By Brent Gray
Some parts of Mississippi are dry enough to start planting. Soil acidity levels have been on gardeners minds recently, but not the usual “How much limestone do I need to add?” question. Several folks have over done wood ashes and limestone and now have soils with pH levels in the high sevens. This is not a cause for alarm, but is a note of caution. Vegetable plants grown in alkaline soils often develop new leaves with yellow blades between green veins. If this happens, apply iron chelate as a spray following label directions. Iron chelate is most often found in a small bottle in the fertilizer section of the garden center. One application lasts a couple of weeks, so you may have to make more than one application. The good news is over liming is a self correcting problem and generally doesn’t last more than one season.
Potato plants survive freezes because the growing point is below ground. Now that freezing temperatures are hopefully over, the plants should grow and make tubers. Gardeners may want to apply a light application of fertilizer to compensate for a shorter than normal growing season.
Winter cover crops should be killed, rolled or shredded and plowed in by now. Good Friday is two weeks away. This traditional garden planting day should have everything prepared the week before to allow the soil to settle into the beds and the fertilizers and other soil amendments to start reacting. It may be wise to obtain transplants a few days ahead and allow them to get acclimated before setting them in the ground.
Be selective when buying fruit trees, vines and bushes. A recent trip to a large store revealed a display full of grape vines, raspberries and blueberries not adapted to Mississippi’s hot, wet climate.
After a heavy rain is a good time to take a stroll around your property to see where the drainage problems are. What can you do with wet spots on your property? The simplest and most practical is to choose plants for that area that can take the wet soil. If it is a full sun area choose plants such as Japanese iris, cannas, hibiscus and Joe-pye-weed. If it is a shady area choose plants such as ferns, elephant ears and cardinal flower.
Another approach is to raise the soil level by either creating a raised bed with wooden or stone sides or simply mounding the soil into a berm. There are many benefits to raised bed gardening besides solving a drainage problem. These types of beds warm up quicker in the spring, are more accessible and usually easier to maintain than ground beds.
The last approach you can take to remedy a drainage problem is to channel the water into some type of drainage system. You can install drainage tile, a French drain, or create a stone-lined drainage ditch than can double as a landscape feature when you install water-loving plants among the stones and along the banks.