By Suzanne Schmidt
ZEPHYRHILLS — It is the time of year when the last of the cold spells are coming through and the promise of spring is right around the corner, which means it is planting time.
Jeanette Hall, master gardener, said now is the time to start planning and working on a vegetable garden.
“If you want to plant a vegetable garden, the first thing to decide is where to put it,” Hall said. “The site will need a minimum of six hours of full sun daily. It is also important to put the garden near a water source or hose so that it can be watered easily.”
In order to protect against pests and disease, Hall said it is important to rotate crops.
“If you plant tomatoes in one spot then next year you would plant them in a different spot,” Hall said. “Or if a vegetable belongs to the same family, then you would also not plant it in the same spot. For example watermelon and cantaloupe are in the same family so you would not want to plant a watermelon one year and then a cantaloupe the next year in the same spot.”
Once the site is selected, Hall said the next step is to create a plan for the garden.
“You need to decide how many people you are going to feed and what type of vegetable you want to plant,” Hall said. “The most important thing is the right vegetable for the right season.”
BJ Jarvis, horticulture agent for Pasco County, said this is the right time of year to plant the more typical vegetables.
“It is good to plant warm season vegetables like peppers, tomatoes, beans, cucumber and melons,” Jarvis said. “Vegetable gardens are very popular right now. People are really interested in growing their own food.”
The next step is to make sure the soil is prepared and this step needs to be done about at least a month in advance.
“First you should check the PH level of the soil,” Hall said. “This holds true for planting anything in the soil but for a vegetable garden you should have between a 5.8 and a 6.3 PH.”
In order to prepare, the soil should be tilled and the weeds taken out at least 30 to 60 days before planting the vegetables.
“When adding compost or manure it gives the plants the nutrients they need to grow,” Hall said. “Any kind of compost will work. If using your compost pile from your yard, you can put it in right before planting but any other compost must be put in at least 30 days before planting.”
Since there are many different types of fertilizer, Hall said the important thing to remember is to get a mix of phosphorus, nitrogen and potassium that is either 6-6-6 or 10-10-10.
The key to a healthy garden is pest management according to Hall. One way to help is to plant flowers among the vegetables because the nectar attracts more beneficial insects.
“I think it is important to not use pesticide in the yard,” Hall said. “Instead of using chemicals, I just check the garden every two weeks. I just pick them off by hand or use a spray solution (bio-safe plant spray).”
Hall said it is also important to remember there are two seasons in Florida in regards to planting, a warm season and a cool season. She said it is not like in other parts of the country where you can plant all year round.
“The planting days for the warm season are St Patrick’s Day and Labor Day and the cool season is Halloween,” Hall said. “Whatever you plant on St Patrick’s Day can stay alive until the heat kills it and whatever you plant on Labor Day can stay alive until the cold kills it.”
If some of the plants in the yard have turned brown because of the freeze, Hall said wait until the middle of March or until there will be no more cold snaps before trimming them.
“On March 15 people can go out and prune everything that is dead,” Hall said. “You can do it sooner as long as you know there are no cold snaps but if we get another freeze you will just have to protect the plants.”
The Florida Master Gardener Program is administered by the Cooperative Extension Service, which is a part of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Science. In order to become a master gardener, volunteers must take a 12-week training program and volunteer for at least 35 hours a year.
Jarvis said she thinks the master gardener program helps out the community in a variety of ways.
“There are 70 master gardeners that live in all parts of the county and only one horticultural agent,” Jarvis said. “They all have a love of gardening and want to share it with others. The information master gardeners are sharing is all unbiased, researched information.”
For those who are interested in becoming a volunteer, get acquainted sessions are coming up in March. For more information or to register, call (352) 521-4288, (813) 996-7341 Ext. 4288 or (727) 847-2411 Ext. 4288.
For more information, visit solutionsforyourlife.com.
Bio-safe plant spray
- 2 ½ tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 ½ tablespoons mild dishwashing liquid
- 1 gallon water
The spray repels aphids, lace bugs, mealy bugs, scale, spider mites, thrips and whitefly.
- Do not spray in sun
- Spray backside of leaves
- Spray again after five days
Information courtesy of the University of Florida IFAS extension in Pasco County
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