Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Lower South
February, 2010
Regional Report

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Putting down layers of newspaper and mulch is a handy technique for making a weedy rose bed look great again, fast!

The Foundation of a Great Garden

What makes a garden successful? An elderly gardener once told me that three fourths of your chance of success has been determined by the time you plant your first seed or transplant. His point was that well prepared soil and well adapted varieties are the keys to a great garden. All the fertilizers, pest controls, and special techniques are the icing on the cake, and cannot replace good soil.

My experiences have taught me this is quite true. I have built and cultivated a lot of gardens; some good and some-well, they were at least good exercise! One thing I have learned is that the bottom line is the soil. Whenever I build a garden in a new spot the I find that it takes a year or so for the garden to really reach its productive prime.

If you are trying to improve your native soil for a garden it just takes some time. So keep at it and don't be discouraged if the magazine crews don't show up to photograph you garden for their cover shot that first year!

When we set out to create a garden in a spot we have to deal with the particular soil type that is present. Each has its pro's and con's. Clay holds water and nutrients well but drains poorly. For sand the opposites are true. Both sets of con's can be greatly improved by adding composted organic matter to the soil.

To start the process I mix in at least 3 or 4 inches of compost or composted manure. Then I continue building the soil each time a crop finishes and I can get back in to mix in more organic matter with a rototiller or garden fork. When the soil is right, the garden is right.

Most of the lower south region receives a lot of rainfall in the late winter to spring period. Just about the time we'd like to get out and plant in the garden the soil is too soggy to work.

My elderly gardening friend used to say, "You can always add water, but you can't take it away." He built his gardens into raised beds to facilitate drainage.

He also built his beds in the winter or fall whenever the weather allowed for soil work so that they would be ready for spring planting, despite the weather!

Raised beds about 10 inches high work great for me. That way there is plenty of soil depth and more than adequate drainage, even after the soil settles to about 6-8 inches high. I like to make our beds around 4 feet wide to create a wide bed, yet I'm still able to reach the center from both sides.

So take that gardening energy that is no doubt welling up inside of your about now and apply it to the soil first. You'll have your best garden ever!

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