It’s May in the South Florida Garden

February 9, 2024

Hot Times Begin

It’s May in the South Florida garden. Primetime has arrived in the northern garden. If that’s you; your oasis should be in full bloom, you are eager to cook the new vegetables and you’ve got muscles in places where you didn’t know you had places!

For us in South Florida, life on the edge of the tropics is the reality, That beauty pictured above is a vanilla orchid. It twines up a palm tree, and its second spring of blooms begins this year. We’ll cut some off and start a new one on another tree.

Preparing For The Rains

Here on the southernmost, Gulf Coast, we live in two distinct seasons; mild and dry, wet and humid. Change is in the air and life in the garden is all about knowing what we can control and what we need to adjust to. The time to adjust and react is coming soon.

Living With The Climate

I write, “This Month In The South Florida Garden,” because every season is important for all of us gardeners. We compare it to the months before and after and we compare it to last year. To be a gardener, I think you need to love living close to the earth. It’s a tradeoff and not just for the manicure!

What’s Different For Tropical Gardners

map of Florida and Caribbean-May in the South Florida Garden

We garden near the red star on this map. Technically, North America but in a climate unrelated to the rest of North America.

As northern transplants ourselves, every time I write down what happens each month I wish somebody had done it for me. We have gardened in a few different places but Florida gardens are their own law!

What About Spring Is The Same For All Of Us

Spring for all of us is shorter than we hope. The longer we garden, wherever we garden, the more we all recognize the subsets of spring.

  • Early spring where we need to expect reversion to the past season.
  • Mid-spring, when we know we can still have that last killing freeze.
  • Late spring-the dangerous time when we need to resist complacency.

Here Is What We Love About May

And after winter foloweth grene May.

-Geoffrey Chaucer, ‘Troilus & Criseyde

Chaucer wrote this love poem (and Shakespeare drew on it). It’s about star-crossed lovers whose lives are complicated by war and politics. (This was the Trojan War, and you know how well that went for everybody.) What’s new you say!

Changes in May: Cold to Warm or Cool to Hot?

Well, to me, Chaucer’s line talks about the fact that we humans can intervene all we want. Love, war, we do a lot of things. But the seasons are inevitable! They are always changing, they keep on moving and what we need to do is keep up. May is the month that for you in cold climates really starts the spring. You plant, and then you watch the beauty of the new shoots arising.

For us tropical gardeners, who have had ideal growing conditions since fall, May is the start of limitations. We need to adjust to the growing heat, humidity, and the rains to come.

May In The South Florida Garden Is Hot

“What dreadful hot weather we have!

It keeps me in a continual state of inelegance”

-Jane Austen

We dig in South Florida’s tropical climate. Can the shifts in May affect us much? Oh yes! The change we face is not from the somnolence of winter to the start of growth. For us, the earth never stops pushing up growth. (And the bugs never sleep!) But the change is just as dramatic. Our long season of fresh vegetables and temperate climate blooms is coming to an end.

We will still have lush and colorful flowers and foliage, they will just be different. But wait till you see the blooming ginger! But even in our garden hats, we can become inelegant.

What’s In Bloom In May?

The Vanilla Orchid

The leading photo is the Vanilla Orchid. It takes about 4 years to bloom, but then the flowers, arrive for us in April and May, Creamy and pastel green, they line the vines up and down the palm trees. (In some varieties they come in deep pink.) Most of the world’s vanilla today comes from Madagascar. This is nice for Madagascar, but it makes the flavor expensive for the rest of us.

In our climate, we have many orchid fanciers but the vining Vanilla Orchid is new for us and we are all learning as fast as we can.

The Plan To Grow Vanilla In North America

Here in South Florida, our state University is researching efficient ways for local growers to produce vanilla. This one crop alone could save many of our family farms. We have high hopes and are proud that the County Extension service where we Master Gardeners volunteer, is part of the project. Among us hobby, orchid growers, the vanilla orchid is increasing in popularity. It is an asset in our trees.

This brief summary discusses the University of Florida’s Tropical Research and Education Center (TREC) in South Florida. It includes some growing advice.

Gardenia Trees

All gardeners discover that some of our brilliant ideas turn out more brilliant than others! The five gardenia trees planted over time from the front porch and down the east side of the house were in fact brilliant ideas. The blooms have been here for weeks and coffee on the porch is like a vacation at a resort! I bring a single bloom inside and it perfumes the whole room.

photo of a gardenia blossom

This piece covers what we have learned about caring for the Gardenia.

Butterflies, Pollinators and More Wildlife

Well, we’ve got plenty of wildlife and not all of them showed up with an engraved invitation! The space where we garden started, out bare, green, and devoid of birds, and butterflies. Change in this garden began with a 12′ long x 4′ wide “pollinator bed, ” and the garden never looked back. Butterflies arrived first, and now hummingbirds abound. The little game camera records nocturnal visitors, deer, rabbits, and a remarkably big paw print, placed bang between the caladiums! Located on the edge of a preserve we see bears and panthers. We wonder whose foot that was.

If you would like to attract some butterflies here is some help for you.

What the Butterflies Want

Plant a Garden to Attract Butterflies in a Pot”

Butterfly on Blue Porterweed in May in the South Florida Garden.

Our Tiny Vegetable Garden

Big changes are coming here. We have been eating the most amazing of greens: sweet, bitter, mild, or potent. But the heat, humidity, and rain are coming, and we notice that lettuce is beginning to bolt, We love the loose-leaf lettuce, harvesting only enough from the outside of each plant for the next meal. Also we are pulling up two delicate small radishes, And tomatoes, we planted them a little late in the season, and are near to ripening.

This is a waist-high elevated garden bed. It holds a remarkable number of plants. Those in front are, from left a low-growing dill, oregano, and a trail or nasturtium. Float those lush blossoms on a chilled soup!

It is a tiny garden, but perfect for busy families, people with tiny yards, and anybody who does not bend their best.

Here is a little summary of how it’s going for us. “How to Grow Vegetables When You Have No Space.”

raised vegetable bed

Culinary Herbs

The herbs are still strong, but some will not like the humidity to come. I find myself adding in more of the tropical herbs. Cuban Oregano is strong but tasty and grows all year, (Rabbits hate it!) We are adding Mexican Tarragon, for the humid months. Tarragon is unique and vinaigrette is such an easy way to add it to your meals that the Tarragon article has two different vinaigrette recipes.

A dwarf variety of dill works well in the elevated bed. Loads of feathery foliage, just shorter. It is called Fernleaf and is only 18″ tall, another Delikat is 10-14″ in height. If you would like to plant some here is more information. “How to be Successful Growing Dill for the Kitchen.”

We are eating crisp and tangy chives, and rosemary The first big pot of biennial parsley is in its second year so we added a new one. Around here people like to say that if you cook like a gardener or garden like a cook, chive is the plant for you! We are also eating summer savory, peppery, and piquant in flavor.

Would you like to grow some herbs for your kitchen? Try this: “How to Grow Your Own Favorite Herbs for Dinner”

What We Can Plant In The Hot Times Of May

CategoryPlanting IdeaResources for You
Annuals for Color (these perform well in hot weather)Wax begonia, salvia, coleus, Torena
BulbsCanna lily, tropical lilies, clivia, Aztec, amazon
Vegetables (The summer vegetable list is shorter)Sweet potato, tropical spinach, Malibar variety, everglades tomato, watermelon, black-eyed peas. Peppers and eggplant may continue on.
Herbs (These are successful in heat)Basil, Cuban oregano, ginger, cumin, Mexican tarragon, summer savory, rosemary. Depending on weather and care the others may remain successful also

What Is The Everglades Tomato? Where Did It Come From?

Nobody knows, people see them wild in the ‘glades their origins are lost in the mist, but the sweet flavor is present. You can plant the tiny but numerous fruit in containers and they don’t seem to know or care– what month it is! They do spread out (the plant can reach 12′ wide) so they do not seem to suit my narrow available space but here is an article if you would like to give them a try.

Some Gorgeous Little Radishes

We are eating “crimson giant” and “French breakfast,” they have a little spring to their flavor, mildly peppery and fresh. Try some in salads. I am planting the seeds in succession, but I still don’t keep up with our desires for the little things. A French chef I read, says that they were the after-school snack when she was a kid. Fresh bread, farm-made butter, and radishes. We should try it!

What We Can Do In May

This is not a complete list but it covers problems we most complain about.

Problem or TaskWhat To DoResources For You
PestsThrips, mites & Scale are most active now
Plants to Watch-Gardenia & IxoraYellowing of new growth indicates a micronutrient deficiency
OleanderOleander caterpillar, look for chewed leaves
Lawn Maintenance
Mow at recommended summer height, chinch bugs
Lawn DiseasesFollow cultural practices to avoid disease
TomatoesA time for pests, diseases, and nutritional disorders
Tree CarePrepare for hurricane season, use only ISA Certified arborists

May In The Garden-How To Get Ready For Hot Times

Meteorologists tell us that the rains should start about May 15th and that June is the inception of hurricane season. Storms seem to be coming sooner and I read that some weather experts would like to start hurricane season in mid-May! Hurricane danger tends to increase as the summer progresses but the wise farmer plans ahead. If you have (or would like to have) a Florida garden here is what we do.

Hurricane Irma

And this is why we prepare so assiduously! Whitecaps on the pond!

Sun Solarization

We plant our small plots all year round. Sun solarization, is a chemical-free, way to manage pests in the unplanted parts of your garden. Here is a “how-to” from the University of Florida.

Sun Protection In The Garden

I wish more gardeners paid attention to this! Here is why:

  • Worldwide, skin cancer is the most common cancer of all.
  • 1 of every 5 Americans will develop skin cancer by age 70.
  • Over 2 people in the US will die of this disease every single hour.

Skin Cancer,Org

Here is what we do to save our skins. It’s like getting dressed and grabbing the garden tools. You need to do it without thinking.

Summary, (May In The South Florida Garden)

Shakespeare said, “As full of spirit as the month of May”. Wherever you garden north or south, you may be at the beginning or late in your growing season but it is spring and the gardens are all blooming. Just don’t forget that the bugs won’t sleep this month!

So go forward with that shovel and conquer the garden. What’s next on your agenda?