Seasonal growing — for food and color

Short, cool days don’t necessarily scream gardening season.

But, many vegetables, herbs and beautiful flowers just love winter in Florida. December is a good month to plant cool season herbs, such as sage, dill, fennel, cilantro, thyme and parsley.

Veggies, such as carrot, cabbage, lettuce and cauliflower do well when planted at this time, too.

Azalea (Courtesy of UF/IFAS Communications)

Add a pop of color to your landscape by planting petunias, pansies, violets or snapdragons in December or early in the New Year.

Be sure to plant these in clusters — and stick to one type of plant to reduce the chance of cluttering the landscape with too many plants that don’t fit the rest of the landscape at this time of year.

Remember to collect those fallen leaves in fall and winter for use in compost, which will benefit your gardens later in the season.

Collecting the leaves is a great way to recycle and add organic matter to the garden for free. (To learn more about composting, visit:

January also is a great month for gardening in Central Florida.

Camellias come in a variety of sizes, shapes and colors. Some are even fragrant. January is a good time to plant camellias.


Deciduous fruit trees, or those that lose their leaves in winter, such as peaches, nectarines and plums, also should be planted in January. This gives their roots the best chance to grow and anchor the plant for nutrient uptake prior to the hotter and usually drier months of spring.

Start growing broccoli, carrots, lettuce, kale and potatoes at this time, too.

You’ve also probably noticed that many of the landscapes in Central Florida feature crapemyrtles. These small, popular trees charm us with color and variety, but often fall victim to heavy pruning at the wrong time of the year, which leaves them mutilated and struggling to survive.

The best time of the year to prune broken or crossing branches and remove seed pods from crapemyrtles is in January. Heavy pruning, or “crape murder,” is not necessary on these plants. A trim of slim, leggy branches will spruce them up in winter and prepare them for spring. (For more detailed information on proper pruning of crapemyrtles, visit:

Also, don’t let those colorful poinsettias you received as gifts in December go to waste. Plant them in a sunny, well-drained spot in the garden in January or February. They make excellent additions to the landscape. (Visit: for more information on using poinsettias in the landscape).

Azaleas, a Southern flowering staple suitable for the shadier areas, perform well when planted in February, as do many veggies.

While some veggies are cold-hardy, it might be necessary to protect more sensitive veggies on nights when frost or freeze is predicted. Cold protection, for sensitive plants, is necessary on nights when the temps dip below 40OF.


Minimize damage to sensitive plants by covering with a light blanket or sheet, making sure it extends all the way down to the ground so that the warmth of the soil can move up into the canopy of the plant. (For more information on cold protection, visit:

February is a good month to prune away old rose canes and do selective pruning to shape the plant. Fertilize in February with a balanced fertilizer and apply mulch at this time. Within two months, your roses should be blooming beautifully.

March brings warmer weather, but it’s usually quite dry. Winter annuals will start to struggle with the higher temperatures, so consider planting salvia and caladiums (a perennial) to provide quick color well into the summer months.

March also ushers in warm-season vegetable planting. Squash, peppers and beans grow well when planted in March. Tomatoes are widely popular, but don’t grow well in the summer; consider planting them as soon as the threat of frost has gone, which is normally late February into the middle of March.

As soon as azaleas stop blooming, prune them in late March to achieve a better shape and denser plant (avoid hedge clippers on these plants though). March is the month to begin fertilizing palms, azaleas and camellias. Use balanced fertilizers designed for each of these plants, as their nutritional needs vary along with pH requirements. (For information on landscape fertilization, visit:

Winter is a fine time to garden in Central Florida. You can prep for spring gardening, grow your own veggies and add beautiful color to your landscape.

Dr. Whitney C. Elmore is the UF/IFAS Pasco County Extension director and an Urban Horticulture Agent III.

Published January 2, 2019

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