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August 1, 2012

When to Start Tomato Seeds in Florida

Just a gentle remainder, we are starting tomato, eggplant, and pepper seeds in Florida in late July to early August. So, if you have not gotten around starting your tomato seeds, make some time to do that very shortly. Gardeners in South Florida have some slack time till the end of August, but Central and Northern Florida should get their seed packets and nursery containers out ASAP. When in doubt, check the USDA zones post here.

There is a valid reason for such tight schedule of seeding warm season vegetables, namely, tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers. These vegetables will start producing at 90 days after seeding at the earliest, but 120 days on average. If we seed these vegetables now, it will bring us to Thanksgiving harvest, after which we can expect first frosts, in early December.

We are lucky in Florida to have two warm seasons, Spring and Fall, but these seasons are tight on planning. Spring season starts right after the last frost, but the weather gets hot pretty quickly after that. This year, for example, the heat firmly set in March, which is very unusual. So, gardeners who waited longer than they should had problems with fruit not setting on tomatoes, and generally plants suffering from heat and lack of rain.

In the Fall, on the other hand, we cannot plant too early because the Summer is too brutal for the new seedlings, but we cannot wait too long either because of the danger of the early frost.

Bottom line, the best time for all Florida zones to plant tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant from seed is now. I am planning on making time this weekend to do all my seeding.

How many plants do you need? Granted, this depends on the garden space you have available, and your family size, as well as your eating habits, but I can share how much I plant (I usually over plant though! :)

I plant a hundred tomato plants in a combination of grape tomatoes for the salads and making crushed tomato cannings, some Romas, maybe twenty plants for the tomato paste canning, and maybe ten plants of some exotics, like Cherokee, better boy, Rosa, and such, for fun and variety. So, most of my tomatoes are grape because they are easy to grow and are very versatile. A hundred tomato plants, if you sort of observe square foot gardening principle, takes roughly 120 square feet of garden space, or one to two 4x20 garden beds. I do not plant all tomato plants in the same bed, but rather spread them out in the garden intermixed with cosmos flowers, Marigold, and herbs. The square footage is just for the estimation. One tomato plant should produce about five pounds of tomatoes. So, based on that you can decide how many plants to seed.

Peppers - I usually plant about forty plants which gives plenty of peppers for eating and freezing. And eggplant, I plant maybe ten plants, they are very productive, and we do not eat a lot of eggplant.


  1. Great advice as always. I am going to use some agribond floating row cover this year to protect from frost. Each year I say I am going to do it but never do. Then when the frost comes I am outside scrambling with sheets and towels and still things don't make it so I finally bought the row cover material.

    This way I should be able to get that third "Winter" season in there and have some produce to show for it.

  2. Good luck, it might work for you.

    I actually dismantled my plastic green house as it was too much bother to keep toms from the frost (had to put heat lamp and blow heater).

    I have a large garage, so will grow toms and peppers in containers for the winter and just bring them inside. I plan on having about twenty containers. Really, we only have two, maybe three frost nights. Not worth it to have a green house.



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