Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Lower South
July, 2004
Regional Report

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Salvias are reliable bloomers in our hot, steamy summers.

Tips for Gardening in the HEAT!

People moving to the lower south from cooler regions of the country are truly shocked the first year or so at just how hot it gets. It's not just the daytime highs, but the sultry nights, the humidity, and the duration of summer. Oh by the way, May and September are summer months.

Plants really suffer from the heat too. The USDA climate zone map says our lower south region falls mostly in zones 8 and 9. However, plants recommended for hardiness in zones 8 and 9 often don't stand a chance here. Did you know part of the southwestern coast of Canada is zone 8? You see, it's not the same here.

Gardening in the South can be quite a challenge this time of year. We have to choose heat- and humidity-tolerant plants and often take measures to help them along. Here are a few tips to keep your garden in top shape through the summer with a minimum of time and effort:

1) The first key is to keep a good surface mulch around plants. You've heard of the many benefits of mulch so I won't repeat them here. It is important to keep mulch replenished now that it is so very hot. Look for free sources of organic mulches in your area, such as neighborhood leaves or dried grass clippings.

2) If you've let the weeds get ahead of you, here's a fast, easy way to recapture lost ground: First, wet the weeds and soil thoroughly with a hose. If your weeds are too tall and won't lay down with the watering, you may need to mow or use a weed eater to cut them down before proceeding to the next step. Then, lay newspaper about four sheets thick over the weeds covering the entire row and right up around your garden plants. Wet the newspaper to hold it in place, and then cover it with leaves or old spent hay. That will take care of the majority of your weed problems for the remainder of the season.

3) Drink plenty of water when working outdoors. The hot, humid weather can be dangerous. Use sunscreen with at least an SPF 15 rating, and try to avoid extended time out in the sun during the heat of the day. Many of the sun's dangers go unnoticed until they sneak up on you.

4) Vegetable garden areas not in production can be kept busy by incorporating manure or other organic matter this month. It will decompose rapidly and be ready for your fall planting time in late summer. Southern peas (black-eyed, purple hull, cream, and crowder) make a good summer crop that can be turned under to build the soil.

5) Another option for nonproductive areas is to put the blistering summer sun to work for you. Weeds and nematodes can be significantly reduced by rototilling the soil and exposing them to the summer sun. After a couple of weeks, repeat the tilling to bring more to the surface. Solarizing is another technique for using the sun's heat to kill weed seeds, nematodes, and a few other problem pests. Spread clear plastic over the soil for several weeks.

6) You get the most from your summer watering when you irrigate deeply and infrequently, rather than giving plants a light sprinkling each day. Apply enough water to wet a sandy soil about a foot deep and a clay soil 6 to 8 inches deep. This takes about 1 inch of rain or sprinkler irrigation. While drought stress is a known danger to plants, overwatering can be equally devastating, especially when drainage is poor. Soggy soil conditions combined with hot weather can wipe out a plant in a matter of days.

7) Many gardeners are installing drip irrigation to save water and reduce leaf wetting, which promotes disease. Many drip systems can be purchased in retail stores or by mail order.

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