The catalogs are starting to arrive. As you go through the catalog, dreaming of your perfect Spring garden, there are a few things to keep in mind. Just because you wan it to grow, doesn’t mean it will. A lot of the seeds, bulbs, and plants in catalogs are not meant to survive in the deep south. Save yourself both money and time. Do some research first.
Know your zone. If you are new to gardening, find out your zone. The USDA has a map of the U.S divided into hardiness zones. There are 10 zones. These zones are based on average temperatures for the area. Once you know your zone, use that number as a guide. Most seed and plant catalogs list the zones each plant can tolerate. Be aware, there are microclimates within those zones and in your yard. Lower Alabama is in zone 8. Yet, coastal Alabama has a different climate than the rest of lower Alabama. Just because the catalog says a Bleeding Heart is a perennial rated for zones 2 -9, doesn’t mean it will survive in your yard. Forget about it even coming back next year!
Know your sun. Lower Alabama has lots of sunshine with high temperatures. Therefore the plants you chose need to be able to stand up to long hours of sun and high temperatures. The amount of sun will increase water evaporation. That means you will be watering a lot. It’s sensible to chose plants that are sun loving and heat tolerant.
You also need to be aware of the suns movement in your yard. Most yards have areas of full sun, partial shade, and full shade. Different plants have different light requirements. Track the suns movement in your yard. Know what areas get the most sun, and which gets the least sun. Do this ahead of time and you will save yourself hours of playing musical plants. For instance, full sun in coastal Alabama is 4 to 6 hours, not all day. The sun is so hot it will burn plants. Hostas will grow in full sun, up North. Here they must be in the shade or they will burn up.
Know your ground. If you can, get a pH test for your soil. Lower Alabama tends to have acidic soil. Knowing this ahead of time will save you from buying plants that like alkaline soil. The reason camellias and azaleas do so well here is the acidic soil.
You also need to be aware of your yards drainage. Look at your yard after a rain. Does your yard look like a moat or a desert? Many areas in lower Alabama are clay. The water doesn’t drain. Other areas, are quite literally a swamp. Still others are more sandy. You need to know the drainage of your yard. You can’t plant a cactus in an area with poor drainage. Nor can you plant the Louisiana Walking Iris in a dry sandy area.
Before you order from a catalog, talk to your friends about what grows well for them. Drive around and see what everyone else is planting. Mobile is the Azalea City, because they grow so well here. You may want the new hybrid or more exotic plants, but the bottom line is – they may not grow here. Do your research before you buy. Save yourself the time, money, and heartache. Those tulips are beautiful, but they will not come back next year!