Growing Tomatoes in Florida
Growing tomatoes in Florida, especially in South Florida, is something that I have a great deal of experience with. So, for all you Florida gardeners, here are some tips for growing some luscious, vine-ripe tomatoes of your own!
Seasons for Growing Tomatoes in Florida – Winter
Here in South Florida, you can grow tomatoes practically year-round…with some caveats. One is that if you have ever had a frost during the winter, don’t grow a large tomato garden in winter, unless you are prepared to cover your tomato plants or you have them in containers and can bring them inside.
Here’s a sad but true story. One year I planted a gorgeous tomato garden, with at least a dozen plants (probably closer to two dozen). It had been a cool, but not cold, Winter, with sunny days. Beautiful growing weather!
Alas, one night it was expected to get down to around 40 degrees. I debated covering the plants, but figured they would be OK. They probably would have been if the temperature had stayed around 40. Unfortunately, they plunged to the low 30s, we got frost and my tomato plants died. What made it worse was that they were bearing a wonderful crop at this point! I was able to salvage some of the ripest (although still green) tomatoes, but lost most of the crop.
If you want to grow a Winter crop in South Florida, plant your seeds in September. I like to plant heirloom tomato seeds in the winter, as well as at least one variety of cherry tomato like Supersweet 100 hybrid
Spring is great in Central and South Florida. Generally mild with mostly sunny days, it’s a wonderful tomato-growing time. North Florida can still get chilly, though, so plan accordingly if you live in the Panhandle or around Gainesville and north.
Spring is the end of the Florida dry season, so remember to water accordingly, as the sun is getting stronger each day. Especially in South and interior Central Florida, it can get mighty hot in late Spring.
To harvest a Spring crop of vine-ripe tomatoes, start planting your seeds in December to late January. I usually plant a mix of heirloom tomato seeds, as well as hybrids. Some of my favorites include Cherokee Purple, Black Prince, Red Pear, Kellogg’s Breakfast, Celebrity, Better Bush and Supersweet 100.
Growing Tomatoes in Summer in Florida
For Florida in general, Summer can be brutal on your tomato plants. Nor only is the sun exceedingly strong, but it’s hot and humid — excellent conditions for mildew and gray spot to develop. I tend to not grow many tomatoes in Summer in Florida — I used to, but the heat and humidity just made it too difficult to get a good harvest.
Another problem you may run into in South and Central Florida is plants growing too fast and developing lots of cracks. So the tomato varieties I do grow are generally cherry- to medium-sized.
For Summer tomatoes, I sow seeds sometime in March.
Tomato Garden in Fall
Fall can be a nice time of year to grow tomatoes, at least in South Florida. If you live in North Florida and the Panhandle, you’ll want your main crop in for harvest by mid to late October. Central and South Florida can extend that a bit into November.
Fall’s main issue is how cold it gets how fast. Here in South Florida, we can get nighttime lows in the low 40s as early as November. I know this year, it’s been into the 20’s and 30’s in North Florida by late November — too cold for warmth-loving tomatoes. So the further north in Florida you live, the more you’ll want to consider growing your tomatoes in containers that you can bring inside when you get really cold snaps. Or — grow early tomatoes, so they ripen before the really cold weather hits.
For Fall, I like some of the cherry tomatoes and a bush type like Better Bush hybrid tomato
For a fall crop, I sow the seeds around mid-July.