Selecting a Site for Your Vegetable Garden
Before planting your vegetable seeds or seedlings, you'll need to select an appropriate site. Take location, soil, microclimates, and irrigation into consideration as you decide where to place the garden.
For convenience, locate your garden near the house and close to a source of water. Vegetables need at least six hours of direct sunlight every day. When placing your garden, make sure you consider how other components of your landscape (like large trees) and the season (the sun changes location in the sky throughout the year) will affect how much sun your vegetables will get.
Make sure your vegetable garden site is not too close to any trees. Most tree roots are in the top 12 inches of soil and extend past a tree's dripline (where the foliage ends). A vegetable garden located too near a tree may compete with the tree's roots for water, oxygen, and nutrients.
You may not need a separate site for your vegetable garden—with proper care, edibles may also be included in the landscape among ornamental plants. It's also a good idea, if you have the energy and the space, to rotate the garden to a different site each season to help control soil diseases, nematodes, and other pests.
The soil in your garden site should be well-drained, meaning water won't puddle. Water-logged soil is anaerobic (oxygen deficient), which will result in drowned and rotted roots.
Florida's soils are typically sandy and low in the organic matter that provides a healthy soil for vegetables to grow in. Sandy soils also don't retain as much moisture as vegetables need. To improve the soil's nutrient content and moisture holding capacity, it's almost always a good idea to improve your soil. Soil improvement is as easy as tilling the soil and incorporating organic matter like compost or composted animal manure into it, ideally at least six weeks before planting. See the article "Organic Matter" for more information about improving soil.
The pH (acidity or alkalinity) of your soil can have a big impact on how available nutrients are to plants. In other words, if your soil's pH is not between the range of 5.5 and 7.0, your plants won't get enough nutrients, no matter how much organic matter you use.
If you live on or near the coast, your landscape may have soil that is high in salinity (salt content). In this case, you should consult your county Extension office for more information.
Microclimates are small areas in the landscape with slight variations on the weather. You can take advantage of these areas to maximize production in the vegetable garden, but they can also undermine your efforts if not taken into account.
Microclimates can come and go as the sun shifts from overhead in the summer towards the southern sky in the winter. In general, the southeast side of your home is the warmest spot. Lower and north-facing areas in the landscape tend to be a little colder and more humid. A fence can create a microclimate in the winter by blocking cold or drying winds.
If your garden is small and located near a hose or faucet, you can simply handwater the plants. But for larger gardens, or those located away from a water source, you may want to set up an irrigation system. It's often easier to install your system before you plant. See Watering the Vegetable Garden for more information.