Due to low temperatures, vegetable gardening may be challenging in the Florida winter months. Not many vegetables can survive in this kind of condition. However, there are some best vegetables to grow in the Florida winter you can try planting in your Florida backyard.
Their growing season usually stands between fall and winter, from mid-October to February, when the temperatures start to fall below 10°C. Therefore, they are often known as winter vegetables.
If you are passionate about vegetable gardening and want to get insights into the best vegetables to grow in the Florida winter, you may find our article interesting. We have collected several winter vegetable varieties to plant during the coldest months in Florida, along with the tips and tricks to care for them. Just bear with us and kindly scroll down for further information. Happy reading!
Table of Contents
- Vegetables That Grow In The Florida Winter
- Common Florida Winter Vegetable Pests
- Tips For Growing Vegetables During The Florida Winter
Vegetables That Grow In The Florida Winter
Cool-weather plants are the best vegetables to grow in Florida during the winter since they thrive in cold temperatures. Depending on the counties, the average lowest winter temperature in the state is around 5°C-18°C, while the highest is 18°C-25°C.
Generally, South Florida has a shorter temperature range compared to North Florida. Hence, there are few differences in cool-season vegetables that grow in both parts of the state. Meanwhile, winter temperatures in Central Florida range from 10°C to 22°C.
In North Florida, some examples of winter vegetables commonly planted during the season are cabbage, collard, beets, and broccoli. Meanwhile, broccoli, carrots, kale, and green onions are widely cultivated in the South Florida winter. Nonetheless, the characteristics of the best vegetables to grow in Florida winter are similar. They keep sugar in the roots to survive the cold temperatures, making them grow healthily despite the freezing surroundings. This aspect applies, especially to root vegetables, such as carrots and beets.
Before you decide to jump into planting, it is better to know which winter vegetable suits your local climate best. And so, we have written a brief guideline for you to start planting your own food in your vegetable garden. From leafy vegetables, and roots, to cereal grain, we have got you covered. Without any further ado, let’s take a look!
Arugula, or rocket plant, is a green leafy vegetable that belongs to the Brassica family – a cousin to broccoli and kale. It has flat leaves mimicking fingers yet with a long shape. This cool-weather veggie usually is harvested young and small since it is widely consumed in a vegetable salad. It tastes peppery with spicy and nut flavor hints.
Regarding health benefits, Arugula can help you prevent cell damage as it is loaded with antioxidants. In addition, the abundant vitamin K content can prevent blood clots that are harmful to health. Considering this aspect, it is safe to say that it is one of the best vegetables to grow in Florida winter. However, if you take blood thinner medicines, consuming large amounts of Arugula may reduce the effectiveness of the medicine.
Planting tips: It is a sun-loving veggie that prefers to grow under the full sun. This plant is not fussy about its soil requirements as it can tolerate a wide range of soil types. However, it performs best on rich, fertile, well-drained, slightly acidic soil with a pH of 6.0 to 7.0.
Harvest: Ready to harvest 40 days after seeding. If you grow them at a proper time, you can harvest Arugula in the two seasons.
One of the easiest and best vegetables to grow in the Florida winter months is beets. Beets are winter vegetables harvested from the roots, to be precise, their taproot. They have a red to magenta color from betalains compounds and are often used as natural food colorants. You can also add it to juices and salads. In addition, this veggie is also further processed into sugar beets whose sweet taste is not inferior to cane sugar, only with a lighter color.
Talking about betalains in beets, this pigment has several health properties, one of which is anti-inflammatory. Anti-inflammatory plays a major role in chronic diseases, such as cancer, heart disease, etc. Additionally, beets are rich in fiber that works for your digestive health.
Planting tips: Plant beets under a deep or light shade with less than 4 hours of sunlight exposure. As for soil, it loves fertile one. Hence, you may need to add compost prior to sowing the seeds. It also performs best in soil with a 6.5 pH.
Harvest: They are ready to collect after 4-8 weeks. Meanwhile, the leaves can be harvested after they grow large and produce a strong taste.
Belonging to the cabbage family, broccoli has a large flower head that remains green after harvesting. It has a crunchy texture no matter what cooking process you are doing.
But, we recommend quick steam blanching or stir-frying to maintain consistency and nutrition, including water-soluble vitamin C. Vitamin C is crucial to repairing damaged tissues and maintaining your immune system. In addition, it is also rich in vitamin K and calcium, which are beneficial for your bones and teeth.
Planting tips: Broccoli loves full sun; thus, make sure you plant them in an area with plenty of sun exposure. It also thrives in the soil, having texture between sandy and loamy clay with good drainage. In addition, a cool climate is always preferable to grow broccoli.
Harvest: Depending on the region, broccoli grows from January to June and is ready for harvest 80-100 days after planting.
4. Brussels Sprouts
If you take a close look, Brussels sprouts look similar to cabbage. It is even called a miniature cabbage. In fact, it shares a similar Gemmifera cultivar with the veggie. It is widely cultivated for its edible buds with around 1-4 cm diameter. Despite being a winter vegetable in Florida, Brussels sprouts can grow year-round if only they are protected. You can saute, stir-fry brussels sprouts with proteins or simply add them to your salads.
Besides the tastes and tiny sizes, Brussel sprouts are everyone’s favorite because of their health benefits. They are packed with protein and vitamin K. Additionally, they are also low in calories. Protein promotes muscle growth and repair and builds body tissues. Meanwhile, vitamin K is good for your bones and teeth and prevents blood clotting.
Planting tips: Brussels sprouts grow well in full sun. It also loves well-drained, loamy, rich soil loaded with organic matter. In addition, the soil pH must be maintained around the neutral range.
Harvest: The veggie needs 90-110 days after sowing to collect or when the diameter reaches 1-4 cm.
Cabbage is a leafy green vegetable with various colors that represent each cultivar, ranging from green, white, to purple. However, the main characteristics are the same, namely having compact leaves that form like heads. Unlike its simple appearance, growing cabbage is a tricky job because it is prone to caterpillars and other pests. Fortunately, they are easy to handle with anti-pest drugs and natural sprays.
Moreover, cabbage is in demand because it is high in fiber, useful for holding back hunger, and making the stomach feel full longer. You can add it to your chicken soup and shred it in your salad. However, consuming too much cabbage can cause reverse health effects, such as diarrhea and flatulence.
Planting tips: Like most cool-season vegetables, cabbage thrives in full sun. To obtain the best harvest, loamy soil with added organic compost is necessary.
Harvest: Cabbage has a pretty long time to mature, around 80-180 days.
Carrot is a root vegetable that generally has an orange color, though some other cultivars bear different shades, such as purple, black, and white. The texture is hard yet will soften when you boil them. Moreover, this cool-season vegetable is a perfect ingredient for many cuisines, including making veggie sautees, salads, or muffins.
Speaking about its nutrition, carrots are abundant in beta-carotene – an antioxidant pigment that will further be converted into vitamin A to keep your heart and liver healthy. Besides, they are also rich in soluble fibers that are beneficial to lower blood sugar.
Planting tips: This orange root veggie favors full sun on fertile, rich, loose, stone-free, acidic soil with a pH range of 6.0-6.5. To plant them, prepare 1/8 inch deep soil and 15 feet apart from each seed. Make sure the seeds have slight contact with water to keep their moisture.
Harvest: The harvest period is from 70 to 120 days after planting.
7. Collard Greens
This loose leafy green vegetable falls in the same species as broccoli and cabbage, commonly grown in a cool climate. It is loaded with vitamin K, which is essential for your bones. There are several ways to process collards, but the most popular are shredded raw in your salad, substitution for wraps, and quick sautee to avoid nutrition loss.
Planting tips: Prepare fertile, rich, well-drained soils under full sun to plant collard. Give space about 18 to 24 inches apart from each seed to allow the root to develop properly.
Harvest: 6-8 weeks after planting. You can either cut off the plant to the ground or leave the central bud to re-grow.
Same as broccoli and arugula, kale also belongs to the cabbage family. It is characterized by dark green, curly leaves with a crunchy and strong taste. If you do not favor such flavors, you better take young leaves with a milder taste.
Furthermore, it is one of the most nutritiously dense foods, containing an excellent amount of vitamin C, K, and powerful antioxidants that are extremely beneficial to tackling oxidative stress and preventing blood clotting. While you can cook Kale in various ways, such as stir-frying or sauteing, steaming is the best way to retain its amazing nutrients.
Planting tips: Kale prefers fertile, rich, moist, well-drained, acidic soils under full sun to grow properly. You can add compost to improve soil fertility. The best time to grow Kale starts from September to March, when the temperature is cool.
Harvest: Kale needs about 50-60 days until its maturity and ready to harvest.
There are many lettuce varieties, including romaine lettuce which has tall head dan deep green leaves supported by sturdy ribs. This kind of lettuce is also the most nutrient-dense variety among all, with more vitamin A, K, and folate per a hundred grams.
Vitamin A is great for your eyes, while vitamin K and folate prevent blood clotting and birth defects, respectively. Instead of cooking, lettuce is best eaten raw. You can add this leafy veggie to your salad or a green wrap with your sautee meats.
Planting tips: Lettuce is a sun lover’s veggie that thrives best on rich, fertile, sandy loam soil. Since it favors moist soil, you must provide an area with proper drainage; thus, it is well-drained. If you want to plant them from seeds, spread them in rows 3 feet apart on 12-inch beds.
Harvest: When the leaves reach around 6 inches tall or about 70-75 days after planting. Meanwhile, the lettuce head is ready to harvest after 55 days.
10. Sweet Corn
Corn or sweet corn is one of the easiest crops to grow in the Florida winter since it copes well with the heat and does not require much maintenance. This cereal grain plant is an alternative source of carbohydrates besides potatoes and rice. The fiber content is higher, helping you with your digestive system. Apart from being a staple food, shelled corn grains are also often used as ready-to-eat canned products soaked in a sugar solution that adds a sweet taste.
In addition, salad lovers also add it to the menu to provide variations in texture, taste, and color. Meanwhile, in South-East Asia countries, corn is popularly cooked into fritters.
Planting tips: This Cerealia grain loves full sun; thus, it needs a minimum of 6 hours of sun exposure. Below that particular duration, you will not have a good yield. You are also required to prepare a proper space with fertile, slightly acidic (pH 6.0-6.8), well-drained soil to have its best growth.
Harvest: 90-120 days after planting. In Florida, corn season starts from October to June.
11. Swiss Chard
Swiss Chard is one of the popular cool-season greens in Florida that withstands summer heat well. The characteristics of this veggie somehow fall between kale and spinach as they belong to the same family. It is identified by red to magenta stalks and veins on the deep green curly leaves.
Swiss chard is popular to sautee with other vegetables, leaving you with a softer texture after cooking. Or, add the fresh ones to your eggs and scramble them.
These cooking methods also help you preserve their valuable nutrients, such as vitamins A, K, C, magnesium, and copper. They are a pack of beneficial antioxidants that may protect your body from free radicals.
Planting tips: Swiss chard loves full sun but tolerates light shade. Regarding the soil, this green veggie prefers organic, rich, well-drained soil to thrive. You can add compost to obtain soil with plenty of organic matter.
Harvest: This vegetable is among the fastest-growing vegetables in Florida, only taking around 4-6 weeks until it is ready to harvest.
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Common Florida Winter Vegetable Pests
Besides spring, wet winters with high humidity are favorable for pests to spread. Aphids and caterpillars are the most common pests you will find when growing vegetables in Florida winter. There are some other pests, like whiteflies, leafminers, and thrips, but these two culprits are the troublemaker ones.
Winter crops that are prone to caterpillars are broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, and other brassica families. These caterpillars usually are from large and small white butterflies and cabbage moths. You will notice some small and big holes throughout the inner and outer leaves when this pest infects your vegetables.
Meanwhile, aphids can easily infect beets, lettuce, and chard since these winter veggies have aphid-transmitted viruses. Besides those three combos, bean, bok choy, cucumber, and potatoes have the same issue. This virus will let the leaves curl, leave mottled yellow marks, and inhibit plant growth.
Tips For Growing Vegetables During The Florida Winter
The keys to success in planting winter vegetables are knowing what to plant and the factors that influence their growth. By having such knowledge, you will not try from scratch or be confused about finding the best way to grow vegetables during Florida winter.
If you just scroll down below, you better scroll up to check out our list of the 11 best vegetables to grow in Florida winter. After knowing what you wish to plant in your green garden, it is time to jump into the tips and tricks to cultivate them.
A. Factors That Influence Winter Vegetable Growth
Several factors affect winter vegetable growth, such as soil conditions, lighting conditions, temperatures, humidity, and water.
1. Soil Conditions
Soil is a primary and essential medium to plant vegetables because this factor highly influences the minerals and nutrients your plants will absorb. Hence, it is crucial to choose which kind of soil your crops will be growing.
Even though most winter vegetables can thrive in various soil types and conditions, they prefer sandy-loam, well-drained soil to perform best. Sandy-loam soil provides better performance on your vegetables since its composition consists of sand, silt, and clay evenly distributed in a balanced proportion. On the other hand, they cannot stand heavy clay soil since this kind of soil has poor drainage and aeration.
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2. Lighting Conditions
Every crop needs the sun to thrive despite having a different proportion of exposure. Other than photosynthesis, the sun is necessary to increase dry matter in the soil – which is important for developing your vegetable plants.
Nonetheless, we must acknowledge that some vegetables will appreciate shade more than continuous sun exposure. Usually, these vegetables are appreciated based on their lack of color. Therefore, shading is a key to preventing excessive pigment development in such crops.
Almost all biological processes in plants are influenced by temperature, and winter vegetables are no exception. Each vegetable has its own temperature requirement depending on its variety.
This temperature contributes to photosynthesis, respiration, germination, flowering, maturity rate, yield, quality, harvest duration, shelf-life, etc. The temperature range for optimum growth for most crops in Florida is 40-65°F or 5-18°C. As they drop, the growth will be slowly hampered. Hence, it is important to know at which temperature each vegetable can thrive to prevent deterioration or failure in growing your greens.
Humidity is basically the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere. It is necessary for plants to obtain the required humidity to perform photosynthesis and prevent extra water evaporation from the soil during high temperatures.
In contrast, too much humidity brings drawbacks for winter vegetables as it can invite molds, bacteria, and pests to spread. Besides, this condition also stimulates rot roots and crown roots.
Water and humidity are inseparable unions as they significantly influence each other. The more water there is in the air, the higher the humidity. This also applies to soil humidity related to water requirements for your winter crops. Water requirements vary based on the root system.
Plants with deep and long roots can absorb the surrounding water, so they generally have better drought resistance than short roots plants. In addition to the root system, soil types also affect water requirements. Some soils cannot retain water well, for example, sandy soil. Sandy soil has poor water-holding, so excessive watering makes the water wash away the nutrients and vegetable seeds you have planted before.
B. A Brief Trick to Grow Winter Vegetables
- Choose your vegetables, and make sure they cope well with the local climate, especially in the winter temperatures.
- If you wish to have a spring harvest, start your seeds indoors for about 4-8 weeks before transplanting. It will allow the plants some time to grow without being exposed to the cold winter.
- Place cold frames for seedlings and vegetables in your garden to protect them from severe weather. Cold frames may also help sprout your plants better!
- Keep the vegetables well-watered but not too much! Water them in the warmest hours of winter (preferably at noon). Do not water the leaves, especially if the temperature falls below zero, as it can result in frost damage.
- Sometimes the wind blows so hard during winter that it may mess up your young vegetables. And for that reason, you may need a fence to break the wind. Create a mini fence around the garden for optimal protection.
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FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)
Should I cover my garden with plastic in the winter?
We do not recommend plastic to cover your plants in the winter. Even though it sounds easy and convenient, plastic is an unbreathable material that will not allow air exchange from your plant respiration and transpiration to the atmosphere.
In the case of vegetable gardens, you can try to cover them with a layer of cardboard, old carpet, or, if you must, black plastic, then let them lay through winter. Not only will they protect your plants from winter temperatures, but these materials will help you to deal with existing weeds.
How can I improve my garden soil in the winter?
Preparing soil before planting the best vegetables to grow in Florida winter is necessary to prevent weed growth that may compete with your vegetables. There are 5 ways you can do that, and here we sum up the tricks for you.
1. Mulch your soil
Mulching can maintain the soil moisture, especially in the dry winter when the moisture may reach extremely low. One of the organic mulch materials you can have for free is leaves. They are great for protecting the soil from harsh winters.
Besides, wood chips, straw, rice, and other grains are great alternatives. Or, you may try some inorganic mulch, like decomposed granite and pea gravel, to improve the winter soil before planting.
2. Grow winter crops
Winter crops are another option to cover the soil in the winter prior to planting. They generally grow a strong and huge root system beneficial for future plants since they can increase organic matter in the soil. Some examples of winter crops are hairy vetch and winter peas.
In addition, these crops leave nodules of nitrogen when you cut them back in spring. Without a proper nitrogen concentration in the soil, your vegetable plants may not grow taller and produce enough yield.
3. Allow winter weeds to grow
While summer weeds may grow aggressively and are often harmful to plants, winter weeds are the opposite. They are commonly allowed to grow as ground cover to protect the soil from erosion and improve soil drainage.
If you are concerned about their growing habit, remove them to the ground and compost them. Some winter weeds you can find and let grow are henbit, chickweed, dandelions, and bittercress.
4. Add compost
This last method may be the easiest one to go. But still, you have to know the trick! Add compost to a garden bed that sits empty until spring, then cover with an old blanket.
The blanket will regulate moisture that can reach the soil below the cover, while the bed itself benefits from the compost added to the soil.
Compost may increase dry matter on your soil, thus, boosting its fertility. Therefore, the soil is ready to use for growing your favorite crops.