Regional Gardening Guide - Zone 9-10
March 1 to March 30-- Discover what you should be doing right now. Our experts share gardening advice, techniques, news, and ideas to make your garden the best ever.
Here’s what’s happening in your gardening region:
Even if the calendar says otherwise, it’s safe to say that spring has arrived here in the subtropics. Take advantage of the mild weather to plant the garden you’ve always wanted, whether it’s a vivid display of tropical flowers and foliage, or a patio filled with pots of plentiful produce. Since last frost dates vary widely within zone 9 and 10, consult the Burpee Zone Finder on this website to determine if you can start planting warm-season vegetables and flowers where you live.
Your Regional reporter
Steve Asbell is an illustrator, the author of Plant by Numbers and blogger of The Rainforest Garden.
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1. Start planting tomatoes
It’s finally tomato time again, and apart from a few possible frosty nights in zone 9a, the weather couldn’t be better. There’s a tomato to suit everyone’s grocery list, whether it’s ‘Super Sweet 100’ for snacking, ‘San Marzano’ for authentic sauces, ‘Burpee’s Burger Hybrid’ for burgers (obviously), or even ‘Patio Paste’ for growing homemade tomato paste in small spaces. Unfortunately, even the best tomatoes are susceptible to a host of frustrating pests and diseases. Since it’s less a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’, read the articles below to handle anything from hungry hornworms munching on your leaves to blossom end-rot and soggy bottomed tomatoes. If you’re just getting started with tomatoes, cut your teeth on easy varieties like ‘Black Cherry’, ‘Yellow Pear’ and ‘Super Sweet 100’ and Burpee’s ‘Big Boy’ hybrid.
2. Grow vegetables in containers
No space is too small for a bountiful kitchen garden, especially since many of the vegetables you know and love are offered in petite packages. If you’d still like to take a shot at cool-season vegetables, grow radishes and baby carrots in containers and thin the seedlings out as they grow. Their fast growth and short taproots will help them produce a crop before they flower and bolt. When choosing tomatoes for the container garden, select varieties like ‘Patio Princess’ and ‘Sweetheart of the Patio’ for their compact growth and prolific small fruits. ‘Porch Pick’ bush beans are perfect fits for small spaces, but even tall pole bean varieties can be grown in the container garden with a little support. As the temperatures warm up, grow heat-loving varieties like ‘Patio Baby’ eggplant and ‘Baby Bubba’ okra that keep producing all though summer.
3. Grow an Edible ornamental garden.
You don’t need to commit to digging a bed entirely devoted to vegetables. Choose varieties that are so gorgeous that they’ll blend into your existing landscaping with colorful foliage and architectural forms. There’s still time to plant attention-grabbing cool-season greens like collards, kale, and Swiss chard, especially if you grow them in part-shade so that they’ll stay cooler in spring. Turn a few heads by growing familiar veggies with a twist of unexpected colors and patterns in your front yard veggie garden. The creamy violet florets of ‘DePurple’ hybrid cauliflower are enchanting enough to tempt even the pickiest of toddlers, while intriguing heirloom squashes like ‘Ronde De Nice’ and ‘Delicata’ will impress the grown-up crowd with their elegant patterns of subtle hues and scrumptious, one-of-a-kind flavors.
4. Indulge in a tropical shade garden.
Don’t be discouraged if your garden is too shady to grow the flower garden you’ve envisioned. Once you’ve planted it with shade-loving impatiens, begonias and caladiums, you’ll start to feel sorry for the gardeners with too much sun to grow their own. Growers in zone 9 can take advantage of temperate perennials like Heuchera and Ajuga for their versatile scalloped leaves, while gardeners throughout the area enjoy the subtly pink-tinged pineapple flowers of ‘Sparks Will Fly’ begonia or the unusual peachy hues of ‘Salmon Splash’ Impatiens. For a full-on tropical effect, incorporate the big leaves of caladiums and elephant ears where they can contrast with flowers and fine-textured foliage.
5. Start a melon patch.
The window of opportunity is short in our hot climate, so start growing watermelon, cantaloupe and honeydew as soon as the danger of frost has passed – in zone 10 this is usually in late January or early February, while in zone 9 you’ll have to wait until the end of February. Some good watermelon varieties for hot climates include ‘Charleston Grey’, ‘Georgia Rattlesnake’ and ‘Sugar Baby’. ‘Galia Regalia’ and ‘Ambrosia’ cantaloupes are also appropriate for our region. Melons need a lot of space, so be sure they have plenty room to grow before you plant them in a tight spot. Plant them in 5-10 inch mounds and mulch thoroughly around the plants to prevent disease and pests. This is especially important if you live in Florida or along the Southeast coast, where rainfall and humidity can cause diseases where leaves touch the soil. Give melons a steady supply of water as they develop, but avoid letting water splash on the plant itself so that diseases don’t develop. If possible, prevent this by using drip irrigation on a timer that’s set to water in the morning.