In the Garden:
Lower South
April, 2004
Regional Report

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These sun-loving celosia will really blaze through a hot summer with just a little boost of fertilizer and regular watering.

Preparing for Summer

You just can't beat the wonderful weather and temperatures we have had this spring here in the south. In most areas that late frost never arrived to spoil the show, and our plants are really growing great. Temperatures are so perfect that even the most "fair weather" gardeners are staying busy and active in the garden.

Those of us who have spent more than a year in the south know that this glorious gardening season will be brief. Soon the full brunt of summer arrives, broiling everything in its path. The good news is that in the fall we get another chance at temperate gardening.

Now is the time to make preparations for the coming summer weather. Many annuals will decline and need to be replaced as things really heat up. However, our perennial flowers, vines, shrubs, and trees will have to go through the summer. Much can be done to help them out.

Watering Savvy
Proper watering is an important step in helping plants through the hot weather to come. Deep, infrequent soakings provide a good supply of moisture, yet allow a drying out period to keep the soil well aerated. This encourages development of a deep, extensive root system -- important insurance for the summer days ahead.

Cover the Soil
Mulching is the best insurance we can provide our plants, next to proper watering. About 2 to 3 inches of organic materials around bedding plants or up to 4 or 5 inches around trees and shrubs will keep the soil a bit cooler, improve infiltration of rain and irrigation, and slowly decompose to help build the soil.

If you are planting new plants, make sure to place them in their preferred exposure -- sun lovers in the sun and those wimpy specimens that need a break from the brunt of the summer sun in a shady but bright spot or one that gets only morning sun. I have learned the hard way that you may get away with putting a marginal plant in full sun in spring, but when summer arrives it will be "toast!"

Our bedding plants are still producing blooms in profusion. It is important to keep them well fed now that the warm weather has pushed them into vigorous growth and blooming. Productive plants benefit most from rich soil and periodic fertilizing.

Those houseplants that spent the winter indoors need to go outdoors soon to a protected location. Give them some time to get used to the outdoor climate and dramatically increased light intensities. Begin by moving them outdoors to a very shady location for a few hours a day. Remember, the shadiest outdoor location is still probably much brighter that the brightest indoor location.

It's time for me to head out and do some of these summer preparations in my garden. Plus, I think I noticed some weeds with evil intentions showing up in the tomatoes and roses. Better go do something about that before it becomes a bigger problem.


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