Vegetable Gardening in the South
The Spring planting time for cool season vegetables is from mid January (for sowing seeds) to late February (for setting out plants). Leaf lettuce, carrots, onions, cabbage, greens, radishes, broccoli, peas, and kale are just some examples of vegetables that thrive in cooler spring temperatures. The plants need time to mature before it gets too hot so don't delay planting them.
Cool season vegetables work great in pots on the back patio because they don't need a lot of room. It's a very convenient place to have lettuce, beets, and even onions and carrots.
Anyone who has ever eaten sun-ripened homegrown vegetables straight from the garden knows that they taste better than any bought from the grocery store. Once you start growing your own food, you will enjoy freshness and flavor unlike anything you've experienced. That's because fruits and vegetables that have been picked and then shipped long distances have already begun to lose their nutritional value and flavor. People who grow a garden year after year do it for the gratification of growing their own
great tasting food and the rewards of being outdoors and active. The satisfaction of bringing in armloads of a variety of food from a lush healthy garden is good for the soul and your diet.
Growing vegetables in Georgia can be challenging due to clay soils, insects and diseases, and unpredictable weather. But the rewards far outweigh these problems. Most people who are intimidated by the prospect of growing food become skilled gardeners once they give it
Our goal is to provide you with common sense advice that will help you to grow your own food with ease. Trial & error and practice are required but lead to success and a rewarding sense of accomplishment. Fell free to hit the "contact us" button a the top of the page if you need help with your garden.
The following tips are specific for gardening in our Georgia climate.
- Have the garden soil tilled, amended and prepared for planting BEFORE you buy the plants. A soil test is worth its weight in gold because it takes all the guesswork out of the pH and fertility needs. Most vegetables prefer a pH of slightly acidic, in the 6.5 range. Having the garden prepared for planting ahead of time saves your plants from sitting in their flats in the yard, waiting for you to plant them.
- Think small. Don't plant more than you can care for. When August gets here and your (too big) plot is cranking out food faster than you can pick it, you'll realize why we say this! If you're new to gardening, start off with a garden no larger than 10' X 10.' You can always expand later if you can't get enough of those fresh, tasty vegetables.
- Choose a location that receives as much sun as possible throughout the day, at least 8 hours of direct sun. Keep the garden away from nearby tree roots and be sure to locate it near a source of water.
- The condition of your soil is very important. Without good soil, your garden will have difficulty thriving because organic matter is vital for healthy vegetable gardens. If your soil does not contain sufficient amounts of organic material, then you will have to work some into it using compost or manure. Compost helps improve texture, fertility, and drainage of our sticky clay soil. Add grass clippings to the soil in the garden throughout the summer; they improve the fertility of the soil and give off nitrogen as they break down. Just don't add thick layers that would take longer to break down. More tips on the importance of good soil and how to create it.
- Plant in dedicated beds, not rows. Creating permanent beds that you amend and build up each year makes for great soil that drains well, allowing you to plant your vegetables closer together so you have more produce in less square footage. This method cuts down on watering, weeding, and fertilizing. Leaving permanent pathways that you mulch between the beds cuts down on weeds and prevents compaction of the soil where the plants are growing. A good layout is 4 ft wide growing beds of whatever length suits your needs. Having mulched paths between permanent beds looks good, too.
- Keep your plants well watered. Allowing vegetable plants to dry out will stress them and decrease production. Soaker hoses are a very efficient way to put water right at the roots. Another method is to use gallon jugs. Poke a few holes in the bottom of old, empty gallon jugs and bury them two-thirds of the way into the ground next to or between plants. Leave the top exposed and fill with water. The water will seep slowly into the ground, going directly to the plants. Keep the lid on the jugs so they don't fill with soil or debris. And remember- ALL edible plants are exempt from watering restrictions- you can water them whenever they need it. It's a state law!
- To add interest and variety to your vegetable garden, add flowers and herbs. They not only make your vegetable garden interesting, they can attract beneficial insects to the garden while deterring others. Flowers and herbs that have strong odors, such as marigolds and garlic, actually can repel pests from your garden and incorporating these plants with vegetables also can create beautiful borders and edgings. Many vegetables make wonderful border plants and can be grown for ornamental purposes. Think chives, kale, leaf lettuce, oregano, and purple basil, just to name a few.
- Protect your plants from harsh winds. Cold winds will stunt growth and hot winds will dry the soil and harm the plants. If you don't have a natural sunny protected corner in your garden, prepare a windbreak of garden lattice or plant vines on a fence.
Planning a Vegetable Garden: Make the Most of Your Space
A well-planned garden is easier to care for. It saves time in the garden and is more productive than an unplanned garden. If the soil was not plowed or tilled in the fall, that must be done early in the spring. Fertilizer probably will be needed.
Choose a Spot
The success of your garden depends greatly on the location. Although you may be limited in the choice of locations, consider the following:
Good soil - A loose, level, fertile, well-drained soil is best. If possible, avoid clays and very sandy soils unless you are able to buy adequate organic matter.
Sunlight - Sunlight is necessary to produce healthy high-quality vegetables. Generally, a minimum of 6 to 7 hours of direct sun is required for most vegetables.
Avoid Trees or Shrubs - Trees and shrubs compete with garden crops for sunlight, plant food and moisture. Especially avoid walnut trees as they produce a toxin that prevents vegetables' growth.
Have A Garden Plan
Consider the following points when planning your garden:
Garden Size - The size of your garden plot determines how many vegetables you can grow without over-crowding. Consider how much time you intend to spend in your garden, and how much garden produce you can use. Don't overplant.
For shady gardens use this rule of thumb. The sunniest spot goes to vegetables grown for their fruits or seeds such as corn, tomato, squash, cucumber, eggplant, peppers, beans, and peas.
Plants grown from their leaves or roots like beets, cabbage, lettuce, mustard, chard, spinach and turnips can be grown in partial shade.
For small gardens plant vegetables with a high yield per plant space such as bush snap beans, bush lima beans, Southern peas, leaf greens, tomatoes, and bell pepper plants.
Vegetables that take a lot of garden space for a long time and produce less are vining melons, squash, pumpkins and sweet corn.
How Will Your Garden Grow?
- Locate vegetables according to their growing seasons. Separate the early plantings from the quick growing vegetables so that after harvesting, this space can be used for later plantings. To avoid shading plants, the taller crops should be to the north or west of shorter crops.
- Successive Planting - This provides a continuous supply of vegetables. Don't plant too much of one variety at one time.
- Two or three small plantings of leaf lettuce and radishes may be made one week apart in early spring with additional ones made in the fall.
- Onion sets for green onions may be planted every two weeks until they are used up.
- If space is available, there can be at least two plantings of beans, beets, broccoli, cabbage and carrots - one early in the spring for summer use, another in the summer for fall use and storage. Make several plantings of sweet corn.
- Later crops can be planted on the same spot where earlier plants were harvested. Early harvested crops such as leaf lettuce, spinach, radishes, green onions, and peas can be followed by plantings of beans, beets, carrots, cabbage, sweet corn, late spinach, late leaf lettuce and turnips.
- Spacing Between Rows - Proper spacing is important for plant growth, cultivation and efficient use of space. Check for individual requirements.
Seeds and Plants
- Purchase seeds in advance in case you need to order them from a seed catalog. Don't use seeds left over from last year unless they were stored properly.
- Most vegetable seeds except onion, parsley and parsnip can be stored. They should be kept in jars or in cans that are tightly sealed against moisture, insects, and rodents. Store in a cool place such as an unheated room or refrigerator.
- Some plants such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, peppers, and tomatoes do best when they are transplanted into the garden. These plants may be grown at home or purchased from a store. When buying transplants, avoid plants that are yellow, spindly or too large.
- Scout the garden frequently to identify and treat insect damage before it becomes severe. Keep the garden free of weeds and mow the surrounding area. Plow under or remove plants that are finished producing. Do not leave them planted in the garden.
- Plant varieties that grow well in your area and follow proper fertilizing and watering recommendations.
- Some insects such as aphids and spider mites may be washed off the plants with a garden hose. The tomato hornworms or insect egg masses may be hand-picked from the plant to prevent further damage. When buying an insecticide, read the label to see if it is recommended for the insect and plant you are treating. Follow the directions. When using chemical control for sucking insects, spray the underneath of the leaves as well as upper surfaces. Insecticides are most effective if used before large numbers of insects take over the plants.
Growing Your Own Fruits & Berries
Choose a site with full sunlight and protection from strong winds. Avoid low areas with poor drainage; fruits & berries prefer a well-drained, sandy loam soil, rich in organic matter. Heavy clay soils should be avoided, but may be made more suitable for berries by adding organic matter such as compost, rotted or aged manure, and/or rotted leaves. Exposed areas that are prone to early frosts can reduce yields because many fruits & berries bloom early and are subject to early freezes that may kill the blooms. Have your soil tested to determine its pH and fertility status and follow the recommendations of your soil test results. Unlike many other garden crops, blueberries require an acidic soil for good growth. The soil pH should be within the range of 4.5 to 5.2 for blueberries, so NEVER add lime. Soil tests are available through your counties Cooperative Extension Office.
Of all the different types of edible plants you can grow in your yard, berries are among the easiest and carefree because they are not plagued by the insects and diseases that attack fruit trees.
There are two native species and one hybrid species of blueberries that are commonly grown in North America: Northern Highbush blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum); Southern Highbush blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum hybrids); and Rabbiteye blueberries (Vaccinium ashei).
Here in our zone 7 & 8 climate, cultivars of native Rabbiteye blueberries do best. Highbush blueberries will often be found in big chain stores but should not be planted here as they don't like our hot, humid summers.
Plant 2 or more varieties for best pollination. We carry Premier, Tifblue, Climax, and Brightwell cultivars of Rabbiteye blueberries.
We offer 2 varieties of thornless (that's right, thornless!) blackberries: Arapaho & Apache. They are self-supporting and don't need trellising. Not to mention delicious!
Apache: jumbo sized, sweet fruits ripen mid to late June.
Arapaho: also has jumbo, sweet fruits that ripen early; the last of May.
Planting both will extend the harvest.
Dorman Red Raspberry
The Dorman Red Raspberry is ever-bearing, beginning in June and lasting until frost, and trails along the ground, usually requiring some type of staking to prevent berries from touching the ground. Dorman Red is vigorous and productive in the deep South, where heat and heavy humidity can adversely affect the success of growing other varieties.
Did You Know?......
The fig is believed to be indigenous to western Asia and to have been distributed by man
throughout the Mediterranean area.
Remnants of figs have been found in excavations of sites traced to at least 5,000 B.C.!
Figs require full sun all day to ripen palatable fruits. Trees become enormous, and will shade out anything growing beneath. Repeated pruning to control size causes loss of crop. Grow in the warmest location, against a sunny wall or in a heat trap. Fully dormant trees are hardy to 12° - 15° F, but plants in active growth can be damaged at 30° F. Fig plants killed to the ground will often re-sprout from the roots. Chilling requirements for the fig are less than 300 hours.
Fruits: bears a first crop in the spring on last season's growth. The second crop is borne in the fall on the new growth and is known as the main crop. In cold climates the first crop is often destroyed
by spring frosts.
Pruning: Fig trees are productive with or without heavy pruning. It is essential only during the initial years. Since the crop is borne on terminals of previous year's wood, once the tree form is established, avoid heavy winter pruning, which causes loss of the following year's crop. It is better to prune immediately after the main crop is harvested, or with late-ripening cultivars, summer prune half the branches and prune the remainder the following summer.
Fertilization: Regular fertilizing of figs is usually unnecessary. Excess nitrogen encourages rank growth at the expense of fruit production, and the fruit that is produced often ripens improperly, if at all. As a general rule, fertilize fig trees if the branches grew less than a foot the previous year. Apply a total of 1/2 - 1 pound of actual nitrogen, divided into three or four applications beginning in late winter or early spring and ending in July.
Frost Protection: In borderline climates, figs can be grown out of doors if they are given frost protection. Brown Turkey and Celeste cultivars are some of the best choices. Plant against a wall or structure, which provides some heat by radiation. Or grow as a bush, pruning the trunk to near ground level at the end of the second year.
Harvest: Figs must be allowed to ripen fully on the tree before they are picked. They will not ripen if picked when immature. A ripe fruit will be slightly soft and starting to bend at the neck. Harvest the fruit gently to avoid bruising. Fresh figs do not keep well and can be stored in the refrigerator for only 2 - 3 days. Figs are delicious when dried. They take 4 - 5 days to dry in the sun and 10 -12 hours in a dehydrator. Dried figs can be stored for six to eight months.
Brown Turkey- medium, skin is purplish brown, flesh pinkish amber. Good flavor. Best when fresh. Small, hardy, vigorous tree. Prune severely for heaviest main crop.
Celeste- small to medium, skin is light violet to violet-brown, flesh reddish amber. Very sweet, usually dried. Tightly closed eye, good for Southeast. Small, productive, hardy.
Muscadines & Bunch Grapes
Muscadine grapes are native North American grapes indigenous to the lower half of the United States. They are much larger individual berries than bunch grapes, but grow in smaller pods or bunches and have a thicker skin. Muscadines are purple or black and scuppernongs are bronze or golden. However, a scuppernong is a muscadine. Muscadines are a delicious, healthy, and easy grape to grow in your home vineyard.
We carry several varieties of muscadine and seedless grapes, depending on market availability
Apples, peaches, pears, and plums are adapted to most areas of north Georgia. Regardless of where you live, if you are not willing to provide timely care for your trees and fruit, then you might be happier in years to come if you choose plants that require less care.
Sunlight, and plenty of it, is a key to increasing fruit production. Pick an area where the trees will be in the sun most or all of the day. The early morning sun is particularly important because it dries the dew from the leaves thereby reducing the incidence of diseases. If the planting site does not get plenty of sun, then you can't expect the best performance from the tree.
Although fruit trees will grow well in a wide range of soil types, a deep soil of a clay loam is preferred. Fruit trees will not thrive in soil that is poorly drained. In areas of poor drainage, roots will die resulting in stunted growth and eventual death of the tree. Fruit trees will also perform poorly on drought prone soils. Shoot growth can be stunted and fruit size and quality reduced.
Most fruit trees grow best when the soil pH is near 6.5. Since the natural pH of most Georgia soils is below this level, you will need to incorporate lime before planting to raise the pH to the desired level. You can get information on soil testing and liming recommendations from your county extension office. Periodically (about every 3 years) check your soil pH. The soil test report will indicate if additional liming is required.
The old adage of "you get what you pay for" is an important consideration when buying fruit trees. Often, bargain plants are not healthy or may not be a variety adapted to your area. Buy only trees of recommended varieties from a reliable source.
Before planting, prepare the soil thoroughly by plowing or spading followed by disking or raking to smooth the surface. If you have not adjusted the soil pH to 6.5 previously, liming should be done before you prepare the soil so that the lime will be incorporated. When added to the surface and not plowed in, lime takes much longer to move down into the soil. Lime an area 10' by 10' where each tree will be planted.
Similar to lime, phosphorus moves down through the soil slowly and thus should be incorporated, based on soil test results, along with lime before planting. During planting, dig holes large enough to receive the roots freely without cramping or bending from their natural position. Before planting, cut off all broken or mutilated parts of roots with a sharp knife or pruning shears. Keep root pruning to a minimum. Set the plants at the same depth they grew in the nursery pot. Work soil in and around the roots. When the hole is half filled, firm the soil before you finish filling the hole. When the hole is filled, pack the soil firmly and water well to eliminate any air pockets.
Do not place fertilizer in the planting hole or fertilize immediately after planting. This should only be done after the soil is settled by a drenching rain. When the planting is completed, the graft union should be at least 2 inches above the soil line.
Keep weeds out of a 3 to 4 ft diameter circle around the tree because they compete with the tree for moisture and nutrients during the growing season. This will also keep mowers away from the trees and reduce damage to the delicate bark of the tree. Mulching will help control weeds as well as conserve moisture. This is one of THE most important (and easy) steps to insure a healthy tree.
Unless properly managed, insects and diseases can seriously damage fruit trees and their crops.
Pests can be controlled with commercial pesticides, and moderate control may be achieved using organic controls. Treatment must be started before problems become severe, causing serious damage or crop loss. It is important to identify pests and diseases accurately so an effective treatment can be selected. Contact your county Cooperative Extension agent for assistance in identifying pests and for recommended control measures. Pest problems can also be reduced through proper sanitation. Remove and burn or bury dead, diseased, and damaged wood and fruit as soon as possible. Also, remove the leaves after they have fallen in autumn. Do not use the leaves as mulch. The infected leaves, wood, and fruit can provide a habitat in which insects and disease-causing organisms can overwinter. By taking time to maintain orchard sanitation, you can reduce insect and disease problems significantly.
Pruning and Training Fruit Trees
The day you plant your trees is the day you begin to prune and train for the future production. Too often backyard growers plant fruit trees and leave them untended for several years. This neglect causes poor growth and delayed fruiting. UGA has excellent publications on proper pruning. Type in the search words "UGA publication apple tree" or "UGA publication peach tree" etc in your search engine to learn how to properly prune whatever type of fruit tree you have. These publications contain diagrams that show you the proper way to prune your tree.
The purpose of pruning a young tree is to control its shape by developing a strong, well-balanced framework of scaffold branches. Remove unwanted branches or cut them back early to avoid the necessity of large cuts in later years. Prune in late winter. Winter pruning of fruit trees consists of removing undesirable limbs as well as tipping terminals to encourage branching. Similar pruning can be performed in the summer and is most beneficial if done in early June and early August.
Apples, nectarines, peaches, plums, and pears must be thinned early in the season to prevent overproduction, which can result in smaller fruit, increased tree breakage, and increased insect and disease problems. A heavy crop also reduces the chances for an adequate crop the following year. Fruit should be thinned when they are about the size of a nickel. Remove enough fruit so that the remaining ones are spaced about 4 to 6 inches apart along the branch. Even though it may look like very few fruit remain, the increased fruit size and quality at harvest plus reduced risk of tree breakage and improved prospects for next year's crop will more than compensate for the reduced number of fruit.
There's a fruit that is taking off in popularity here in America that has been grown for centuries in Asia- the Japanese Persimmon.
The fruit is very sweet, firm and non-astringent.
The Japanese cultivate it by the name of kaki.
Previously, only California grew persimmons commercially, but
experience shows that they are well adapted to the Georgia climate
and produce excellent yields of high quality fruit. The trees are
self-pollinating so even one tree in the back yard will yield an
The fruit is slightly smaller than an apple and looks like a mini pumpkin when ripe.
Japanese persimmons are adapted to a wide range of soil types, but perform exceptionally well on deep, sandy loam. Like most fruit trees, they prefer a soil that is alkaline with a pH of 6.5. Individuals should plant Japanese persimmons in an area that receives full sun. Although they appear to tolerate damp soils, and there should be good drainage with no standing water. Provide adequate moisture or irrigation during the first two months of bloom to promote good fruit set.
Those who want to plant several Japanese persimmons should space each tree approximately twenty feet apart. Japanese persimmons need proper spacing for good growth, adequate sunlight, and excellent fruit set. Grafted trees normally reach a height of fifteen to twenty feet.
The Japanese persimmon tree and fruit has a high immunity to most diseases, and many people grow them successfully with organic methods. Good orchard management is the key to preventing many diseases.
One of the advantages of growing the Japanese persimmon is that it breaks dormancy late in the spring and usually misses frost and freezing weather. In the northeast Georgia area, leaf emergence and shoot growth usually appear at the end of April. After two weeks, flowers appear and the process of pollination begins. Most Japanese persimmons are self-fertile and require no pollinator. Once the fruit forms, it develops during the entire summer and begins to ripen and change color in September.
Harvest Japanese persimmons when the fruit is well developed and the color has changed from green to an orange/red shade. We carry the variety 'Fuyu' and it is non-astringent and ready to eat immediately. The best method of harvesting the fruit is to clip the stem with small scissors, and leave the calyx attached to it. If the fruit completely ripens on the tree, it requires careful handling because it becomes soft and fragile. The non-astringent varieties have a shelf life from ten to thirty days.