Tips for gardening in the southeast

The Southeast can be a wonderful place to garden, with its abundant sunshine and long growing season. Here's how to garden in this region.

The Southeast can be a wonderful place to garden, with its abundant sunshine and long growing season. Here's how to make the most out of gardening in this region.

Growing zones in the Southeast range from zones 6 to 8. In the most southerly parts of this range you can grow something year-round, as frost seldom visits these areas. Vegetables such as broccoli, garlic, and every kind of greens can be grown throughout the winter with a protective layer of mulch and perhaps a plastic covering on the coldest nights.

However, this same lack of frost makes it difficult to grow some fruits, such as apples and peaches, that require a certain number of cold days in order to set fruit. Look for varieties of these plants that require less chilling, such as the Anna variety of apple that was developed in Israel.

Be sure to plant spring vegetables such as lettuce and peas well before the last frost of winter. Although they might get a slow start, if you plant them so late that they start to mature when the weather is getting hot, they will produce for only a very short time. Lettuce in particular does not tolerate hot weather well.

Soil in the Southeast is usually a heavy, clay soil. It should be amended with organic matter to make it looser and improve drainage. Compost, leaf mold, and aged manure are all amendments that can be added at any time. Don't add fresh manure unless you are able to turn it into the soil and leave it for a few months, such as over the winter. Add fresh compost each year if you can.

Have your soil tested to determine its pH. Your County Extension agent will be glad to run the test for you if you bring him a soil sample. If it is extremely acid, you should add lime to the soil to sweeten it. The amount of lime you should apply depends on the pH of the soil and the type of soil. Consult your County Extension agent for a recommendation.

Heat and humidity are facts of life when gardening in the Southeast in the summer. The heat means that plants like tomatoes and peppers will do well. It also means that you should do your gardening early in the morning or in the early evening to avoid heatstroke.

The humidity means that your plants will be more vulnerable to disease. Powdery mildew can infect squash and many other vegetables, as well as most flowers. Prevent it by growing mildew resistant varieties and by leaving enough room between your plants to allow for good air circulation. Remove the most badly infested leaves on your plants and throw them away in the trash. Do not put them in the compost heap. Other diseases that may affect your plants are mosaic and rust. Mosaic primarily affects tomatoes and peppers. It is spread by aphids. Prevent mosaic by controlling aphid infestations and by growing mosaic-resistant varieties of plants. Once a plant is infested with mosaic, destroy it immediately as there is no cure for the disease. Rust affects many plants, from beans to blackberries. Select rust-resistant varieties of plants and remove infected plants from the garden.

Many insect pests infest plants in the Southeast. The most destructive is the Japanese beetle. These insects can devastate a garden in a matter of days. There are specially made traps for the beetles; these have mixed results. The beetles are best controlled by spreading milky spore powder all over your yard and garden. Milky spore disease will kill the beetles and their larvae. The spores will be left in the ground to kill other generations of beetles, too.

Aphids are also very prevalent in the Southeast. Control them with soap spray. If you are fortunate enough to have ladybugs in your garden, they will help eliminate the pests. Ladybugs may also be purchased from a garden supply house.

Along with heat and humidity, summers in the Southeast often bring drought. Along with the droughts have come watering restrictions in many communities. Make the best of the water you have by the liberal use of mulch in your garden. You can use old newspapers, with a top layer of hay in your vegetable garden. For ornamentals, use pine straw or shredded wood bark. When selecting plants, choose those that are drought-resistant if possible. Many native plants do not require extra watering once established. Quite a few common ornamentals in the Southeast, such as azaleas and daylilies, tolerate drought.

The same excellent growing conditions that will give you beautiful flowers and luscious fruits cause weeds to grow abundantly. Mulching will help control weeds as well as conserve moisture. Pull any other weeds by hand or use hand tools to chop them.

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