Florida may be known as the Sunshine State, but it deserves another nickname — the Gardening State (not to be confused with New Jersey, the Garden State). Three cities in Florida are at the top of our list of America’s Best Cities for Urban Gardening, and another three Sunshine State cities finished in the top 12.
Another sunny state — California — boasts two cities in the top tier.
What about the four other cities in the top 12? Well, they might be as surprising as a rose bush blooming during the winter in Minneapolis.
LawnStarter ranked the 150 biggest cities for urban gardening because tending to herbs, vegetables, and fruit trees is especially popular during the coronavirus pandemic.
With more of us stuck at home, gardening gets us outside. It also provides food security at a time when store shelves are running bare.
So, what are the best U.S. cities for urban gardening?
The Top 12 Best Cities for Urban Gardening
- Miami, Florida
- Orlando, Florida
- Tampa, Florida
- Santa Rosa, California
- Fort Lauderdale, Florida
- Baton Rouge, Louisiana
- St. Petersburg, Florida
- St. Louis, Missouri
- Augusta, Georgia
- Riverside, California
- Mobile, Alabama
- Port St. Lucie, Florida
How the Best Cities for Urban Gardening Made our List
To dig up our list of America’s Best Cities for Urban Gardening, LawnStarter compared the 150 most populated U.S. cities. We used 11 metrics grouped into two categories: climate and gardening activity.
Among the factors we looked at? The number of nurseries and gardening stores, number of community gardens, length of the growing season, yard size, and the average percentage of sunshine in the spring, summer, and fall.
Miami blossomed in our rankings, thanks to a top showing in the climate category and a No. 4 showing in the gardening-activity category.
“With its warm, humid climate, abundant rainfall, and sandy soils, Florida presents unique challenges and unique opportunities for residents who enjoy gardening or just want to maintain a beautiful landscape,” according to the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
How did the non-Florida, non-California, and non-perfect weather cities end up in the top ranks?
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
A city blanketed in the purple and gold colors of Louisiana State University, landed at No. 6. Baton Rouge’s No. 1 ranking for the largest yards among the 150 cities in our study helped cut a path to its sixth-place finish.
St. Louis, Missouri
St. Louis ranks eighth on our best cities for urban gardening list. YvesSch / CC BY-SA
Better known for beer and baseball, St. Louis earned an eighth-place ranking on our list. But it didn’t make it there because of its climate. St. Louis’ position as the city with the highest number of community gardens per 100,000 residents helped lift its overall score.
Two other cities in the South join Baton Rouge.
Professional golf’s annual Masters Tournament put Augusta on the map, so that could explain why there might be so many master gardeners there. In our ranking, it scores a hole-in-one (no. 9) for the highest share of gardening clubs per 100,000 residents.
Mobile hosts the country’s oldest Mardi Gras celebrations, where attendees might spot a lot of the city’s signature plant: the flowering azalea shrub. Mobile comes in at No. 11, getting high marks in the temperature, precipitation, and yard-size groupings.
Here are the factors we took into account to come up with our ranking.
Gardening activity (total points: 55)
- Number of nurseries and gardening stores per 100,000 residents: 15 points
- Number of community gardens per 100,000 residents: 15 points
- Number of regional gardening clubs per 100,000 residents: 10 points
- Yard size: 10 points
- Number of farmers markets per 100,000 residents: 5 points
Climate (total points: 45)
- Growing season (number of days): 15 points
- Average percentage of potential sunshine (spring to fall): 10 points
- Average monthly temperature (spring to fall): 5 points
- Average monthly precipitation (spring to fall): 5 points
- Annual mean number of days with minimum temperature of 32 degrees or below: 5 points
- Annual mean number of days with maximum temperature of 90 degrees or above: 5 points
The Benefits of Gardening
Urban gardening at the Ravenna-Eckstein Community Center. Seattle Parks / Flickr / CC By 2.0
As explained by The Miami Times, gardening delivers a bushel of benefits, including:
- Exposure to sunlight, which produces vitamin D.
- Reduces the risk of dementia, heart disease, stroke, depression, colon cancer, and premature death.
- Boost in mental health.
- Sense of community.
But with these benefits comes some risks, especially if you ignore the basic safety rules in the garden. The advantage of joining a community garden is the safety equipment and rules are already in place.
Gardening as a Pandemic Respite
The growing season in Miami doesn’t hit its stride until October, yet gardening has grown in popularity in South Florida since the coronavirus pandemic prompted stay-at-home orders.
“It’s glorious to take care of a living being,” Miami horticulturist Mike Heckart told Miami New Times. “It definitely makes you more connected. There’s this realization that none of us exist in a vacuum. We are connected to the world around us, and it’s not just people.”
Data sources used in this study
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, almanac.com, Yelp, American Community Gardening Association, National Garden Clubs Inc., and LawnStarter.