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Tips for gardening

New comers to the Deep South from cooler parts of the country are truly shocked at just how hot it gets here during the summer.  The heat and humidity are oppressive not just during the day, but also during the sultry nights.  The high temperatures and humidity can last for months testing natives as well as the newcomer’s patience and air conditioning.
The summer heat is tough on plants too.  For your garden plants to survive, choose the toughest plants adapted to the southern zones.  Colorado blue spruce or Jersey blueberries belong in those states, not Mississippi.  Even so, your local plants might need some help to survive and prosper.  Following are some tips on keeping your garden in top shape through the summer with a minimum of time and effort.
1) Keep plants mulched.   
You probably already know of the many benefits of mulch. Keep the mulch replenished in the heat.  Use your old newspapers and grass clippings. Apply fresh grass clippings in a thin layer of and let dry for a few days before adding more.

2) Keep Weeding.
Here is a fast, easy way to recapture weed-infested areas of your garden.  Wet the soil thoroughly.  Tall weeds may need to be mowed before wetting the soil.   Place a 4 sheet thick layer of newspaper over the weeds covering the entire row up around your garden plants. Wet the newspaper to hold it in place and cover with leaves or hay-free mulch and recycling in one operation.
You can even come back a few weeks later and plant transplants or larger seeds like beans or okra through holes in the newspaper.  Sprinkle a handful of soil or compost over the seeds and then water. You will be amazed how well they grow.
3) Add Organic Material. 
Vegetable gardens not in production can benefit from an addition of manure and other organic matter this summer.  This material will decompose rapidly and be ready for fall planting.  Southern peas make a great, edible summer cover crop for building the soil and providing food.  The pea vines can be mowed and tilled into the soil as soon as they are through producing peas.
4) Let the hot sun work for you by tilling unused areas of the garden and expose the soil to the heat. 
This will kill nematodes and young weeds.  After a couple of weeks repeat tilling to bring more weed seeds and nematodes to the surface.  If you can cover this area with clear plastic, even better weed and disease control will occur.
5) Water Deeply.
Irrigate the soil deeply and infrequently rather than giving plants a light sprinkling each day.  This requires 1 ñ 1 1/2 inches of rain or irrigation. How much is an inch?  Catch your sprinkler water in a tuna can.  It is one inch deep.  Although drought stress is a known danger to plants, overwatering can be equally devastating, especially when drainage is poor.  Poorly drained, soggy soil conditions combined with hot weather can wipe out a plant in a matter of days.
6) Evaluate Plants.   
Look at your landscape late in the day.  Plants looking wilted or sunburned (check hostas and hydrangeas), although well watered, may be in too sunny a location or receiving too much late-day sun.  Hurricane Katrina opened up our landscapes to a lot more sunshine.  Make notes on which plants to move this winter.
And last but not least,
 7) Take Care of Yourself.   
Drink plenty of water when working outdoors.  The hot, humid weather can be dangerous if you work outdoors during midday.  Try to schedule you work times to early morning or late afternoon.  Use sunscreen with at least a SPF 15 rating and avoid extended time out in the sun during the heat of the day.  
Following these simple suggestions will let you garden through the hot weather.  Not only will you feel better, your garden will be prospering when everyone else has given up on theirs.    And remember that spring is not that far away!
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