In the Garden:
Coastal and Tropical South
December, 2010
Regional Report

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Beach restoration at Bay St. Louis, MS, includes cultivating banks of marsh grasses.

Gardening from Backyard to Beach

The song asks, "What're you doin' New Year's Eve?" Gardeners in our regions have lots to do!

Adding New Hardscape
While the weather seems harder than ever to predict lately, January is supposed to be one of our drier months. It's the time for garden construction projects from simple to simply grand. "Hardscape" is anything permanent in the garden, from paths and fences to columns and statuary.

Take the time now to put up sides for a raised garden bed, easily screwed together from 1" x 12" boards or stacked concrete blocks. Raised beds can take any shape, as long as you can reach to the middle of the bed from each side. When erecting arbors, trellises and pergolas, do not scrimp below ground. A solid foundation that can stand up to wind is essential, and building one is a two person job at my house. Put a posthole digger to work and dig at least 12 inches into the ground. Make a concrete mix in a 5 gallon bucket or wheelbarrow. Put some into the bottom of the hole, then stand up and level the post, and finally, fill in the hole. Allow the mix to set for 24 dry hours before attaching other parts to the posts. If you're planning a painted structure, it's wise to paint, stain or seal the wood pieces before assembling the structures.

Making better compost
Winter is a good time to get the compost heap going, but it also seems to bring the most complaints about bins and piles that stay too wet. Both issues can be addressed with a wheelbarrow, a shovel, a rake and a pair of scissors. Scoop up those leaves and make a pile 3 feet square. Add a cup of your favorite fertilizer to the pile and turn it once. You can leave it as is, surround it with wire, or put it into a bin system. Adding grass blades and/or kitchen trimmings to the compost will speed its decomposition, unless you violate the rule of 2-3 parts brown: 1 part green. Too much wet, green matter stops the decomposition process, turning the entire pile into a sopping mess. If your bin or pile becomes too soggy, rake it out on the ground to dry out. Cut kitchen trimmings into 1 inch pieces, rinse egg shells and keep a stick handy to shove fresh banana peels into the pile. If you leave fruit on top of a damp compost pile, fruit flies will soon become a problem. You can leave a pile of leaves to rot on its own, but turning weekly or even monthly speeds the process greatly. Rotating compost bins must be turned regularly or they will not work. Bin systems and hardware cloth rings around those 3 foot piles are easy to turn from one into the other. Turning provides needed oxygen to the decomposition; without it, a pile that includes green matter can turn anaerobic, the scientific term for the aforementioned wet mess. With minimal effort on your part, the waste from garden and kitchen can soon become the best soil amendment you cannot buy.

Growing stronger coasts
Gardeners and all good citizens in this part of the country work constantly at coastal restoration. Current estimates are that a storm surge is reduced by one foot for every 3 miles of swamp, marsh and barrier island it must cross as it comes ashore. This fact alone certainly brings into focus how important it is for all levels of government to take action as well. Locally, everyone can observe the signs marking shore grass nurseries and inform and teach others about their importance. Many choose to participate in community programs to tend and expand restoration efforts such as the widely-reported marsh grass planting project held last September in the Big Branch National Wildlife Refuge in St. Tammany Parish, LA. U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar joined the volunteers that day, drawing more press than most events can garner. Galveston Bay Foundation (www.galvbay.org) holds annual Marsh Mania events where volunteers plant cordgrass and other wetlands species by the tens of thousands. Make a New Year's resolution to find a wetlands restoration project to support in your area of the Gulf Coast.


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