Gardening In A Southern Climate.

 

Living in Jessamine County Kentucky and originally being from the north presents a few stark differences.

The South is known for long, lazy summer days and stretches of hot, humid weather. These warm conditions are ideal for growing most vegetables, but Southern gardeners face a few unique conditions.

First, if you’re going to grow vegetables in the South, you must adjust planting times to accommodate the searing heat of summer. Most of the South lies in USDA Plant Hardiness zones 8 through 10, which means mild winters and hot summers. Leafy crops such as spinach, lettuce, and kale bolt at the first hint of heat. Ditto for brassicas, including broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower. Plant these crops in January to February and opt for heat-resistant varieties. If you can, plant greens and cole crops in partial shade to keep them cool, which will extend the growing season.

 

Pests in the south are also quite different. Moles are the number one predator for both lawns and gardens but the spiders in this part of the country take a lot of getting used to.

 

Warm-season crops, such as tomatoes, beans, corn, and peppers are usually planted between March and April, depending on your climate. Again, choose heat-resistant varieties such as cherry or grape tomatoes. Another trick is to plant seeds, such as bean seeds, slightly deeper than the packet says. Deeper planting ensures adequate moisture for germination. Long periods of dry weather also present a challenge. I have found that drip irrigation systems are worth their weight in gold.

 

Another problem in the South is that of disease and insect pests. High humidity combined with year-round mild weather encourages fungal diseases and bugs. To combat disease, plant disease-resistant varieties and space plants so air circulates freely. Practice crop rotation so a crop doesn’t grow in the same place for at least three years. Avoid planting tomatoes near potatoes, blackberries, or peppers, because these crops share the same diseases. Use soaker hoses rather than overhead sprinklers and water in the morning so leaves dry off quickly. Avoid working in a wet garden, which quickly spreads disease. Remove and destroy all infected plants quickly. Sometimes, garden soils become heavily infected with disease. Try moving your garden to a new location or spread a sheet of clear plastic over the garden during the heat of summer. Secure the plastic tightly with landscaping pins or rocks and leave it in place for three months. The heat generated during this process, known as solarization, is capable of killing most soil diseases, as well as weed seeds.

 

To combat insects, hand-pick horn worms and beetles and drop them in a bucket of soapy water. Treat aphids and leafhoppers with insecticidal soaps and oils. Use organic pesticides such as Bt and rotenone whenever possible. Install floating row covers over newly planted crops to thwart flea beetles and other small insects. Eliminate crops that are consistently plagued by insects. I also use garlic flavor and hot peppers to provide a more natural defense

 

Southern soil varies widely, from the black soils of Mississippi to the sandy soils of Florida. Most soils are acidic, although a few are alkaline or chalk. Vegetables grow best in well-draining soils with a pH level between 6.0 and 7.5. Take a soil sample to a university extension office to determine your soil’s pH, as well as its structure and nutrient level. Follow the recommendations offered in the soil analysis to improve your soil. For example, you may have to add dolomitic lime to raise the soil pH if it falls below 6.0. Compost and manure can improve both clay soils and sandy soils. In some cases, your best bet may be to haul in new garden soil.  Getting straw compost from neighboring horse farms can be one of the greatest delights a gardner in central Kentucky can have.

 

Most regions of the South get plentiful rainfall mixed with dry periods. During monsoon periods, your garden may get too much of a good thing, which promotes disease and can inhibit pollination of fruiting crops. During dry periods, plan to irrigate your garden with soaker hoses and drip systems. I have

 

Fertilize vegetables every four weeks with a balanced vegetable fertilizer or a few shovelfuls of manure. Wait until fruiting vegetables such as tomatoes and peppers produce blooms before fertilizing.

 

Gardening in the south can have its challenges but it is also very productive.

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