Saturday, August 2, 2008

Raised-Bed Gardens - A Simple Planting Plan

Now that you have found a sunny spot and built some raised beds with broad, workable walkways and great soil, it's time to think about a planting plan. Too may gardeners visit their local garden center without a plan in hand, and walk out with one of everything - and no room to fit them all in!

If you have constructed the nine-foot "four-square" from my last post, or you already have a raised-bed garden, you have lots of room to grow fresh vegetables, fruit, and cut flowers for your family's use - but you now need to spend a little bit of time doing your homework. There are several vegetables that we love to eat, but that we can't readily find at the grocery store. An example of this is the small, elongated Japanese eggplant called "Ichiban." We love it's smooth texture and sweet taste, but you can't find it at local grocery stores, so we we always include two or three of these pretty plants in our garden. On the other hand, while we love the way cabbage looks in the fall and winter in our gardens, cabbage is cheap and plentiful at the grocery - and easy to find. We forego planting cabbage - and stick to things that really make our efforts worthwhile.

If your family loves fresh beans, build a tall trellis (at least 4 feet) on the north edge of the north beds of your "four-square." Sink tall poles at the corners of each of the two raised beds, and secure them to the sides of the box. They will need to be sturdy enough to support the weight of heavy plants in spring and fall wind storms. Attach a growing mesh to the poles - this can be anything from heavy-duty pig wire (think "chicken wire on steroids) to a simple string trellis - we recommend the strongest, most permanent solution you can afford - this will be a very hard-working part of your garden!

You will rotate crops on the trellis throughout the year, providing beans in the spring and summer, indeterminant tomatoes in the summer and fall, and sweet peas (the flower and the vegetable, depending on your Hardiness Zone) in the winter and early spring. In front of the trellises, plant determinate tomatoes with tall plant stakes, eggplants, and peppers. Along the front of those two beds, add some flowering annuals and basil, which will help attract bees and other beneficial insects. Calendula, nasturtiums, and other edible flowers are good choices for the summer garden, but there are many others.

On the north side of the next two beds, plant a row of tall herbs such as fennel and dill. Moving south, add carrots, radishes, onions, beets, and other root crops - interspersing these plants when you put them in the ground allows you to pull the fastest-growing vegetables first, leaving room for the slower-growing, larger vegetables. In other words, the radishes will mature first, and you will pull them, then the small carrots (such as "Nantes) will mature, and you pull them. This leaves more room for the beets and onions to develop to their full size. Be careful when you pull, and try not to disturb neighboring root systems, as this results in deformed roots.

In front of these, add a few summer squash and zucchini, a pumpkin, or other trailing vine. Again - we look for unusual varieties of these vegetables, such as "8-Ball" zucchini, and Petite pain squashes - ones that are not common in the supermarket. Leave plenty of room for air circulation, and remember that it only takes one or two of these prolific vegetables to provide your family with all the squash and zucchini they want to eat.

You can add fruit trees to the mix by putting them in large containers (the operative word here is, "LARGE") and placing them at the corners of the garden. The Improved Meyer Lemon is a good choice for novice gardeners, and is very cold tolerant for a citrus plant. Read carefully about the growing requirements of stone fruit - many cannot tolerate our lack of winter chill, and won't break dormancy in the spring, rendering them, functionally - well, dead. Gulf Coast gardeners should forego cherries, many apples and pears (although not all), and apricots. Peaches grow well, but are prone to insect and disease infestations, and frankly, take a lot of time and money to produce an edible crop.

Finally, a word of caution: make sure as you build and expand your garden that you have a clean, easy-to-access water source close to your garden. If watering is a chore, you will put it off - and it's the one thing your plants will absolutely require of you. Raise beds operate more like large potted plants than like gardens in the ground - they drain very well, but the flip side of that is that you will need to water daily when your daytime temperatures are above 80 degrees. Make this chore as easy and enjoyable as you can.

Next time, more about crop rotation throughout the season in your new, raised-bed garden! Now, shut down the computer and get out there!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Dormant in the Summer Garden - Planning a New Beginning

I've harrowed, and planted, and watered the seeds.
Now things in my garden are growing like weeds!
There's only one problem I've noticed by far:
Weeds are what ninety percent of them are!

OK - I know I'm not the only one! And you know who you are, so it's time to talk about the mid-summer doldrums and the overgrown garden. As we head into the full-frontal assault of heat and humidity that will stretch from the late days of July into the end of September, there are a few simple things we can do to help our gardens cope. The best strategy after that is to use our "down" time in the garden the way gardeners in Minnesota use the months of January and February - preparing for the NEXT garden!

If you have your sprinklers running (and on a rain-gauge timer), and everything is weeded and mulched, then make a big glass of sweet tea, sit back in the A/C, and pull out your seed inventory! It's time to plan for a grand and wonderful fall garden!

Fall and winter are the best gardening seasons along the Gulf Coast. Many of the annuals that we love to admire in those 4-color, glossy plant catalogues that arrive every December will actually grow very well for us over the winter. While many perennials such as peonies, lilacs, and most hostas will not survive for long in our hot, humid summers, annuals such as petunias, violas, and thunbergia*, and vegetables like cabbages, kales, carrots, etc. do very well throughout the winter. They don't mind being seeded in during the hot days of August, and by September, they're up and ready to go to work.

If you have not encorporated vegetables and herbs into your gardens, this is the year to try it! And the good news is that it's easy, because these plants are not only wonderful to eat, but they're great to look at as well. I recommend starting small, and putting in only one or two plants of maybe three different vegetables or herbs to start - it's easy for garden rookies to get caught up in the the excitement, and lose sight of the hard work. One or two tomato plants - maybe a cherry tomato, and one standard ball-shaped red, like "Celebrity" would be enough. Add a couple of basil plants and maybe two sweet pepper, and you're set! Remember that vegetables and herbs like full sun, so plant them where they receive shade ONLY in the late afternoon, if possible.

The best possible conditions for a small vegetable garden - one that will easily support a family of four people with minimum work and effort, will be provided by what I call a "four-square." This garden of four raised beds sits on a plot of 9 X 9 feet. The design uses two intersecting walkways (a cross) of 3 feet each - this is wide enough to push a wheelbarrow down, so don't skimp here! In each corner is a 3 X 3 foot raised bed (at least 12 inches high). Design the cross walkways on a North/South axis, if you can, which will allow you to plant tall things on the north side of the garden that will never shade out the smaller plants on the south side. For more information about building raised beds (they're very easy!) go to this page at the Missouri Extension Service for instructions. There you will see a drawing of a "four-square" with a garden cart in the middle! Be sure to lay landscape fabric in the walkways, and cover with a good layer of mulch - you will be using glycophosphate (like Roundup) on them soon enough, but take time now to make that job as easy as it can possibly be. Gravel works best, but small pine bark nuggets or straw work as well - they just have to be replaced every few months.

This simple design can be dressed up with a trellis or two on the north side (tall vines will shade out other plants, so plant them on the north!), arbors, tepees, and all sorts of other garden acoutrements! What could be better?

To the novice gardener, a 9 X 9 foot plot may seem small, but these beds, when filled with good soil and compost are the ticket to great food for the whole family. Once the beds are constructed and pegged in securely, they need filling. The whole point of using the raised beds is to develop a no-dig zone, where the plants and soil nurture and replenish each other on a regular cycle, and you never (OK - almost never) have to dig them up again. What this means is DON'T SKIMP with the good stuff when you first fill these beds.

If you live where the water table is high, and the ground floods regularly, the first 3 inches of the beds need to be filled with gravel and sand to improve the drainage. Most plants won't grow roots in water, so getting the drainage right is essential. Top the drainage mix with 6-8 inches of GOOD garden soil - not "Top Soil" - this is another thing completely. Add another 6 inches of soil amendments - bagged or composted manure, composted leaves and garden waste, mushroom compost, and what Lowes' calls "soil amendments" which is a finely-ground pine bark product. At this time I add an organic, slow-release fertilizer (read the directions on the label, and don't over -apply - you'll burn your seedlings!). Then mix the stuff up in the beds as best you can. Now, those of you who are math geniuses will realize that the beds are supposedly 12 inches tall, and we just put a quart of beer in a pint glass. It's OK! Just mix it up, and leave the beds mounded in the middle. You will be surprised how quickly the soil is depleted in the beds, and you will have to add more compost! If you have added raw manure to these beds, you will need to wait about 2 weeks before planting. If you used composted manure, they're ready to plant!

My next blog will contain a simple planting plan for a fall vegetable and cut flower garden - stay tuned!

*Thunbergia grows as a perennial up north, but I grow it as a winter annual in pots.

Monday, June 30, 2008

My Task List for the July Garden

The heat is on, and the big, black grasshoppers have come out of hiding. I worked very hard in May to find them as they hatched out and give them a huge, hearty helping of Sevin and/or malathion. Their numbers seem to be down a little this year, but it's early yet. Now that they have grown their wings, there's not much in the insecticide aisle that will kill them. I find that the bottom of my shoe works best.

After July 4th, when all the guests have left, and you have the garden to yourself again, it's time to cut back all the impatiens. This is always difficult for me to do because they are so tall and beautiful right now, but I've learned that if I wait, they get scraggly and leggy, and damaged by the hail storms we're having every afternoon. Cutting them back now produces a great, grand show in time for Labor Day, when all those guests that just left suddenly re-appear at your door. Hummmmmm.

Your roses will also benefit from a mid-summer pruning, as long as you keep it light and easy. Remove all the dead wood, any huge succers branching off the root stock, and any other branches that seem to make the bush look out-of-shape. Keep dead-heading spent flowers, and the bush will come into bloom again soon. After pruning, fertilize and water well.

In fact, remember to keep dead-heading all the re-blooming perinneals and annuals like daylilies, zinnias, marigolds, calendula, etc. If the annuals seem spent, now is a great time to add a second planting of these plants, which will carry the seasonal color well into the fall. Pinch back the mums now, but be sure to stop pinching by the last week in July - this will give them time to branch out and develop a spectacular display for October.

Now is the time to divide spring flowering plants like irises (not Louisianas), Shasta dasies, gaillardia, canna, early daylilies (finished blooming), liriope, and ajuga. Simply dig the clump up, cut it into two or more sections, making sure each section has a strong root system attached, and replant in the garden. Always be sure to share some with a friend!

Stop pruning all shrubs! Spring bloomers such as Azaleas are setting bud for next Spring, and you'll prune it off. For other shrubs, the pruning will cause the plant to put out new growth, which will be weak and tender when the first cold snap arrives in the fall. Hold off on all pruning of non-flowering shrubs until the dead of winter, when they're dormant. Spring flowering shrubs should only be pruned immediately after they have finished their bloom.

Keep up with the watering. Drought-resistant plants like hollies will still shed their berries under drought related stress - and you'll miss the color come Christmas. Take time now to plan for a nice shady spot for a new bird bath - then keep it clean and filled. Enjoy the wildlife in your garden this summer!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

My Task List for the May Garden

We are perched precariously on the precipice between cool spring evenings and hot summer nights. This is probably the broadest range of temperatures that we will face until the cool down in November. This is the last month for planting shrubs, dividing perinnials, and getting things mulched and ready for the hot days ahead.

If you love clematis as much as I do, plant some right away, and then sit back and let it take over a trellis. Best bets for the Coastal South include Nelly Moser (mauve with deep pink centers), Henryi (white, with a purplish tinge), and Jackmanii (purple). I used to be a purist, and only planted one variety in each place, but I have come to love the way the vine scrambles over the trellis, and intermingles with whatever is nearby. This year, I'm putting in a Nelly Moser and Henryi next to my back door, in a dry, sunny spot, and hoping for a big show come October. It will replace a thunbergia that I grew from seed two years ago, but that struggles in that sunny spot during the hot weather. The black-eyed Susan vine will take over a place of prestiege in the shade near the main gate to the back yard. It is one of those plants that dislikes our hot summer nights, but it will sit tight for the summer, and come out with a big bang in the fall, blooming happily throughout the winter on my south-facing back wall.

Clematis loves lots of sun as long as their "feet" are in shade. Do plan on planting something at their base that will hold leaves through out the summer, and then mulch them in well. Plan on providing a LOT of water, and fertilize lightly every six weeks throughout the growing season. There's a lot of debate about pruning clematis, and I just stay out of it. If it's too big, cut it back. If it's not, leave it alone. You can increase the number of vines you have by draping one branch in a circle around the base of the plant in October, and then bury it in the dirt about an inch deep. When new growth begins in the spring, each leaf axil will produce a new vine. The plant can be cut back and divided the following winter, providing several more plants for the garden.

This is the week that I am pulling out my cool season vegetables such as lettuce and cabbage, which are starting to bolt (grow flower stalks out the top, and set seed) Bolting makes them taste bitter, so I will make a grand, large salad, and enjoy the last of it until next fall. I will put in carrot and radish seeds, basil and thyme, and plot my next move regarding the tomatoes. I really don't have enough sun for them to thrive, but every year I try them, anyway. My other MUST HAVE summer vegetable is an eggplant called "Ichiban." It is first and foremost, a beautiful plant with broad leaves and dark purple stems. The fruit is long and cylindrical, dark purple and very sweet. The skin is so tender that you don't have to peel it off. It is great grilled, but makes the best Eggplant Parmesan you have ever tasted. (My recipe is in the sidebar to the right.)

The St. Augustine has been creeping into all the flower beds, so this is the time to pull it all out, and trim up the edging of the walkways and beds. The plastic edging never works for the fast-spreading grasses that do so well in the coastal South, so I use brick edging as much as I can. I put in a vertical row, and then a horizontal row on the outside, providing a ground-level platform for the wheels of the mower to ride on. Where I don't use brick, I edge in liriope, but those beds have to be trimmed regularly using the half-moon edger and digging down about 6 inches to provide a moat to stop the grass. Well, nothing stops it, but the moat provides a place where I can grab a-hold and pull it out. The St. Augustine has disguised itself in the liriope by growing tall, but you'll recognize it by it's bright green color against the cooler dark blue-green of the liriope. Clean out the grass now, because the liriope will begin their bloom season next month, and you don't want to pull up any of the flower stalks.

And speaking of grass.... Fertilize lawns now - but check with your local AgCenter (listed on this page) for recommended formulations and application rates. Centipede needs different treatment than St. Aug - so do your homework, and you won't be fighting brown patch this Fall. Never apply fertilizer to wet grass! After application, water in well. If you don't get a good rain within a week (an inch or so in a week) then water again within 7-10 days. Remember to raise your blade as high as you can stand it - this will provide a lusher lawn that will shade out weeds. Mowing on the lowest seting may save you time mowing, but it will ruin your grass in the long-run. Save mowing time now, only to spend it laying sod later. Your choice.

Now is a great time to plant bulbs that will put on a show well into the fall. Plant calla lilies, crinum, ginger, tuberose, and cannas. There several new varieties of dwarf canna that produce a smaller plant, but great big flowers. You can put out summer bedding plants, too, such as marigolds, salvia, and impatiens. Mulch them well, and provide lots of water. All these bulbs and plants will benefit from a liquid fertilizer such as MiracleGro throughout the summer.

Find a place in the shade for your houseplants, and give them a big boost of fertilizer and water. Peace Lilies will want full shade, and lots of water.

Aphids are a huge problem right now, so watch for infestations and spray with insecticidal soap. Be sure your plants are well-watered before treatment, and don't spray a heavy dose on new, tender growth. Watch weekly for re-infestation, and treat immediately. Persistence is the name of the game here. It's too hot now to treat camellias with oil sprays, but watch them for aphids and camellia scale, and treat with insecticidal soap. It's a stop-gap measure that will help some - the real treatment is to plan now for oil sprays in the Fall and Spring.

Enjoy the lilies, and look forward to the will be a beautiful summer on the Coast!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The First Day of Spring - Can Roundup Be Far Behind?

Sigh. The birds are singing, the mosquitos are buzzing, and the dandilions have taken over the rose beds. It must be the first day of spring! ACHOO! My car is covered with yellow pollen, and just when the weather gets gorgeous, I have to go inside, change the air filter, and close my doors and windows. Shucks!

If you can tolerate the pollen count, this is the time to plant small trees and shrubs. Putting them in the ground now, while the nights are still cool, gives them a little bit of time to settle in and get their roots growing. This will allow them to up-take enough water to survive the hot, still nights of summer, when the temperature seldom dips down below 85 degrees.

I have put in some Lil' Gem magnolias this last year, and they are doing very well. They are a dimminuative version of our Southern Magnolia (magnolia grandiflora) and grows slowly, and stays small, growing only to about 20' tall, 10' wide over 20 years (according to Dirr). It is a great hedging plant, and the Monrovia introduction roots easily from cuttings taken in the spring.

This is the time of year to plant these broadleaf evergreens, and others, such as hollies and azaleas. It's also the time to divide and replant (don't forget to share!) ferns, perennials, and ground covers. Bulbs like lilies can go in the ground, though it's a little early to put out caladiums. They won't come up until the ground warms up in May, and they rot during cold, wet springs. This is a great time to lay sod!

Stop fertilizing the acid-loving plants like camellias and azaleas (you should have done that by now), and instead, fertilize everything else. If you live far enough north to be able to grow peonies, now is the time to top dress them with a little lime. Clematis and boxwood like this treatment as well.

If you live the coastal zone, you will need to begin spraying roses for blackspot this week. Just put it on your calendar, and don't forget - or plant one of the new, disease-resistant varities like Knockout Roses and Flower Carpet Roses. I have grown the Knockout in the bright, hot pink, the first of the introductions, and I fell in love with everything about it except the color. I have also grown the light pink "apple blossom" variety, and it has most of the charm and charisma of it's parent. It is just a "little less" across the board in my Louisiana garden (less mildew-resistant, less hardy, less tolerant of drought, etc.) The bright pink Knockout is appearing in commercial landscapes wherever I look, and for good reason. The Flower Carpets I have grown include the white and the apple blossom. Both were outstanding, low-growing plants for the front of bed. I don't remember ever spraying for black spot on any of them, and they were very dependable, blooming late into the fall, and starting up in early spring. (See my blog: Plant Food: It's Not What You Think!)

Have fun out there, and don't forget to take your Benedryl! ACHOO!

Friday, March 14, 2008

My Love Affair with Zinnias: Annuals for a Hot-Season Garden

I love to peruse the garden catalogs while in the throes of winter - and the beautiful plant combinations always catch my eye. Most of the catalogs I receive are from places like North Carolina, or Maine. Their "summer" is three days long, and occurs in July. And while I love the beautiful pastels of the northern perennial garden, my Gulf Coast yard is baking by mid-May, and the heat won't abate until mid-October, if I'm lucky.

So I have given up on verbena, delphinium, and alyssum - in my summer garden. These plants will grow well, but need to be planted in the fall, so that they bloom in earliest spring. For the summer garden, I want heat-hardy annuals that blaze with color in our bright, Tropic of Cancer, sunshine.

Annuals are plants that germinate, mature, flower, bear seed, and die within one season. Flowering is the one reason that they are alive, so they are extremely prolific in bloom, and will keep it up throughout the whole summer. While they do have to be replanted each year, they are typically easy to grow from seed, and give you a long, long season of color.

Zinnias are my favorite annual because there are so many forms, and because they are so bright and colorful. The seeds germinate in 3-4 days, and they are in full bloom about a month or two later. There are zinnias for the border and front-of-bed, with smaller flowers and a full, leafy form. There are taller, more spindly zinnias for the full border, with just about unlimited range of colors and shapes. They make long-lasting cut flowers, and will bloom happily throughout the heat and humidity of our coastal summers. What more could anyone ask for?

Besides zinnias, here is a list of annuals that can be seeded now for summer and fall color:

Joseph's coat
annual aster
ornamental peppers
cosmos (yellow)
globe amaranth
impatiens (shade)
ice plant
Mexican sunflower

Some of these, impatiens and coleus, for example, readily re-seed in my pots and in my garden. Every year, a few of these garden "volunteers" survive the coldest days of winter, tucked up against the house, and burst into bloom long before the ground is warm enough for the seeds to germinate. What a blessing it is to see them shinning in a bed of Japanese holly fern, or peeping out from around the walkway pavers.

Planting some of these seeds now will give you full and colorful beds beginning about May, and lasting through the summer, so get out there, and get busy!

Note: If you saved any of those Easter Lily plants from church last year, they should be getting ready to bloom soon. Put some flowering plant fertilizer on them now, and stand back. The show is spectacular!

Monday, March 3, 2008

Nothing Better Than a Freshly Made Bed...

I love the thought of a brand new flower bed in the spring. There's nothing better than a freshly made bed...

But when the harsh, hot reality of mid-July summer sun and the work that's required really sets in, I, well, truthfully, I have my regrets. Just like the five-year old in the cafeteria line, my eyes are bigger than my stomach. To save yourself from this kind of rueful awakening, I suggest you ask yourself these questions:

"What do I want to grow?"
Research the requirements of the plants you want to put in your garden. Will they grow in your Hardiness Zone? (Don't know your zone? Here's a link to the USDA online map, with instructions on how to use it: Personally, I love cherries, and would love to grow the trees in my Zone 9 garden. Unfortunately, they hate our hot, humid weather - we don't have enough cold days to entice them from dormancy in the spring - so they are, in effect, permanently dormant (i.e., dead.) Once you know what you want to grow, and have done your research, go on to the next question.

"Where do I want to grow it?"
In the summer of 2005, my Louisiana garden had ten billion trees in it. It was a beautiful, tree-shaded lot full of pines, water oaks, black gum, swamp maples, and understory trees like star magnolias, bay magnolias, grancy greybeard, and azaleas out the wazoo. I could not grow a vegetable garden in that thicket to save my life. It was so shady that even the magnolias and azaleas were struggling to find enough sunlight to bloom sparsely and sporadically.

Hurricane Katrina did what I didn't have the courage to do: it edited my landscape, and opened up my yard to the sun. OK - it's not exactly bright in there, but there is enough light now for a small patch of grass (aka "the bocce court"), and the magnolias and azaleas have sprung back to life, putting on brand new leaves, and blooming happily. Why this long diatribe? Because you need to be realistic about what you can grow on your site, and put in the kind of plants that will be successful under your conditions. Roses need eight or more hours of FULL SUN - not half-sun, or a little sun, or patchy sun. No matter what else you provide for them, they won't be happy if they are not getting the sunlight they need.

On a bright, sunny day, take a piece of white paper out into your yard and put it on the spot where you want your garden to go. Put it on the ground and hold your hand about four inches above it. The shadow your hand makes should be dark, and have a clear outline. Now, go back out there every couple of hours, and test it again. Write down the hours that your hand produces that dark shadow. That's the number of hours you have of sunlight. Now that you know that, go on to the next question.

"How hard do I want to work at this?"
You can grow ANYTHING - ANYWHERE - as long as you are willing to work at it. So, how hard do you want to work? I'm a lazy gardener, and so are most of my Master Gardener friends. We don't want to spend so much time working in our gardens that we don't have time to enjoy them. So make this easy on yourself! Most soil types in the south east part of the United States will need amendments of some kind, and the heavy, clay-based "gumbo" soils of Louisiana and Texas will require you to build raised beds. Part of the reason for this is to provide drainage to a depth that will allow deep roots to develop, and some of this is because it's so much easier on your back!

There are many books that provide information about building raised beds, and there are several kits available (Through The Gardener's Catalogue, for example, or on their web site at Gardener's Supply Company:,35-910,default,cp.html

If you want to do it yourself, here are some helpful hints:

1) Plan on your beds being 12 inches high, at a minimum, and if you want to grow large carrots, horseradish, parsnips, or other large root crops, 18 inches minimum.

2) Don't make your beds wider than about 3.5 to 4 feet, so that you can reach in and weed them (and pick your flowers or vegetables) from either side.

3) Design a watering system for those hot days of July - either ground-level sprinkling or drip hoses, or raised sprinklers. The former are relatively unobtrusive, but less effective. The latter are downright ugly, but cover the acreage better. Run your water access out to the garden now, while the weather's cool.

4) Like the five-year-old with the big appetite, gardeners tend to want it all. Start small. Really - I'm not kidding. Professionals plan for one full-time worker for every quarter acre, more or less. That's one 8-hour-a-day person, five to six days a week to keep one quarter acre of planting bed weeded, hoed, fertilized and mulched. If you're like me, that full-time person is me, and I don't want to work that hard. About 6 feet of new, raised, 4-ft. wide bed is about all you will want to take care of. If you find you want more, there's plenty of time to build another bed in the fall.

Fill your bed with your very own, amended soil, designed precisely for the plants that you want to grow. A general purpose vegetable garden would be about 1/3 sand, 1/3 high quality soil, and 1/3 organics such as composted manure and soil amendments. If you want to grow plants that love water, add some perlite to the mix - about 1 small bag per foot of bed. Mix this up well, and fill the beds - the mix will settle by about a third by the end of summer, so be prepared to add compost, or other organics, as you re-plant the beds.

Increase the amount of sand in this mix to about half, if you want to grow Mediterranean herbs. Throw in a good wheelbarrow full of small pea gravel as well, to improve drainage for rosemary, lavenders, and other heat lovers. You will have to water them, just make sure the water flows right through, and the plants don't sit in the beds with their feet wet.

Some bulbs, like bulbing irises, love this kind of drainage, too, especially when they are bedded in for the fall, and our hurricane season starts. Be sure and mulch them well when you see the first signs of growth in the spring - then keep cutting!

Always top your new beds off off with a good, light mulch. Just like a nice blanket, it finishes off the neat appearance of the bed, but it also helps to hold in moisture, and keep the roots cool during the long, hot summer. Mulch also retards the germination and growth of weed seedlings, so be sure to replenish it each time you replant.

When your plants are safely in the ground, sit back and enjoy. All your hard work will pay off down the road, when you don't have to spend your July out in the sun, bending over the weed patch growing where your tomatoes used to be. So pour that big glass of sweet tea, and have a great day, ya'll.