In the Garden:
Lower South
March, 2008
Regional Report

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Spring gardening fever is here!

Start Spring Gardening Off Right

Spring gardening season is here, and gardeners are flocking to garden centers to load up on plants and products. I guess the best garden we'll ever have is in our mind's eye while shopping in the spring. Here are a few tips to help make that vision of your Eden a reality this year.

By the time a plant is set in the ground, most of its chances of success or failure have already been determined. Site selection, soil preparation, and variety selection dramatically affect plant performance. These critical factors should be carefully considered prior to purchasing and planting.

Right Plant, Right Place
Each species has its own ideal growing conditions. That crape myrtle will never look like the gorgeous photo on the nursery tag if you plant it in a shady location. The beautiful, spreading live oak may not be the best choice if the space between your home and the power line at the street is too narrow. The power company will trim it for you later, but believe me, you won't like the job they do! That tree you are about to purchase is a long-term investment that could be the prime feature in your landscape 50 years from now.

Do some checking with your local Extension or a nursery professional to learn what a particular plant needs before purchasing it. Although some people prefer to make those impulse purchases and then figure out where to put the plant, they'd likely be much happier with their landscape if they took some time to do a little research and plan it out on paper before going shopping. Just because it's for sale doesn't mean it is the right plant for your needs. But there are plenty of other beautiful, adapted options for almost any landscape situation.

Prepare Soil Before Planting
A soil test is the best way to determine your soil's fertility. Local nurseries sometimes offer soil test promotions. Generic fertilizer recommendation can be made to get you off to a good start, but are nowhere close to being as useful as a recommendation based on a soil test.

Some elements do not move much in the soil and therefore it is best to mix them in before you plant. In the case of lawns and areas around existing shrubs, such mixing is not feasible. Simply spread the nutrients and water them in well. Or, better yet, punch holes about 8 inches deep with a spading fork or soil aerator tool and then place the fertilizer in the holes. This will help to aerate the soil and provide a way to get the nutrients to the roots.

Most soils will benefit from some additional organic matter. Add composted leaves or bark a few inches thick and till or spade it in. Or you can buy a soil mix containing compost and use it to form the planting bed.

Raised beds often pay big dividends, especially for plants that don't like soggy soil. Raised planting beds help improve drainage during a seasonal deluge, thereby avoiding such problems for years to come.

Choose Adapted Species and Varieties
Gardeners often seemed determined to try things that don't grow well where they live. Dogwoods and blueberries in the arid west or blue spruce trees in the sultry lower south have little chance of long-term success. Even when it comes to adapted species of vegetables and flowers, there are some varieties that do better than others.

Even the variety you choose can make a difference. For example when choosing a crape myrtle, make sure and select a variety resistant to powdery mildew. Check with a knowledgeable nursery professional or a Master Gardener with your local Extension office for suggestions of the best local plants to grow in your garden. A little planning along with some wise planting can get you well on your way to building that Eden you have in mind!


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