June is the true start of the rainy, humid & extra hot summer here in South Florida. It rains an average of 6” during the month of June, with average temperature highs of 88 and solid 100% humidity day and night. This is an incredibly challenging environment for plants that aren’t used to it and aren’t meant to grow in humid and wet climates. Luckily for us there are a bunch of cool plants, and in particular fruit trees, that thrive in this climate. We think June is the perfect time of year to plant new tropical fruit trees, because you get them in the ground right as the rain starts up. Tropical climate plants love rain and they love the humidity, so if planted now they will grow so fast through the summer you’ll be amazed!
Our favorite trees to plant are ones that produce fruit within the first year and also don’t get so big that they become the only thing in your yard 15 years later (hello mango and avocado, we see you being huge trees all over town). These fruit tree specimens also act as a great “canopy trees” if you’re hoping to plant yourself a Food Forest Guild. A food forest is a perennial planting that mimics the way nature designs a forest but uses all edible or useful plants. And a guild is a grouping of plants using that design system. Heres a diagram to help explain what a guild looks like. The idea is to choose plants that need different space in the air and on the ground so that they don't have to compete for those resources as they grow. These plantings are low maintenance because most of the plants are perennial (that means they grow for more than 1 year) and so they grow slower than veggies and require little inputs outside of regular fertilizing, mulching, and weeding.
Drawing courtesy of: https://midwestpermaculture.com/2012/07/hugelkultured-swale-with-linear-food-forest/
If you’re considering adding a perennial guild to your landscaping or just want to add a fruit tree or two to your yard here’s the low down on our top 5 choices:
Guavas are one of our favorite fruit varieties to grow for home gardeners. They are easily grown, delicious, and a high yielding small tree; a two year old tree potentially producing hundreds of fruit per season. Pink fleshed guavas are incredibly floral, pungent and aromatic. These trees are in the myrtle family and produce beautiful flowers and thick leaves. Guava remain quite small and should be considered a “lower canopy” food forest tree. Beware worms in the growing tips of your trees (if they show up and do damage simply spray with Organic Thuricide) and fruit flies laying their eggs in your immature fruit (commercial guava groves put mesh bags on all fruit to avoid this pest issue).
There aren’t many berries to be grown in here south Florida. Sadly, most berries - blueberries, blackberries, raspberries - don’t appreciate our heavy doses of humidity, but the Mulberry doesn’t mind one bit! This perennial, medium sized shrub, or tree, grows quickly in most soil types and is easily propagated from cuttings. It also responds positively to heavy pruning and shaping so you are in control of how big this tree gets in your yard. Planting this tree in full sun will help with fruit yield, but it will still do well in partial shade. Mulberries can be eaten fresh, used as fillings for tarts and pies, as a base for syrup or to make jams and jellies.
Bananas are some of the most popular and rewarding fruit we can grow in a backyard in the tropics, and people love it not just because the fruit is so delicious but also because it can take just one year from planting to get your first fruit. Bananas need a bit of management in order to be super happy and productive so make sure to check out these resources for some tips on feeding, pruning & mulching. We also tend to favor dwarf varieties (with heights around 8-12 feet) because they are a bit easier to fit into a yard and maintain. Take advantage of the fact that you get to grow bananas by planting a variety that you cant get at the store, they taste way better!
Banana Growing in the Florida Home Landscape, by IFAS
4. Red Lady Papaya
Red Lady Papaya is the one fruit we grow at our vegetable farm because it’s so easy to grow, delicious and bountiful. The first and most important thing we love about the Red Lady is its delicious flavor. Once you have a perfectly ripe homegrown Red Lady you'll never want a store bought papaya again... truly, we know that many people don't ever want a store bought papaya, because they have the reputation for being not sweet, unflavorful, and stinky. But Red Lady is different... allow the fruit to start ripening on the tree, then leave it on the counter as it gets even darker and richer orange soft skin, and then it will be perfect and sweet for eating.
The Red Lady Papaya is also a heavy and reliable producer of fruit. Planted in the summer and given proper nutrients and plenty of rainfall your papaya should yield you about 80 pounds of fruit in its first year. Fun fact: papaya aren't considered trees, but rather are herbs. Their thick trunks are hollow and remain green through the plants life, making them easy to cut down once they've fruited, and quick to compost.
Papayas are also beautiful trees (herbs) with many uses. Papaya fruit, seeds and leaves contain the enzyme Papain, which is the source of commercial meat tenderizer and aids in digestion of proteins. Wrap your meat in a papaya leaf instead of buying tenderizer, and consume the seeds fresh or dry for a digestive boost. Papaya seeds boast many other medicinal uses including as a natural contraceptive, so avoid eating them if you're trying to conceive or pregnant. We hear its common to add dry papaya seeds to peppercorn grinders in India so that small amounts of papaya seeds can be regularly and effortlessly consumed, as anti microbial and anti parasitic medicine.
Moringa is a super food must in any tropical home garden, growing well in our climate and tolerant of sandy, poor & disturbed soils. 100g of fresh Moringa leaves contain about 9.3g of protein, 434mg of calcium, and 164mg of vitamin C, in addition to protein, vitamin A and B, and a rich profile of trace minerals. The tree seasonally produces seed pods, also known as ‘drumsticks,’ considered a delicacy when young. As a food crop, trees can be kept low and frequently coppiced, encouraging production of fresh leaves within harvesting height. If left uncut, trees can grow fairly large and can fall down easily in strong winds. It would be hard to fit all of the information about Moringa in this short description, so we urge you to go online and research the extensive uses and benefits of this ‘miracle tree’. Moringa leaves can be added to salads and eaten raw, or added to stews and soups, or used fresh or dried in smoothies and shakes. Any way you can consume this incredibly nutritious leaf you should! Moringa has also been shown to increase milk production in breast feeding mothers.
Now you may be thinking…. Fruit trees are cool but what about my veggie garden beds? What the heck do I do with them during June and through the rest of the summer!? there are a number of options for you to consider in how to manage your raised garden bed during the summer.
One option is to plant a summer garden. This option is awesome for people who will be home most of the summer and want to keep experiencing their garden. In South Florida we can grow some pretty fun crops during our tropical monsoon season which are considered exotic and rare in other parts of the country. Things like ginger, lemongrass, Asian eggplants, hot peppers, roselle hibiscus, taro and sweet potatoes! A lot of common kitchen herbs grow during the summer as well, for example rosemary, thai basil, garlic chives and mint. There are some challenges to growing a summer garden, like keeping it weed and pest free. Pest pressure increases during the hotter and more humid rainy months because they reproduce faster, and the same can be said about weeds.
Another option is to put your garden “to bed” using the lasagna technique, which refers to adding layers of organic material to your garden that will break down over time, resulting in nutrient-rich compost that will help your plants thrive in the following growing season. We suggest layering the fresh plants that you are removing from your garden with horse manure, top soil and finally a layer of straw to cover the surface of your garden which will keep it weed free and pest free for the long summer months of June-September. Through the summer the material will basically compost on your garden bed and will slowly decompose, turning into new compost & soil right on the spot. In October your garden soil will be richer and more pest free than before for even better Fall crop results. One key to making this technique work is making sure that the top layer of straw (coastal straw can be purchased at any local feed stores) is super duper thick so that it doesn’t decompose and instead acts like a weed barrier to keep the garden weed free while it sits.
Another great option is planting cover crops in your raised bed. Cover cropping can sometimes be confusing to explain but basically you plant a specific plant (in Miami the most popular ones are Sunn Hemp & Buckwheat) very densely in your bed and once its mature (30 - 60 days) you cut it down and compost it in your garden bed. This is also a technique used for soil building, weed suppression, and continued pest management. If you’d like to try cover cropping we sell Sunn hemp & Buckwheat seed per pound on our website where you can also learn more about each type and how to manage it. The bonus to using sunn hemp is that is sequesters nitrogen in the soil for you, which basically means you are growing yourself organic fertilizer. Buckwheat is great to use because its fast growing and easier to cut down and incorporate into your soil… plus pollinators go absolutely nuts for the flowers. Cover cropping is a big part of organic soil based farming practices so we love to encourage home gardeners to give it a try on a smaller scale.
So wether you cover crop your garden, replant it with summer crops, or choose to plant yourself a perennial food forest guild, theres plenty to still be done in the June garden!