Felder’s Summer Gardening
When it comes to plowing through adverse gardening conditions, of which Mississippi has its share, it’s never too late to try, try again. I have some easy tips for getting more out of right now, without hurting ourselves.
I know every year we say “This is a weird year for gardening” but… 2023 takes the cake, what with an unusually hard winter that knocked leaves off what it didn’t kill followed by the current heat and drought punctuated with thunder-deluges that knocks stuff to the ground. Then our standing around with water hoses while dripping sweat from our noses and elbows.
Hasn’t been all bad, as most of us have hydrangeas, crape myrtles, vitex, gardenias and altheas in bloom, and passable flowers and vegetables in spite of more than a fair share of bugs and blights, mildews and leaf spots, and misshapen vegetables with off-flavors (bitter cucumbers, anyone?). And happily vigorous weeds everywhere.
Enough. Take heart in that the State Fair, which usually brings Autumn’s first cool spell, is less than three months away, and at which time we’ll be planting garlic and cold hardy greens, pansies, violas, ornamental kale, and snapdragons. It’ll be good then.
But how about right now, in the Dog Days of July and early August? It’s a weird window for planting, because it’s a bit early to set out cool season fall veggies and flowers (if you can even find them in stores) like cabbage, broccoli, and lettuces, which at any rate require regular watering and mulching to keep roots cool and moist. Next month and September are the times for those.
But through the end of this month and into early August we can still plant summer stuff, from marigolds and zinnias to tomatoes and peppers. In fact, tomato and pepper plants set out now will grow sturdier and stockier and end up outproducing leftover bushes set out back in the spring. Just mulch them and water deeply, not too often.
Here is my simplest, most productive approach for doing something productive, attractive, and easily maintained through all seasons, even now: Mini gardens, both small, raised beds and grouped or even quirky tiered containers. Even folks with large vegetable gardens and big flower beds can putter around in a small space up close on or near a porch or patio, with hardly any effort or expense.
The simplest little potager, or mixed garden, can look very fancy, if you mix up stuff, both containers and plants. One big pot or small raised bed can be overstuffed with “designer” vegetables, flowers, and culinary herbs, all easy to swap out as needed, a plant at a time, when something gets harvested or dies.
Couple of tried-and-true tips from an old hand at this: Fill raised beds with a soil mix that includes a little real dirt - dig down into the native dirt, then add stuff to that, or buy some real topsoil to firm up soilless mixes. And large pots really only need partial filling with good soil; in my big, galvanized containers I add upside down pots, empty milk jugs, or just bark mulch, topped with just a foot or so of good soil mix. And put a cute little fence around it all if you have rabbits, deer, or normal bored dogs.
This is a simple, creative approach for children with short attention spans as well as grownups with less time, energy, or desire to go big in the garden; it can even be a conversation piece during late afternoon or weekend gatherings. And it buys quality garden time cheap, ‘til the weather eases.