Indian River County Extension Service
                                     1028 20th Pl, Suite D
                                     Vero Beach, FL 32960


FOR RELEASE: 8 September 2002

Daniel F. Culbert, County Extension Director


Ask a gardener what they should be doing in the September vegetable garden. Almost anyplace else, the tasks will relate to their final harvest or retiring their plants to the compost heap. But, here in east central Florida, fall is the time for soil preparation and planting - which means that our spring and fall chores are backwards from other areas of the country.

If your dinner plate desires high quality produce, your body craves some useful exercise, and your pocketbook could stand to save a few pennies, why not revisit that old Victory Garden. Todayís column will offer a few reminders and local tips to get springing into the fall gardening season. Information for todayís column comes from University of Floridaís esteemed vegetable Extension specialist Jim Stephens.


Steps to Successful Gardens

Site - Locate the garden on a site close to a source of water with at least 6 hours of direct sunlight. Vegetables may also be included in the landscape among ornamental plants. Where possible, donít plant the same kinds of vegetables in the same spot year after year - you will make pest management easier.

Plan - Before planting, make a paper plan, including vegetables you intend to plant, where, and when. You should use the Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide to develop your plan. (This bulletin can be picked up free at our office or consulted on line at Make a list of supplies, and then order or purchase what you need. Since every other place is gardening at the wrong time, finding gardening supples at the right time in Florida is often a challenge.

Soil Preparation - While most gardeners plant on whatever soil is available, your gardening success will be much greater if apply liberal amounts of organic materials to your garden. Spade or rototill the plot at least 3 weeks before planting. Then , rework the soil into a fine firm seedbed at planting time.

Bedding ≠ Elevated soil beds may be needed where puddling or flooding might cause root damage, and are also beneficial to root crops. Otherwise, it may be advantageous to plant seeds on a level surface to insure moisture in the root zone. Where beds are needed, they can be constructed with a hoe, wheel plow or garden tractor, in multiple rows, or in raised 4 foot wide beds. Usually, a bed height of 6 to 8 inches is sufficient.

Organic Matter - Organics such as animal manure, rotted leaves, compost, and cover crops improve water and nutrient holding capacity of our sandy, alkaline soils. Thoroughly mix in organics at least a month before seeding. Use 25 to 100 pounds per 100 sq. ft. if you do not expect to use granular fertilizer. Well-composted materials may be applied at planting. Organic amendments low in nitrogen, such as composted yard trash, must be accompanied by fertilizer to avoid plant stunting

Adjusting Soil pH - soil pH determines if fertilizers can get into your plants. Why not bring a soil sample to our office to find out your soil pH. The best soil pH range for gardens on sandy soil is between pH 5.8 and 6.3. If soil pH is between 5.5 and 7.0, no change in pH is needed. If your soil pH is below 5.5, apply lime at the rate recommended by a reliable source. If your soil pH is above 7.0 (alkaline) because marl, or shells are present, there is no practical way of permanently lowering soil pH. And adding lime to such a soil will create problems.

Fertilizing - commercial fertilizer is usually needed for Florida gardens. Gardeners find it convenient to use grades such as 8-8-8 or 15-15-15, and may broadcast up to 2 pounds of Nitrogen per 100 square feet to a garden. Check the fertilizer bag for appropriate rates. And consider placement, consider if broad cast or band applications are best.

Irrigation and Drainage - Provide sufficient drainage of excessive rainfall, while arranging for irrigation during dry periods. Frequency of irrigation depends upon your soil type; sandy soils need water 2 or 3 times a week. Conserve water by using mulch, organic matter, and techniques such as drip irrigation.

Weed control is probably the hardest task a vegetable gardener faces. Weeds are easier to control when small. In gardens, practical weed control is best done by hand-pulling, hoeing, mechanical cultivation, or mulching. Chemical herbicides are not suggested.


Many more useful suggestions can be found free Extension bulletins available at our office. An expanded paperback book, Vegetable Gardening in Florida , covers the subject for local conditions. It can be found at better bookstores, or can be ordered directly from the Extension bookstore: .  And, our first public program of the new season will cover Vegetable Gardening; it will be held on Tuesday September 24th, 10 a.m. at the north county Library in Sebastian.


If you need additional information on vegetable gardening, visit our Extension website or stop by our Master Gardener clinics. They are held at the Extension office (1028 20th Place, Suite D, Vero Beach) every weekday morning and most afternoons, Wednesday morning at the North County Library in Sebastian, and the first Saturday of the month at the Environmental Learning Center. Our phone number is 770-5030, and you can e-mail us at .