in one of the new homes in the Tampa, Fl area, find themselves experiencing gardening in a different way than they ever have before. For anyone who has spent most of their life in the cooler climates of the upper Midwest, New England, or mountain West areas, the Sunshine State is an upside down growing experience. Plants that you once grew only in summer are now considered winter crops, plants you never thought you’d ever grow are now year-round favorites, some annuals magically become perennials and garden pests and diseases you may have never heard of become your nemesis.
If you and your family are among the recently moved to the Tampa Bay area, here are some good tips to help you get accustomed to winter gardening in the land of sunshine and sea breezes.
1. Raised Beds
Raised beds are a popular garden addition right now, and you may find that in the Tampa area that they are a necessary item. Beyond weed control and clean lines, a raised bed also allows for proper bed drainage. With heavy rains and humidity, drainage can help to prevent bottom rot on vegetables and some forms of mildew.
2. Frost Blankets
Zone 9 gardeners don’t have to worry much about a hard freeze, but the occasional frost isn’t unexpected. If you have some sensitive plants that could be killed by even the lightest frost, consider using a commercial, floating row cover available at a local garden store, or even use an old, light-weight sheet from your linen closet. It’s likely that you won’t need to cover them more than a few nights a year, but being prepared can save your plants.
3. Use Local Varieties
One of the best ways to guarantee success, winter or summer, in your garden is to stick with varieties that have been tested in your area. Local garden stores and gardeners’ groups will have suggestions and trial results and can help you pick out the plants that are going to get you better results for your efforts. It might be that your favorite tomato to grow in Indiana isn’t going to work in Tampa Bay. But don’t give up, you might find a new variety that tastes just as good or better than what you’ve grown in the past.
4. Soil Test
If you are in a new home, it’s very important to do a soil test in your garden area. Dirt is moved and compacted quite a bit during the home building process and you’ll need to get a soil test done to see what your yard needs in the way of fertilizer. Your local garden center will either have soil tests available or can tell you where to get them done. Local university extension offices are also a good place to ask.
5. Watch for Wildlife
The warm Florida sun is appealing to more than just people. Birds and animals like it too. Some gardeners find it necessary to protect their gardens from birds and other small animals that love the tasty greens in the garden. Keeping birds and animals away has been a chore for gardeners for as long as they’ve been raising food, and there’s no fool-proof way to accomplish it, but here are a few ideas.
- Shiny, moving objects can scare away birds.
- Netting over your trees or plants can protect them
- Some gardeners swear by a hose coiled up like a snake to keep birds away.
The most important thing you can do for your winter garden is to simply enjoy it. Take time to spend a few minutes in it every day, soak in the oxygenated air and bask in the beauty of the earth. It will be as nourishing to you as the sunshine.