Tropical gardening is different from gardening up north, but these tips will help you adapt
to the heat and mild winters to grow your best garden yet. If you’re lucky enough to garden in
zones 9 through 11, you can garden all year long without even slowing down in winter. While
everyone else is shoveling snow, you can be harvesting a salad from your veggie garden or
enjoying a breakfast of bananas and fresh squeezed orange juice. But as wonderful as it seems,
tropical gardening isn’t without its difficulties.
Gardeners in Florida and along the southeastern gulf coast have to contend with sweltering
heat in summer, but out west in Arizona and California, drought is the issue.
There are vegetables to plant for the summer garden, but the traditional summer
standbys of corn, tomatoes and watermelon will have to wait until fall. However, if you plant
warm season crops like peppers, sweet potatoes and eggplant in spring, you might be able to
still enjoy them through summer. Herbs are a bit tougher, and you can plant cilantro,
lemongrass, oregano, basil, mint, rosemary and thyme any time of the year.
To keep your garden green through dry summers, choose drought-tolerant plants like
succulents, ornamental grasses or natives whenever possible and use mulch to conserve moisture.
Install soaker hoses and water early in the morning so that all of the valuable moisture
actually ends up with your plants rather than evaporating in the harsh sun.
If summer seems a bit like a cruel punishment, then winters are our reward. Temperatures
rarely fall below freezing, which allows us to plant cool season crops like greens, broccoli,
carrots, peas, lettuce, spinach, cabbage, onions and garlic while everyone else is shoveling
snow off of their driveways. Mild winters are also ideal for growing winter annuals. Violets,
snapdragons, pansies, alyssum, petunias and sweet peas.
The downside to mild winters is that they make it difficult to grow many temperate plants
like tulips and cherry trees, which actually prefer a cold winter rest. If your heart is still
set on an apple or peach tree, choose one that has been selected for your region and has low
Frosts and freezes might be unusual in the subtropics, but unless you live in Miami or
Hawaii, they still rear their ugly head from time to time. On nights when temperatures near
freezing are expected, cover up plants with blankets or tarps to protect them from frosts.
For all of the heat and discomfort of the tropics, there are so many bold and exciting
plants to make it seem like paradise. Since some plants are better suited to Florida than
Southern California (or vice-versa), check with your local extension agent to find the best
plants for your.