Summer Vegetable Gardening in the South

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner
A stock tank is rehabbed to grow vegetables in a small garden space

If growing vegetables is the entry level drug to all passionate garden expression, then the southern vegetable garden is speed.

Studded with annuals that produce fruit in one season, vegetables grow fast in our summer heat. People start with tomatoes and then move on to corn, peppers, and perhaps, a little basil to season it all. You can grow basil and tomatoes even in a stock tank container with a dependable water supply. 

 

Rosemary is a perennial in the southern garden. Only needing a trimming each year to help it look its best

 

Growing your own vegetables and herbs makes good sense. If you buy herbs in the grocery store, they are cost prohibitive. A packet of seeds will yield more plants than you can use. So, choose seeds, or small bedding plants, to grow basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme and other lesser known herbs like lovage and salad burnet. Some also make great additions to the ornamental garden. Many herbs like rosemary are perennial in our climate. They only need a trim each spring to look their best. 

 

My vegetable garden has grown over the years

 

Choose heat-loving plants for the southern vegetable garden. Tomatoes, peppers, corn, beans, squash and okra are classics. For pure ease, I like to grow bush-type green beans. They don’t take up much room, and are easy to pick. ‘Dragon Tongue’ is an heirloom variety with great taste. Also, try eggplant and cucumbers, I like Asian eggplant varieties like ‘Fairy Tale’ because they produce more fruit and don’t take as long to mature. You can grow produce from around the world. This year, I’m trying eggplants ‘Jade Sweet’ from Australia and ‘Fengyuan Purple’ from Taiwan. I’m also growing heirloom ‘Dragon’s Egg’ and hybrid ‘Spacemaster’ cucumbers. Cantaloupe and sweet potatoes are easy too. Just give them plenty of space to sprawl. For the advanced gardener, you can also grow pumpkins and watermelon, but I find cantaloupes (muskmelons) easier.

 

A red, ripe tomato ready for picking

 

Still, the last couple of years have been hard on our vegetable gardens. With extreme heat and drought, what is a gardener to do? 

1.Start early, but beware of late frost.

I plant my tomatoes, peppers and eggplant a bit early when temperatures warm because most will not fruit when temperatures rise over 100º F. Instead of relying on the average frost date as my marker, I watch weather forecasts for nights below 55º F. If nights are supposed to dip below that magic number, I cover the plants and uncover the next day. You can also use a row tunnel if you plant in rows. Another way to trick Mother Nature is to grow plants in containers. Wheel plants into the garage or house when unseasonable cold threatens. My plants grew and bloomed before extreme summer temperatures caused stress. Once temperatures cooled some in August, indeterminate tomatoes began to bloom again. I harvested cherry tomatoes and peppers into September, along with other produce.

 

Asian varieties of eggplant are more productive

 

 

2.Start small. 

Only plant what you have time and space to grow. Nothing is sadder than an overgrown vegetable garden and a frustrated new gardener. Try raised beds where you can reach to the center. 

3.Have water available to make irrigation easy. 

Don’t depend on a hand sprayer at the end of a hose. Instead, lay down soaker hoses or install a drip system for successful growing. 

4.Watch out for pests and diseases, but don’t immediately grab the spray bottle. 

Instead, go online and do a bit of research. Sometimes, a blast of water will banish some insects like aphids. Natural remedies are easier on the planet and your family too. 

Use these four tips, and you’ll harvest loads of produce. How fun will it be to treat your friends with sliced tomatoes still warm from the sun? You’ll be the hit of the neighborhood. Then, you can enable others to join you. Vegetable gardening--it’s a healthy addiction.