So far, these are the main points about gardening in Naples, FL,(zone 10A) I have learned:
Up north, we plant in the spring and harvest in the fall. Here, we plant and harvest all year! Flowers blooms all year too! We can grow different varieties of regular garden and tropical veggies throughout the year. Tropical fruits, citrus, berries, and herbs will produce at various times throughout the year.
For a general idea, see the IFAS Gardening Guides for recommended activities, flowering, and fruits for each month.
Since I live east of I-75, I find better success planting new trees in February. For tropical fruit, citrus, and other trees, February planting allows the tree(s) more time for establishment. When possibility of a freeze comes (late December/early January), the trees are able to bear it more successfully. However, some gardeners have had success planting trees anytime since hard freezes rarely occur in SWFL.
While a few traditional herbs and vegetables will grow and produce all year, I find most herbs and vegetables grow best when they are planted in the fall. If planting from seed for transplant, start the seeds in late July and plant them in the ground when the seedlings are about 3 inches tall. If using the direct seed method, then you can plant anytime in September/October/November. You may have to cover some of your crops if a freeze comes. Each year, I try to plan it out so I can get a continuous harvest throughout the year. I follow the moon cycle for planting and I plant edibles every single month of the year based on soil temperatures. The heat loving plants can normally be started in March for a May/June planting.
In the hot summers, I use the season to prepare soil and rotate growing areas. I might grow a few things in pots, the propagation area, cover crops in garden plots, and a few shade areas. Okra, Swiss Chard, hot peppers, and some other herbs l will do well in the hotter months so feel free to experiment. There are many plants Northerners love that will just not grow well in this climate like Hydrangea, Peony, and Lilacs. If you love it, try it and if you have success, share it! For the most part, I make sure to check with references about plant tolerance for zone 10A prior to purchase. Retail nurseries generally carry what customers ask for and not necessarily what grows well in our climate.
Despite the rare freezing temperatures that only last an hour or two, the bugs and diseases don’t take a break. Since I am committed to healthy eating and a balanced environment, I use only organic solutions. My favorite reference for pests and disease is Dr. Arden Andersen’s book, The Anatomy of Life & Energy in Agriculture. You can find that book on my Deana’s Store page under “books”. I only spray a non-toxic solution when absolutely necessary but I ALWAYS spray liquid seaweed first and then provide nutrients as Dr. Andersen’s book suggests. This idea is a more permanent solution that encourages healthy soils and plants in the long term. I am careful with oils like neem oil; soap contains oil. The sun is very strong in our region so if you spray a plant with oil based preventatives like dish soap, it is possible the leaves will burn and you may kill some plants. While some plants will simply drop the leaves and grow new ones, other more sensitive plants might not make it. Thus, if I am using a soap or oil based solution, I apply when the sun is going down and rinse off before the sun is on the leaves! If you are not sure, research or ask.
The soil in our area is quite sandy and must be built up to nourish healthy plants. Heavy rains will wash away your work if you don’t plan well so follow some of the soil building tips I write about all the time! You will see some of my ideas and practices in the articles I have published; I’m always trying new things.
The water provided by the city has a pH of about 7.0 which is ok while out here in more rural areas, most of us have wells that pull a much higher pH through the limestone rock that lines the aquifers and soil layers. My soil tends to measure around 7.6. There are quite a few things we can do to help balance the soil pH; it is very important as it greatly impacts a plant’s ability to absorb nutrients. 5-6% organic matter on the top 6 inches helps to balance soil pH. Plants preference for pH varies but in general, I try to keep ours between about 6.0 – 6.8 (and am rarely successful) by using lower pH soil mixes for container plants, garden sulfur, pine bark/needles for mulching, and irrigation that is pH balanced. For irrigation I use collected rain water or treated well water when I can. I use either a digital or liquid pH tester every time I make adjustments because the well water pH changes. Once I determine how much vinegar is needed per gallon, I add the vinegar to the water at that ratio. It’s normally anything from 1/8 tsp to 1 Tbsp per gallon. If I am using a hose, I attach a siphon to the line and add the vinegar to a 5 gallon bucket adjusting the siphon rate to equal the correct per gallon rate. I don’t think this is necessary 100% of the time. I only do it when I have specific plants that respond poorly to high pH water like miracle fruit, coffee, blueberries, macadamia nut, jaboticoba, and a few others. Please note, too strong vinegar solution will kill plants. In fact, I use it to kill weeds. Find a pH test kit and check your measurements because your pH may not be the same. Not a perfect solution but it seems to help!