Irrigation, Mulches, Fertilizers & Weed Control
Mississippi summers are typically dry for weeks. Therefore, be prepared to water annual plantings as needed. To promote deep root growth, water thoroughly and deeply, then let soils get nearly dry before soaking again. Gently water annuals, using the fine spray setting of an adjustable nozzle or a breaker specially designed for watering. Soaker or sprinkler hoses are more convenient than hand watering because they provide a gentle flow of water that seeps into the soil. Trickle or drip irrigation kits conserve water by putting it only at the base of plants, a little at a time, and are best used frequently to keep soil moist. Soakers and drip systems also help keep foliage dry, which can reduce the spread of leaf diseases.
Decorative mulches such as pine straw, shredded bark, composted leaves, or other porous materials that allow air and water exchange help to conserve water and keep the soil cooler. Mulches also prevent many weed seeds from sprouting, but they can hinder reseeding annuals for the same reason. Soaker hoses can be hidden beneath the mulch.
Annual plants often require extra doses of fertilizer during the growing season. Whether a granular or a water-soluble fertilizer is used, follow label directions for use. Water-soluble fertilizers give fast, but temporary, effects. Slow-release fertilizers are the most expensive; however, they provide the appropriate amount of fertilizer to the plants throughout the growing season with little effort and waste, which makes them more economical and environmentally safe. Most annuals benefit from an all-purpose fertilizer having an even or nearly even balance between nitrogen, phosphorous, and potash, as indicated by the three numbers on the container. Flowering plants may perform better when you use a fertilizer with a higher middle number (more phosphorous); green or colorful foliage plants such as amaranth, caladium, and basil benefit from higher nitrogen (first number). Remember that fertilizers, like salt, go a long way; a little is better than too much.
The ideal soil pH is between 6.0 and 7.5 for most flower species. A soil test will indicate the need for lime, if any, and the amount for your particular soil type. For soil testing information, contact your county Extension office or use an inexpensive test kit available from a garden center or mail order catalog. Agricultural lime often lasts in Mississippi soils for three or more years; for this reason, it is best to not add lime unless a soil test indicates a need and quantity.
Few things can dampen enthusiasm faster than weeds. To reduce the need for hand-pulling or chopping weeds, there are herbicides that prevent weed seed germination and others that eliminate existing weeds on contact. Some may be used to control grasses without harming flowers. There are precautions and guidelines on the uses of herbicides, making none completely foolproof. Consult with your county Extension agent or local garden center on the selection and use of weed control chemicals, and carefully follow label directions. Mulches shade weed seeds and prevent their germination, thereby eliminating or reducing the need for hand or chemical weed control.
After cleaning the mess from Hurricane Nate, I had the chance to participate in two outstanding field days in Mississippi and Louisiana. I really enjoyed the plantings at the LSU AgCenter Hammond Research Station and the Mississippi State University Truck Crops Branch Experiment Station in Crystal Springs.
These events inspired me to share ideas over the next several weeks for great plants to put in your garden and landscape that you will enjoy next fall.
While Hurricane Nate was obviously not in the same class as Katrina, the last hurricane to hit the Mississippi Gulf Coast, it did provide gardeners a lesson in getting their landscapes ready before a storm.
I know it’s a bit backwards to wait until after the storm to make a list of tips to get your garden ready ahead of time. But this was the first hurricane I’ve experienced since moving to the Gulf Coast, and I’ve been thinking what I could have done better in advance.
Gardeners can purchase hard-to-find native plants during the Crosby Arboretum’s popular Fall Native Plant Sale.
The semiannual sale will be Oct. 21 and 22 at the arboretum. It begins at 10 a.m. and ends at 3 p.m. Arboretum members can enter at 9 a.m. Admission is free.
Cannas are commonly grown as large-specimen plants and look fantastic mass planted in landscapes. Their tropical-looking foliage lends bold texture to the space until the flowers steal the show from summer through fall.
In fact, the cannas I have planted in my Ocean Springs landscape right now are looking the best they have so far this year.
I know some homeowners who look at ornamental grasses and wonder what is the big deal; these plants are only grass. But when fall rolls around, many of these naysayers change their opinion 180 degrees.
Fall is a great time to appreciate ornamental grasses, as their flower plumes, actually called inflorescences, really pop out in their full glory.
One of the best and showier grasses is not a selection that was bred for any particular characteristic. I’m talking about Gulf Muhly grass, a Mississippi native grass that really struts its stuff in the fall and winter.