In the Garden:
Lower South
July, 2008
Regional Report

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These new bean seedlings are off to a great start in the heat with drip irrigation to provide good soil moisture.

August Intermission

This time of year can fry the enthusiasm of even a dedicated gardener! Triple-digit temperatures often combined with high humidity make outdoor work a challenge. Yet we gardeners know that fall is on the way. With it will come a break from the heat and the best gardening season of the year in the lower South.

Fall Planning
Now is the time to start getting things ready for the fall gardening season. I wish I could bottle up some spring fever so we all could take a spoonful now to help motivate us to begin preparations for fall. In the absence of that magic potion, I've learned to do a little envisioning of that wonderful landscape and bountiful garden to come to motivate me into action.

I must confess that my veggie garden is suffering benign neglect these days. This is the point where I move in to pull up the remains of my spring garden and prepare those spots for fall planting. A couple of inches of compost worked into the soil works wonders.

I am a leaf hoarder each fall and winter, so there are plenty of leaves stockpiled out back now for laying a thick mulch blanket in these fallow areas now. This will protect the soil from erosion or crusting -- should it ever decide to rain again -- while deterring weeds.

There are some hardy inhabitants of the garden, such as okra, Malabar greens, and peppers, that are still going strong. They need a boost of fertilizer watered in well, and a little replenishing of the mulch where it's growing thin.

My flower beds are in need of some sprucing up, too. There are some old spent plants that need to come out. I left the old dead sunflowers so the birds could enjoy pecking the seeds from the dried heads. But it's time for them to go. There is a section of ground along the fence that I have planned for a row of shrub roses. Now is the time to remove the grass and weeds and mix in lots of compost so the soil will be ready for planting in October when I'll put those plants in.

We have a spot that I want to turn into a small -- okay, tiny -- orchard. The soil is decent but at times it can be a little too wet during extended rainy spells. Building the soil up into raised beds, rather like baseball pitcher's mounds, will facilitate drainage. Fruit trees in general hate wet feet and can't tolerate extended periods of soggy soil conditions.

Now is a good time to get in the last warm-season vegetable plantings including summer squash, cucumbers, and green beans. Planting in August means they'll be ripening in the cooling days of fall when the quality of harvest is the best of all.

Heat Protection
The intense heat outdoors is a danger to us both in terms of damage to the skin and potential heat stroke. We invincible guys are especially at risk since symptoms of these serious problems tend to sneak up on a person. I try to get most of the work done early in the day when it is cooler and the sun is not yet baking me. Late in the day is another good time, although it is still pretty warm even after 7 p.m.

Drink plenty of water, whether you are thirsty or not. I like to wear a broad-brimmed hat and a long-sleeved cotton shirt. Believe it or not, it is cooler than having the sun bake down on your skin.

Take advantage of this August intermission in the garden to set the stage for a great fall season to come. A little work now will prepare for a bountiful harvest and beautiful landscape when the best gardening season of the year arrives.


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