Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Lower South
August, 2008
Regional Report

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A vegetable garden can be included as part of an attractive landscape design.

Vegetable Gardening Is "In"

I've noticed increasing interest in vegetable gardening over the past couple of years. Perhaps some of this is due to rising food costs. I believe it's also due to a desire to get back to nature in a simple, tangible way.

Allow me a little philosophical musing here. Over a half century ago during the second world war, people gardened as a patriotic activity. Victory gardens provided food for a nation at war. As that generation aged, their children grew up with the remembrance of a vegetable garden in the backyard. Then, with the passing of time and the urbanization of our country, many kids grew up without a garden as a central part of family life. Sure, there was always gardening and gardeners. Many youth who grew up without a garden recall grandma or grandpa having one.

Many of the people who come to my office for publications, advice, and assistance in getting started have no family gardening tradition to draw from. But they want their kids to experience gardening. This is a wonderful thing. Sure, I am biased, but I can think of no better pasttime, hobby, or endeavor than gardening. It provides physical exercise, it puts you in touch with nature, and it provides food for the table -- good, nutritious food grown by you. Gardening provides relaxation and a respite from the cares of the world we live in. Oh yes, it's also fun!

Help for Newbie Gardeners
If you are new to gardening or thinking about creating a garden in your backyard, help is easy to find. Garden centers can assist you, and your local County Extension office has information in the form of free publications. How far apart do you plant bean seeds? What is a good tomato variety? How much fertilizer should you apply to broccoli? How do you know when a watermelon is ready to be harvested? Answers to these and other questions are all there in the free information.

Seek out local gardeners with expertise. Most gardeners are more than willing to offer help and advice. Your local Extension office may even have a Master Gardener program of trained volunteers that could be a great help.

Many Extension offices provide youth-related gardening information, such as the Junior Master Gardener program. Most provide assistance in identifying insects and diseases of plants or unknown problems that might show up.

If you haven't gardened before, there is a world of learning and enjoyment awaiting you. I'll offer three simple tips to get you started off on the right foot.

1. Select a spot with good sun exposure. Most veggies need lots of sun, especially the ones that produce fruit and roots. Leafy greens are a bit more flexible about this but still need some sun.

2. Choose a spot with good drainage or plant in raised garden beds. Vegetables don't like soggy soil for extended periods of time, and some parts of the gardening year can be really rainy in the lower south. By planting in well-drained soil or on planting beds raised enough to insure good drainage, you'll avoid these problems.

3. Plant at the proper time. Those free publications I mentioned will tell you when to plant what. Timing is everything.

4. Don't start too big. We all get enthusiastic about gardening but it is a mistake to launch out with a huge garden. Such endeavors usually end up weedy and take the fun out of gardening. Start small, then grow the size of your garden each season as you gain knowledge, skill, and a better feel for how much your family can care for, or how much produce you need.

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