Gardening Down South

Gardening has always been a natural part of living in the South. It’s pretty much tradition; yet, it doesn’t come too easily. Our climate down here in the southern U.S. poses quite a challenge to gardeners; however, many of us have learned to adapt our gardens and lifestyles to these unsavory conditions. We may seem blessed with longer growing seasons and mild winters, but there are times when the intense heat and humidity make it nearly impossible for even us to bear.

Then, of course, we must deal with lots of rain brought on by the storms associated with these hot, muggy conditions. Let us not forget the many insect pests, especially mosquitoes, which seem to thrive in saturated areas and are oftentimes not killed off by our warm winters. Sometimes it’s just plain hot, with no humidity and no rain. Not even a breeze stirring. That’s when everything dries up, quickly, including our gardens if not properly managed.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to suggest that gardening in the South is not rewarding. In fact, it’s not only rewarding; it’s well worth the frustration in the end, whenever that is. Within my neck of the woods, gardening chores can begin well before the actual arrival of spring, as early as February. Our growing season continues on through November and sometimes even longer.

Southern gardens are filled with a variety of memories, cultures, and plants. Many of our plants are native, and most are handed down to us by family, friends, and neighbors. The secret to successful gardening down South simply comes from our knowing what types of plants to put in the garden, when to put them in the garden, and how to maintain them in the garden in unusually warm, wet or dry conditions. Most southern gardeners have learned this through those who gardened before them; others have basically learned the hard way, through trial and error.

Typically, what has worked for me is the use of raised beds, pest-repellent plants, and good soil. Raised beds make the overall maintenance of the garden easier, cutting down on the amount of time you spend outdoors in the extreme heat. Locating the beds near an ample water source will also make things easier, especially during those dry spells. Soaker hoses are better than sprinklers or hand spraying and will saturate the ground more. I like to use 2-liter pop bottles or gallon-sized milk jugs. With just a few holes poked through the bottom sides, they can be inserted (approximately 2/3 of the way) into the ground between plants and filled with water. The water will slowly seep into the ground. You can choose to place a stick into the opening of the container or simply keep the lid on it, replenishing water as needed. It also helps if you mulch the garden.

I do not care much for the pesky mosquitoes or other insects, but I also do not want to use pesticides to get rid of them. The insects, however, seem to love my plants and me. I have found that companion planting in the garden cuts down on this problem, but I normally require some sort of bug repellent for myself. Some tried and true insect-repelling plants that have worked for me include chives, basil, garlic, tansy, thyme, spinach, borage, and tomato, mint, rosemary, Pyrethrum, and my favorite-marigolds.

So what about the soil? Southern gardeners deal with all types of soil within one given area. For instance, I have had sites with packed red clay in one area, nothing but rocks in another, and dark, airy soil in yet another part of the landscape. I found out early on just how difficult it is growing something in red clay. It seemed I was destined for failure, until I figured out how to work the soil. As for the rocks, this was something altogether different. The more I plucked them from the ground, the more there seemed to be, popping up to replace what I had already taken. I began to think I was going to wind up a bona fide rock farmer. The loose, dark soil was wonderful. All of my plants thrived in its graces. It wasn’t long before I realized that this was the type of soil I needed around my entire property.

And a raised bed was born, one right after another. I could easily work the soil, adding compost and manure, to form a nice, dark, loose soil that was ideal for nearly any type of plant I wished to grow. No matter how hot and humid, no matter how much rain or how little, the garden thrived.

With regards to maintenance, I have found that down here in the South, you might want to consider handling all the garden chores in the morning, before the heat sets in. Of course, you could opt for the evening hours; however, the night air, at times, can still feel thick and unbearable, not to mention the extra attention you’ll receive from the bugs. Although gardening down South never seems to end on account of our long growing seasons, all your hard work is worth it; there is always something blooming.

Southern gardeners, such as myself, have had to adjust to the climate changes like everyone else. Down here we’re used to the heat and humidity as well as the pesky insects buzzing around. We’re used to lots of rain or none at all. But most of all, we’re used to having plenty of friends taking in the beauty of our gardens. In the South, visitors are always welcome. There’s nothing better than sitting on the porch, sipping on some fresh iced tea, and taking pleasure in the fact that, once again, you’ve overcome another year’s challenges.

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