Upper South

March, 2006
Regional Report

Add Plants for Birds

If you enjoy providing feeders for birds during the winter, consider planting trees and shrubs that provide natural food. Some possibilities include crab apple, hawthorn, native viburnum, dogwood, elderberry, holly, serviceberry, spicebush, sumac, sassafras, chokeberry, Virginia creeper, Virginia pine, tulip poplar, sycamore, persimmon, beech, buckeye, wild cherry, cottonwood, magnolia, and sweet and sour gums.

Try a New Food Crop

As you order seeds for the food garden, consider trying at least one new type that you've never grown before. For example, kohlrabi, a member of the cabbage family, is fast-growing, nutritious, and a great addition to salads. Since store-bought melons are laden with pesticides, try growing your own using organic pest controls. Heirloom varieties like 'Jenny Lind' have incredible flavor that you won't find in purchased melons. Leeks and onions are easy to grow from purchased seedlings. French green beans, or haricot verts, are incredibly prolific and no more difficult to grow than regular green beans.

Don't Jump the Gun on Indoor Seed Starting

As tempting as it is to get started planting seeds indoors or in the greenhouse, most vegetables shouldn't be started more than six weeks before outdoor planting time. In the upper south, the last frost date is between May 1 and May 10, so mid-March is a good seed-starting time for tomatoes and peppers. Squash, melons, and cucumbers need only about four weeks before planting into the garden. Cool-season crops, such as cabbage and broccoli, can be started earlier since they will be planted outdoors before the last frost.

Attend a Spring Garden Show

Spring garden shows run the gamut from ones that focus totally on plants and gardening to others that are more home-improvement oriented. But any of them can provide at least a bit of inspiration and new ideas. Usually, there are display gardens set up by local landscape designers, as well as vendors selling garden tools or deck and patio furnishings and accessories. Take the time to talk to the designers and sellers, get business cards, and then study the materials at home before making any major decisions.

Start Greens in a Cold Frame

With either a purchased cold frame or a homemade version, you can plant lettuce, arugula, mesclun mixes, kale, and spinach anytime there is a break in the weather with a few warm, dry days when the soil can be worked. Choose the hardiest varieties. With lettuce, that includes 'Arctic King', 'North Pole', 'Winter Marvel', and 'Winter Density'. For extra cold-weather protection, cover the planted area with a floating row cover.

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