In the Garden:
Coastal and Tropical South
May, 2012
Regional Report

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Crowding works in a container garden like this wagon, which is only designed for one season of growth.

Be a Smarter Gardener

A favorite topic for garden club programs and a seasonal request from radio listeners is this: advice on strategies to make the time spent gardening more effective. The busier I get, the more this focus dominates my garden plans.

Plan for Success
However it happens, our best intentions in the garden sometimes go sadly off track. The lawn stops growing, a rose doesn't bloom, or a squash crop goes bust. A new path collects water instead of draining it or a leaking above-ground pool dumps chlorine into the perennial bed. But the necessity of righting a unfortunate situation brings with it the opportunity to incorporate the undeniable basics of success into the remade garden: proper plant selection, site selection and preparation, and planned-for routine maintenance.

The publication of the new USDA Hardiness Zone Map earlier this year shows graphically that the northern borders of our regions now extend further inland. Last year was the warmest on record for the nation. This, along with violent weather, drought, and flood has taken its toll, and the result is a lot of stressed plants. We need to keep these changing conditions in mind as we plan ahead.

For example, lawns that are totally dependent on rainfall will decline slowly over a few years when warmer temperatures stimulate active growth for more of the year. Make a plan now so you provide water to lawns, garden beds, and trees when needed to meet their minimum needs. Put soaker hoses in place or station sprinklers at the ready if you do not have an underground system. Keep automated systems in good repair, too. Keep both manual and automated configurations on timers to conserve water, the time you spend on this chore, and your bank account.

Think About Garden Size
The basics of smart gardening apply to every sector of the landscape. Sometimes we get exuberant and plant too much of one thing, especially vegetables and annual flowers. Then we get overwhelmed and give it up to weeds. I wish I discipline myself to create a garden only as big as I can attend to every day, but the truth is otherwise. My compromise, and possibly yours, is to divide the garden into sectors for maintenance. This means a daily walk through the vegetables and weedy patches in the beds, but only a weekly visit to fruit plantings and shrub beds. Try not to follow my example on this one, and grow only what you can easily maintain.

Be Smart about Pest Control
When using pesticides, be a smart gardener and know what problem you are trying to remedy, what product will work on the plants you're treating, and how to apply the product safely and effectively. You'll get better pest control and avoid polluting the environment with unnecessary treatments.

Garden pesticides fall into three basic categories: insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides. Among insecticides, you can find dusts and sprays made from organic and synthetic products, some designed to work on contact, others systemically to control particular kinds of insects. Fungicides are generally liquids that are applied as sprays or drenches. A few are granular, primarily for lawn fungus diseases like brown spot. Herbicides are made to control unwanted plants. Some work to suppress seed sprouting and are called pre-emergent products. Those that work on existing weeds are called post-emergent. Most herbicides are chemical pesticides, but there are some that are organically based. Herbicides are available as granular products or sprays. No sprayer used to apply herbicides should ever be used to apply any other products. Every year I hear from someone who has made that mistake and regretted it.


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