rca vote now

FALL INTO Gardening

KEEP YOUR GREEN THUMB READY AS TEMPERATURES DIP 

BY BARRY K AUFMAN If recent real estate trends are any indication, there are quite a few of you out there who are spending your first fall in the Lowcountry. As such, you probably have quite a few questions about planting a fall garden here in hardiness Zone 8. The good news is, you’ve started at just the right time.

Summer gardening may be the peak of outdoor living in the north, but ask anyone around here and they’ll tell you that fall is when a Lowcountry garden truly takes off. The temperatures are more manageable, the bugs are a little less feisty and the climate is right for creating some magic in the garden.

To help you get the most out of your fall garden, we asked Laura Lee Rose with Clemson University’s Extension Service to pick a few of her favorite tips for fall.

DO YOUR RESEARCH

You might be tempted to try the “spaghetti on the wall” method to see what might take off in your particular conditions, but Rose says a more focused approach will yield better results, particularly when growing fruits and vegetables.

“A lot of people overextend and plant a little of this and a little of that,” she said. “But it’s probably a good idea to stay small and focus on things your family enjoys and you’re going to be able to grow in that season.”

KNOW YOUR SOIL

The fall growing season is particularly bountiful in the Lowcountry, letting you plant a wealth of veggies from seed including squash, cucumbers and a variety of leafy greens. But the first order of business should be having your soil tested.

“Doing a soil test is something we always recommend, making sure the Ph is right,” she said. For most vegetable crops Rose recommends a Ph between 6.5 and 7. For certain plants like blueberries and potatoes, a more acidic soil with a Ph of closer to 5.5 will work better.

SET DOWN ROOTS FOR WOODY FOLIAGE

Those of us coming from northern climates may still cling to the cool-weather credo that woody trees and shrubs go into the ground in the spring, getting a boost from the growing season that helps them set down strong, sturdy roots.

That might work up north, but down here in the South our trees, like our college football fans, can’t wait for fall.

“The research shows that they they’re doing a better job of establishing roots during the fall and winter without the stress of heat and losing water through their leaves,” said Rose.

She also recommends planting perennials during fall, as the cooler temps will help them establish roots much like woody specimens. And give everything a healthy covering of mulch to help moderate soil temperature, deter weeds and retain moisture.

SKIP THE FERTI LIZER

Another myth of northern gardening that many will hang onto long after they’ve been transplanted to the South is that your lawn and shrubs need a good fall fertilizing. “We don’t do that with centipede (grass). We want it to go dormant,” said Rose. “Fertilizing now can cause all kinds of problems with disease and pests. It’s a good time to test your soil and add some lime if you need to.”

Get it from the experts: The $6 fee for a soil test from Clemson’s Extension Service might just be the best deal in town, but it’s not the only way the office helps local gardeners. To find out more about keeping your garden green through fall, stop by their offices in the Beaufort County Government Annex on Hilton Head Island at 539 William Hilton Parkway.

From 9:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. every Wednesday, master gardeners with Clemson’s Extension Service will be on hand leading clinics all fall.

Not only can they test your soil, but they can also help identify plants and insects and share their secrets for a verdant autumn garden.