Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Lower South
March, 2011
Regional Report

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Great results like this in the summer are the result of wise choices and actions now.

Spring Gardening 'Words to the Wise'

In spring everyone is a gardener! Even people who normally aren't that interested in gardening get the spring fever and can't resist buying a few plants to beautify the home place. I certainly share in the enthusiasm. Our spring bulbs are blooming, the new vegetable and flower plants are taking off like a rocket, and the fruit trees and flowering landscape ornamentals are pushing out the colorful blooms.

I've watched the annual cycle of gardening in the lower south for many years now. The hope of spring often winds up in frustration as the weather turns hot and summer blazes into town. There are a lot of things we can do right at this time of the year that will help insure that our "best laid schemes" do not go awry but bring beautiful, gratifying results.

They say that we should learn from the mistakes of others. So here are a few spring gardening words for the wise, to help you have a great gardening year!

Select a location with your plants needs in mind. It may seem like impatiens would really be a gorgeous addition to that sunny bed out by the street but someone will report you to the SPCP (Society to Prevent Cruelty to Plants)! Those plants need bright shade to do their best. Likewise all the hope in the world won't make a tomato or fruit tree produce well in a spot that is shaded for most of the day. Roses also need sun to bloom well. Some plants appreciate a little mid to late day shade to help them tolerate our summer temperatures.

Prepare the soil before you plant. I know it's more fun buying flowers and vegetable transplants than buying compost, but trust me; your future success depends on doing some groundwork first. Break up the soil and mix a couple of inches of compost into flower and vegetable beds before you plant. If your soil is very sandy this will help hold moisture when the sun starts to bear down on your plants. If it is heavy clay this organic matter will keep the soil looser and better aerated.

Choose plants that are best suited to your area. I love Fuschias, blue spruce, and lilacs. They don't love my gardening zone. Just because something is for sale at a local garden center doesn't mean it will survive or thrive in that area. I cringe to see the things sometimes being sold in my area knowing that the plants don't stand a chance. Most of your success has been determined by the time your plants are put in the ground because site selection, soil preparation, and the choice of species or cultivar is already determined.

This applies not only to species but in some cases to cultivars. There are often better performing vegetable and flower cultivars to choose from when selecting plants for the garden. Disease resistance and days to harvest are two things to consider. Fruit tree cultivars range in the number of chilling hours they need. A variety needing less chilling than your area normally has will bloom way too early and lose its crop most years to frosts or freezes. One needing more chilling will sputter out its growth late in the spring and blooms will be few and sporadic.

Plant things on time. We have "windows" of time when tomatoes need to go in to avoid either cold damage or poor production because they don't mature and start producing until the temperatures rise to hamper fruit set. Flowers too have their seasons for planting to insure the best results. Check with other gardeners or your local Extension office for information on best planting dates.

Control weeds early. It is MUCH easier to pull or hoe a young weed seedling than to play tug of war with it after it grows up! I don't mind using a hoe to lightly skim off small weeds now that the weather is mild. When summer comes I will mind a lot.

Mulch is the easiest way to manage weeds. Keep a layer of mulch on the soil surface that is deep enough to prevent light from reaching the soil. Mulching your beds now not only avoids weed problems but also holds in moisture, protects your soil surface from crusting, and moderates the soil surface temperatures when the really hot weather arrives.

Finally, if the budget will allow, include drip irrigation in as many plant beds as you can. Drip is a very efficient way to water. It is easy to turn on the system for a period of time to soak the soil, than to drag the hose around hand watering. I find that I am much more likely to get everything watered in beds where I have drip irrigation.

These are a few tips to get you off to a successful start. Let's put all this great spring fever to good use so we can enjoy our gardens and landscapes all year round!

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