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For those of us who live in zone 9 and up, the winter gardening season is absolutely lovely, and in comparison to the rest of the country, one of the most abundant growing seasons. We are able to grow a bountiful range of more traditional crops that are more challenging to grow during other parts of the year including lettuces and other greens.
Here in Florida, the winter season is the best time to plant heat-tolerant lettuce and other leafy greens. Although you can grow leafy greens year-round here in Florida, the winter time is the best time of year to do so.
On my urban homestead, located in St. Petersburg, Florida on the border of zone 9B/zone 10A, I focus a significant amount of my efforts on growing leafy greens.
Lettuces and other leafy greens lose their nutritional value extremely quickly. For example, spinach loses 90% of its Vitamin C within the first 24 hours of being harvested. If you consider the time from when it's harvested to when it's on your table, that could be several weeks.
With that information, you might now be extra motivated to start growing your own leafy greens from spinach to kale to lettuce, and I’ve got you covered.
For our unique climate in Florida, selecting varieties that can withstand our high temperatures, even in the winter time is foundational to finding success in growing your own food in your backyard or in a container garden. In this blog post, I will be sharing 10 of my top favorite leafy greens to grow in your winter Florida garden.
Spinach is a dark leafy green crowd favorite. It's such a common leafy green that almost anybody can get behind. Unfortunately, we do have a super short spinach growing season here in Florida with only a couple of months of ideal growing conditions and it tends to do better in North Florida.
Getting spinach planted at the right time of the season is critical. Bloomsdale Longstanding Spinach is one of the handful of heirloom varieties that does grow well here in Florida.
With spinach being more of a picky high-maintenance leafy green I do tend to focus my efforts on spinach alternatives that grow well here in Florida.
Tatsoi is one of my most highly recommended leafy greens for the Florida gardener. It has large rosettes of thick, dark green, oval-shaped leaves with a mild mustard flavor. With its fairly tender stem, it is a fantastic spinach substitute especially as it has no oxalates like spinach.
Oxalates are naturally found compounds found in certain foods like spinach and nuts that some can be sensitive to. It's technically in the bok choy family, but it has a very mild flavor.
Tatsoi can be enjoyed raw or cooked. This versatile leafy green can handle fluctuating temperatures from hot to cold much better than traditional spinach. Tatsoi can be used to extend your spinach growing season, as it can be planted very early fall to late spring.
Lacinato kale, also known as Dinosaur or Nero de Toscano is an excellent variety for all my fellow kale lovers. In fact, if I could only choose one variety of kale to grow in my Florida garden it would be this! This dark green and blue heirloom kale originates from Tuscany. This variety grows wonderfully here in Florida, much better than any of the other kale varieties.
Lacinato kale is delicious and can be used in soups and stews.
Unlike other kale varieties, Lacinato kale can grow year-round or very close to year-round if the pests do not get to it over the summer months when pest pressure is high. It is especially suited for the South.
Additional kale varieties that I like to grow in my garden include:
If you are looking for a super easy leafy green to grow in Florida and zones 9/10, arugula is a fantastic choice! I love to plant arugula in the garden, but if you're not careful, it will actually take over your entire garden bed. It self-seeds very easily.
If you prefer a more mild flavor, pick it while the leaves are young and tender. If you really want a peppery kick, let the leaves get a little bit more mature.
A commonly unknown fun fact about arugula is the flowers are edible. They make a beautiful accent on your salad or as an edible garnish. Just be sure to not let them go to seed or you will end up with more arugula than you know what to do with!
Swiss chards are one of the most heat-tolerant leafy greens that we are covering today. Both the stems and the leaves can be eaten and enjoyed. Swiss chard is in the same family as beets and is also closely related to spinach. Beets have been selected for the roots in most cases whereas Swiss chard has been selected for the leaves.
Most people know Swiss chard, for its rainbow varieties, where it has beautiful, brilliant pink, yellow, and white stems. But in my Florida garden, I like to go a little bit different route with the Fordhook Giant Swiss Chard. This variety is a two-for-one veggie.
I like it because I can use the stem as a celery substitute, and you still get that delicious Swiss chard flavor from the leaves. They get absolutely gigantic, so you only need one or two plants in your garden to easily feed the family for the entire season.
Another great Florida-friendly variety is Perpetual Swiss Chard. This is a great no-fuss variety that can be grown in the Southeast throughout the winter and into the warmer months of the year.
As mentioned, Swiss chard and beets are in the same family, and to the surprise of many, the leafy tops of beets are edible. Many people plant beets for the roots, but I absolutely love to use beets as a leafy green.
As an urban homesteader with limited growing space, this provides me with something usable from the garden while giving the beetroots time to develop.
Beet greens can be harvested once you have three or four leaves per plant. Harvesting the leaves for greens does not really slow the growth down too much, so to me, it's definitely worth using it as a leafy green in addition to the roots.
Now if you're a huge beet fan and you really want those roots to get super big, I would probably skip thinning the greens and using them in your salads.
Some of my favorite beet varieties to grow in my Florida garden include:
When it comes to leafy greens, lettuces are the #1 choice for most Americans. Growing lettuce in Florida does present challenges but is not impossible. Black Seeded Simpson is a tender leafy green that is an extremely popular heirloom variety across the country.
As an urban homesteader, I tend to grow loose-leaf lettuces so I am able to enjoy a continuous harvest while maximizing my growing space. Black Seeded Simpson is technically a heading lettuce variety, but it's much looser than what you see commonly in grocery stores such as Iceberg or Romaine lettuce.
This means you can harvest the leaves as they're growing and developing. Black Seeded Simpson is extremely heat tolerant and a fantastic alternative to traditional lettuce varieties which require some consistent cooler weather.
There are many more loose-leaf lettuce varieties that can tolerate fluctuating temperatures to explore and enjoy. Some other varieties that grow well in our warm winters include:
Spring Mixed greens are a very popular option found in grocery store coolers but did you know that you can grow your own mixed greens from home?
Seed companies sell salad green mixes that contain a variety of different leafy greens all mixed in one seed pack. This is a great option for small space gardeners who might be working in containers or raised beds and want to try it all.
For Florida gardeners, I recommend blends with diverse lettuce varieties that can withstand fluctuating temperatures so they do not bolt or become bitter.
Some great mixed green varieties that include all colors, shapes, sizes, and textures include:
Collard Greens are a Southern favorite for good reason. They can grow in sandy soils where cabbage tends to struggle.
They grow great here in the South, including Florida, handling the changes in temperature that we experience during the winters in zones 9 and 10.
In fact, collards become sweeter and more tender after a frost. Georgia Collards are what I tend to grow at my Florida urban homestead. They produce a wonderful large leaf that has a greenish-blue hint.
Some other great Florida-friendly Collard varieties include:
Collards are a hardy and wonderful addition to your winter garden.
Mustard greens are another great winter leafy green crop to grow for the Florida gardener. Just like collard greens, they do great in the South. Some Southerners love to mix both mustard greens and collard greens when cooking for a delicious flavor combination.
Harvest the young leaves for a nice and tender green that has a bit of a peppery zip, similar to the taste of arugula. Mustard greens can be used in salads, on egg sandwiches, or similar to a microgreen topping. If you let the leaves continue to grow and mature, the larger leaves can be used as a cooking green like a collard green.
In my garden, I grow a standard green variety, but I always like to have a little fun with it so I do like to grow red mustard as well as some of the green broadleaf mustard.
Some other great Florida friendly Mustard varieties include:
As Florida gardeners, we have the incredible opportunity to cultivate a thriving garden of diverse and nutritious leafy greens throughout the winter season. From the hardy collards to the fan-favorite Bloomsdale Longstanding Spinach to the versatile Tatsoi, your choices are abundant. These leafy greens not only provide fresh, vibrant flavors but also empower you to embrace self-sufficiency and sustainable living while growing nutritional-dense food for you and your family.
Whether you're a seasoned gardener or just getting started with growing lettuce and leafy greens in your Florida vegetable garden, take advantage of the potential and start sowing your own leafy greens this winter. Your taste buds and health will thank you later.