Middle South

May, 2008
Regional Report

Combine Garden Beds

It's much easier to mow around one big flower bed than several smaller ones. Consider combining beds, along with isolated trees and shrubs, into one or two large garden areas. You can remove and compost the sod and set out new plants now. Or spread several layers of newspaper over the new sections of bed and apply a thick layer of bark mulch. Come fall, the grass will be dead and you'll be ready to add new plants. Remember that gentle curves are easier to mow around than sharp corners.

Plant Summer-Blooming Bulbs

Set out frost-tender gladiolus bulbs and, if you can find them, acidanthera (peacock orchid) bulbs as well. These tall beauties merit a special cutting garden bed of their own, or plant them along a fence or the back of a border. The bulbs are surprisingly inexpensive and easy to grow and will reward you with extravagant blooms for bouquets.

Watch for Cabbage Loopers and Cabbageworms

Look for apple-green caterpillars on brassica plants, including broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and bok choi. The caterpillars themselves can be hard to spot, but if you see holes in the leaves, look closely for the caterpillar's black droppings. To control them, pick off the insects by hand or use a spray containing Bt, an organic and very effective biological control. You can also exclude the egg-laying moths with a row cover.

Encourage Drought Tolerance

Who knows if this summer will bring rains or continued drought? Prepare plants for the worst by encouraging deep and extensive root systems. To do this, prepare soil by loosening it and adding water-holding organic matter. Then, once plants have settled in, water deeply but infrequently to encourage roots to travel in search of water. The same holds true for lawns. Frequent shallow watering encourages surface roots that are susceptible to drying out.

Check Roots of Transplants Before Buying

Gently pop plants out of their containers and check the root systems. Ideally, you'll see some bright white roots in plenty of soil. If the roots are winding around the perimeter of the container and you see far more root than soil, the plant is potbound. It may still survive in the garden but will likely have a harder time adapting. In the case of transplants, bigger isn't necessarily better.

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