Zori asks if you can grow coffee in Florida:
“Hello David Good hope all is well. Why can’t I grow coffee here in Florida? I mean, Florida is subtropical right? The coffee belt has somewhat of the same whether, all though it’s mountainous in some places, also it’s either rainy, cold, or hot and dry. Florida is all of those things except the mountains lol.”
It’s a good question. Let’s dive in.
Where To Grow Coffee in Florida
First of all, Florida is not a monolithic state. I’ve had people express surprise when I told them I couldn’t grow mangoes, coconuts or even Key Limes out in the open at my old North Florida homestead. It’s simply too cold. We’re talking 12 degrees overnight cold on occasion. Sure, it’s warm most of the time, but most of the time isn’t enough.
One night of freezing weather and coffee dies. Take a look at this USDA zone map:
The dark orange area is where you can grow coffee outdoors without protecting it, except for on very rare frost events. 10b.
In 10a, you can still grow coffee but you will need to protect it occasionally.
How To Grow Coffee in Florida Beyond Zone 10
In 9a and 9b, you can grow coffee in Florida against a south-facing wall as I describe in detail in my book Push the Zone: The Good Guide to Growing Tropical Plants Beyond the Tropics.
I lived in what they’re now calling 9a, but it was really more zone 8 for multiple winters. My coffee survived against a south-facing wall but only because freezing conditions were always mercifully short, lasting only a few hours or a single night.
There have been times in the Ocala area when temperatures stayed below 32 for longer than overnight and on through the next day.
That is the end for a coffee tree, unless you wrap it in sheets and Christmas lights or put a big barrel of water next to it, like I did for my loquat tree.
Why DON’T People Grow Coffee in Florida?
Florida is a land of extremes. It gets both colder and hotter than coffee prefers, plus the humidity fluctuates between summer and winter.
As UF writes:
“Coffee is usually grown under shaded conditions but may be grown in full sun. Optimum growing conditions include temperatures from 59 to 75°F (15-24°C), high humidity, and protection from windy conditions. Temperatures above 77°F (25°C) slow growth, and leaves are damaged at temperatures above 86°F (30°C). Constant, large fluctua- tions in daily temperatures, and constant temperatures at or below 41°F (5°C) may cause leaf drop and tree decline. Coffee plants may be damaged or killed by freezing temperatures.
In the tropics or warm subtropics, coffee is grown at high altitudes (up to about 3,500 ft; 1,100 m) where temperatures are moderate and never freezing.”
Florida’s hot and sandy conditions aren’t the best.
Where I live in Central America, you can grow coffee without even working at it. Just stick plants in the ground and they’ll be fine. The soil is rich and the temperatures are not too hot or too cold. The humidity is high year-round as well, and coffee loves that.
In Florida, the winters are dry and the soil is poor. Coffee likes to be well-fed. I’ve written in the past about how far you can grow a coffee tree – even the feasibility of growing coffee indoors way up north in places like Canada – yet for enough production of beans to be anything more than a curiosity, you need a decent climate.
In my booklet on growing coffee and other caffeine plants, there’s a complete interview I did with Gary Strawn, a Kona coffee farmer in Hawaii.
He explains that there are very solid reasons why Hawaii is known for its coffee and Florida is not, despite the southern portion of the Sunshine State being technically warm enough for the plant. It’s a very good interview. There is a lot more to growing and producing quality coffee than just keeping the plant alive through the winter.
So Should You Grow Coffee in Florida?
Yes. Come on – if you CAN grow something as awesome as coffee, even marginally, why wouldn’t you? Don’t be a wuss! It’s COFFEEEEEEE!!!
I would absolutely plant coffee – lots of coffee – if I lived in Ft. Lauderdale or Naples or Homestead or any place where I could start a little outdoor plantation.
Tucking coffee trees under some canopy trees works well as coffee can tolerate some shade and still produce. Doing that also moderates the heat of the day and the cold of the winter.
Put them under some mangoes and you get two crops in the same space!
I’ve dreamed for years of starting a little coffee plantation in South Florida and selling the green beans as “locally produced!” in nice paper bags bearing the outline of Florida.
“Dave’s 100% Florida Coffee!”
How awesome would that be? Though the flavor wouldn’t be as good as something from Hawaii or Jamaica, it would be local and you can bet people would support that and pay well to have Florida coffee. It’s a great idea. Maybe one of you guys can do it.
My bet is that Coffea liberica would do well in Florida and maybe better than Coffea arabica. That’s what I currently have growing on my property here. It tastes great, too.
I bought my first plant at a rare plant booth at a gardening show, then planted the seeds from that. Sometimes you can also get fresh seeds but they’re hard to find. If you can’t find coffee seeds that are fresh enough to germinate, you can also get coffee plants on Amazon for a decent price. Gotta love Amazon.
Coffee is worth trying to grow if you live in Florida. Just for the bragging rights.