In the Garden:
Lower South
January, 2004
Regional Report

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Starting your own transplants from seed allows you to get a head start on the season. It also broadens your choices beyond those typically available at local garden centers.

Gotta Get Gardening

January is the beginning of a new year, but it's also the beginning of a new gardening season for southern gardeners. I don't know about you, but I have had enough time off and am really ready to get going out in the garden. The seed catalogs have tortured us long enough with their color pictures of luscious, bountiful harvest and promises of "the best tomato ever," while we look outside at the grey skies and bleak remains of last year's garden.

Choose Varieties
Despite the fact that we are just now getting into some cold winter
weather, there are some things that we can do to get a head start on the spring garden. If you haven't made your seed orders, it is high time to do so.

I am planning a big tomato trial this spring. We are testing over 30
varieties of tomatoes, including grape types, stuffers, and standard types. We are also planning a trial of peppers and cucumbers.

The average last frost date in most parts of the lower south region is
around mid to late March. Transplants of tomatoes can be seeded indoors about six to eight weeks before this date. Peppers and eggplant can wait a bit longer since they need a little warmer weather to thrive.

Get Lights Ready
Make sure and give seedlings plenty of light or they will be spindly and worthless! I have a small backyard greenhouse but have started a lot of seeds near a bright, south-facing window or under two 4-foot fluorescent fixtures. Shop lights are not very expensive and work great if you keep the light tubes a few inches above the seedlings.

Time for Early Crops
Not all our gardening need be indoors. Some outdoor planting can begin this month. Asparagus crowns should be set out this month. Later this month is a good time to begin planting spinach, peas (English, snow, and snap types), and onion sets. A spring crop of broccoli, cabbage, kohlrabi, and lettuce can go in at the end of the month.

Use Mulch Wisely
We have been busy gathering leaves now that some cold weather has finally brought them down and the neighbors are raking and bagging. I have blanketed the areas of the garden that are fallow with about an 8-inch-deep layer. This deters winter weeds and prevents crusting of the soil surface.

While mulching is praised in almost every gardening article you read, there is a caveat that I should mention here. In spring our goal is to get our plantings in early to get a head start on the season. This requires warm soil, yet mulch keeps the soil cooler. Therefore I pull the mulch back off the beds about a week or so before planting to allow the sun to warm the soil. Once the plants are well on their way and the temperatures are warming up, the mulch goes back around the plants.


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