In the Garden:
Coastal and Tropical South
April, 2009
Regional Report

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Unusual edibles, or just compatible bedmates, lettuce and pansies share our brief "spring."

Seasons of Sorts

Gardening in our regions can be challenging for anyone who divides the year into the seasons of the calendar. We have our own way of defining seasons here, where "spring" seems to last a day and "summer" fills at least two quarters of the annum. Yet we thrive when we make wise plant choices that suit our conditions. Everywhere I look, somebody's planting something right now.

Heat Up Fast
The cool of early morning March is a fading image in the rear view mirror in April. Corn's up and beans are growing nicely now. Strawberries are being picked daily, and unless we're very unlucky, the blueberries are past the possibility of freezing temperatures everywhere. Pecans leaf out last and they're getting busy even in most northern areas. As nighttime temperatures climb toward seventy degrees, the demands on plants for water and food increases. The warm nights nurture native and well-adapted plants, but can be the breaking point for those that seem to need the relief of cool night temperatures. That's why black-eyed Susans and African marigolds bloom abundantly all summer, long after the poppies and French marigolds burn up and shrivel. Resist the temptation to purchase the traditional "spring" annuals unless you're decorating for a party or planning to leave town for the summer. Our spring is just too short.

Stop and Start Pruning
Our naturally short spring means that shrubs put on new growth in a fitful burst. Azaleas and other spring bloomers are already actively preparing for next year's flowers. Pruning now will interrupt that process and result in green blobs all year. Nice, but not as showy as if they bloomed. Evergreens, too, shoot out new growth in warm weather and give you the opportunity to shape and thicken them. Hedges can grow too tall, or get thin in their middles and be naked near ground level. Take the time to prune new growth on ligustrum, cleyera, and their kin if you want to encourage new sprouts inside the shrub. Follow pruning with a blanket of compost, prune lightly again when another round of leaves sprout, and fertilize for the last time in July.

Perennial Pursuits
The speed of spring means that most iris will finish blooming this month. Lousiana iris put on their big show about the same time as Jazz Fest in New Orleans, in late April. Other iris -- flags, germans, bearded, Siberian, et al -- give in to clumps of sword-shaped leaves. Right now is a good time to dig, divide, and reset iris as they finish blooming. Phlox, both the beautiful blue native and the hot pink tall cutie, can also be divided right after flowering. The perennial rule of "divide in the opposite season" is problematic here. If the clump needs dividing because it is crowded, a long summer of growth only exacerbates the problem. Likewise, replanting now gives the plant plenty of growing season to become established for next spring's blossoms. Our "seasons" are different, and more than one transplanted gardener has bemoaned that fact. As a woman who moved to Pascagoula, MS, from Ohio said to me, "When do you people rest? You garden all year long!" Indeed, we do.


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