In the Garden:
Lower South
June, 2001
Regional Report

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'Longwood Blue' bluebeard produces spikes of sky blue flowers rising above gray green foliage from summer to fall.

Keeping Plants Healthy in Rains

Many areas of the lower South were recently deluged with a week of rainfall from a wandering, early-season tropical storm. Our summers are usually plagued by lack of rain, but occasionally these Gulf storms blow through and leave plants treading water to stay alive.

Provide Good Drainage

One of the most important gardening mantras next to "Add compost" is "Provide good drainage." Most plants suffer in soggy, wet soils, especially if that condition is combined with heat. Even plants we associate with moist soil, such as azaleas and hydrangeas, fail to thrive with waterlogged roots. Planting in raised beds can provide the drainage plants need. As a 90-year-old gardening sage friend of mine used to say, "You can always add water, but you can't take it away."

Controlling Fungal Diseases

Even though our wet conditions are ideal for fungal and bacterial diseases, I seldom have to spray my gardens. The primary reason is that I choose plants adapted to our area and that have excellent disease resistance. I also prepare soil properly before planting, paying attention to watering and fertilizing. However, in spite of my best care, this rainy spell has been too much for plants, as leaf spots are common and squash fruit are rotting.

Controlling Powdery Mildew

The fungus powdery mildew has taken a toll on many plants. It loves the warm, humid conditions we have been experiencing. University research has shown that both sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and potassium bicarbonate are quite effective as sprays against mildew and certain other diseases. Some new, labeled products based on these ingredients are now available. Other low-toxicity options based on natural and elemental ingredients are appearing on the market to help us control diseases with minimal damage to the environment.

Give Plants Some Space

Crowding plants reduces air circulation, which means that foliage stays wet longer. Proper spacing of plants such as 'Longwood Blue' bluebeard (Caryopteris X clandonensis 'Longwood Blue') can mean the difference between a major disease problem and a minor one.

Frequent watering also keeps foliage wet more of the time and increases the likelihood of disease problems. Whenever possible, avoid wetting foliage at all. I have installed drip irrigation in several areas and notice a reduction in foliage diseases and some savings on summer water bills too.


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