Resources for Southeastern Gardens and Landscapes

Part of the You Can Learn Landscaping and Gardening series.
By Ken Brown
March 23, 2008

What are some of the concerns that gardeners and landscapers living in the Southeast encounter? Every part of the country has special needs based on weather, soils, and pests. The southeast has a long growing season that extends almost the entire year. What plants are available to gardeners in the southeast?

Gardening in Southeast Can be a Challenge

What are some of the problems associated with gardening in the southeast? Well, one of the first issues you will encounter will be the different soils found in the southeastern United States. Many gardeners in the south have to deal with red clay, while those living in coastal regions try to grow their vegetables and flowers in sand.

The warm climate that lengthens the growing season also is very conducive to pests. You can find some nasty insects like fire ants love the great southern living. Your plants are under attack everyday and some of these bugs have traveled from all over the world to enjoy the climate of the south.

What Climate Issues Affect the South?

The south sees just about every weather problem Americans encounter. The southeast has seen droughts. I remember as a child growing up in South Carolina we saw snow and severe ice storms. Hurricanes ravage the eastern shores of the Carolinas. They pummel the states bordering the Gulf of Mexico. All the states are at risk for hail storms, tornados, stifling humidity, and sometimes the rain never stops.

What can a gardener and landscaper in the south do? Well, you have to decide whether these issues are problems or just opportunities for having fun in the garden. I recommend you go on the offense instead of being defeated by these garden challenges. Find out what signs on your favorite perennials signal pests that need to be dealt with immediately. Once you know what bugs to look for then you can determine the best insecticides to use.

As you look for ways to defend your garden there are many natural solutions you can use. Sure there are herbicides, pesticides, insecticides, and other nasty "cides." But, if you do your homework you can find natural solutions to problems that are less harsh to our environment and to you. Why use synthetic chemicals when there are natural biological controls that are just as effective?

Am I in the Southeast?

When we talk about the southeast what states are included in this area? Take a map of the United States. Draw a line starting in Philadelphia and extending all the way to the southwest corner of New Mexico. Every state below the line can be considered in the South. This means some portions of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri can be considered part of the Southeast gardening zones.
A wonderful book titled Southeast Home Landscaping. Home Landscaping Southeast Region book tells you what you need to know to garden in the southeast United States Native Perennials of the Southeast helps you choose perennials that work in your garden. Garden Walks in the South is a book to help you landscape your home and walk way.
Month by Month Gardening Carolinas helps you plan your garden for maximum beauty in North Carolina and South Carolina. Month by Month Gardening Georgia is a classic book to help you get the most from your Georgia Landscape Month by Month Gardening in Tennessee and Kentucky helps your garden grow to it's highest beauty. Month by Month Gardening in Alabama and Mississippi is for landscapes along coastal regions of the Southeast United States.
Of course all the coastal states are in this group, including Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. Then the southeast also includes the mountain climates of West Virginia, Virginia, and Tennessee. Wow, with so many climates how do I know what to do for my area of the country?

United States Tropics

If you are living in southern Florida or the southern tip of Texas then you are considered to be in a tropical zone. What can you expect? Little to no frost each year. A great climate for the citrus plants. You can expect rainfalls between 25 to 50 inches each year. This impacts the perennials you choose for your landscape. This area also has soils of sand which might reduce what you grow in this region.

Perennials to try for the tropic region of the United States can include Azaleas, Spirea, Quince, Ferns and Forsythia. Fruit bearing plants that are popular are apples, blueberries and grapes.

Landscaping Along the Coast

Okay, so what can you find on the coast? Sand, salt, high humidity and mild winters. Sometimes this region will get a frost, but this tends to be rare. It is a wonderful climate for magnolias, viburnums and annuals that think they are perennials. Is there really a winter?

Deep South Gardening

When I was growing up in the Piedmont Region of South Carolina we were on the edge of the foot hills of the Appalachias. I remember playing baseball in February with my brothers. Spring was early and beautiful. The Flowering dogwood would bloom before Easter and put on a wonderful show. Was it hot? The heat was merciless. It never seemed to rain and when it did rain it appeared someone was in the sky pouring buckets of water on us.

We would get snow once every 3 to 5 years. You could never count on it as a kid. Ice storms were more likely to hit us. We grew all the vegetables we needed in our garden. We had yummy strawberries, green beans, corn, watermelon, figs and pumpkins. Everything grew without much help from us humans. Now that I am a misplaced Southerner, I have a Star Magnolia in my yard to remind me of home, but it would probably grow better in the Deep South.

The Mountain South Landscaping

As you move north into the mountains you get cooler weather. You can plant a flower garden of traditionally northern perennials. This means you can plant the salvias, catmint, daisies, potentillas, coneflowers and lamium. The weather can get below freezing and you will see snow. Once summer arrives though it hits with hot, oppressive humidity. Luckily, it cools off at night.

The growing season is shorter, but the bugs aren't as prevalent and they actually have a period where they are dormant. The mountain elevations are just as important in the ability of a plant to grow as the weather.

Northern Portion of the South

Once you get into Kentucky, West Virginia, and Oklahoma, you can experience a weather that is similar to Northern climes. The soil is still red clay for the most part, but, the cool nights and early winter opens up new perennials that would never survive in the deep south. This portion of the Southeastern region will have a shorter growing season than the other sections.

Like today though you can be receiving 4 to 6 inches of rain in a 24 hour period or experiencing dry drought like conditions. The moisture comes from the Gulf and hammers this part of the South with rain, hail, and tornadoes.

The good news is you can plant many varieties of plants in your garden and your landscape will prosper. If you love tulips and alliums then you can plant with the knowledge that the ground will freeze and produce the cold necessary to bring out the flowers.

Perennials for the Southeast Garden

South Tropics - Pansy, Canna, Geranium, Aloe, Bird of Paradise, Glossy Privet, Hollyhock, Citrus, Honeysuckle, Turk's-cap, Myrtle

Landscaping Along the Coast - Southern Carolina, Spanish Bluebell, Coreopsis, Pansy, Canna, Geranium, Bird of Paradise, Glossy Privet, Hollyhock, Citrus, Desert Willow, Honeysuckle, Turk's-cap, Myrtle

Deep South Gardens - Southern Carolina, Crocus, Spanish Bluebell, Winged Euonymus, Coreopsis, Pansy, Feather Grass, Maiden Grass, Canna, Glossy Privet, Aster, Hollyhock, Desert Willow, Turk's-cap, Myrtle

The Mountain South Garden Perennials - Southern Carolina, Crocus, Spanish Bluebell, Winged Euonymus, Coreopsis, Pansy, Feather Grass, Maiden Grass, Aster, Hollyhock, Desert Willow, Myrtle

Northern Portion of the Southern Gardens and Landscaping - Southern Carolina, Crocus, Spanish Bluebell, Winged Euonymus, Coreopsis, Pansy, Feather Grass, Maiden Grass, Aster, Hollyhock

This is just a sampling of the different plants available for gardeners in the South. What will work best in your yard? You have to decide what it is you are trying to do? Are you looking to attract butterflies, birds, or hummingbirds? Is your soil sandy, red clay, moist all the time, dry all the time or have you amended the soil for better growing? Are you most interested in the flowers or is it the wonderful scents you desire? Is the plant for a shady area or will it be in the sun the whole time? Will the perennial sit under pine trees, palmetto trees or deciduous trees? You need to take all of this under consideration as you plan your landscape.

Are you not sure what plant to use or when it blooms? Then check out any of the resources found on this page. As you can see the South is a very complicated place for landscaping and gardening. These books will help you get the answers you desire to make your backyard into the treasure it can become.

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