By GWEN SISSON
Russell Hamilton of the Oktibbeha County Co-op said two of the biggest local gardening trends he has seen this summer has been container flower gardening and raised bed vegetable gardening.
“Containers are nice because you can put them anywhere,” Hamilton said. “If you have limited space for gardening, containers are perfect. The different combinations of flowers that people come with is a large reason why these are becoming so popular.”
There are thousands of “recipes” that can be obtained from Proven Winners online and many other sites. Hamilton said these “recipes” spark ideas by showing what colors and what types of plants look well together.
“I’ll tell you though I have yet to see a combination pot where a customer picked out things they like and just put them in the pot and it turn out a disaster,” Hamilton said. “The key here is to pick plants that require the same conditions to perform well and the rest is all personal preference.”
At the Coop, the staff assist customers on a daily basis on what will do well in a customer’s pot based on size, light requirements, customer’s color preference, and other important aspects.
Hamilton said water management is the single largest issue with container gardening, and there are many products out there to assist in that matter.
“So if they know they tend to overwater we can pick a soil mix that stays on the dry side and if they are really busy and forget sometimes to water, we have products to keep those pots looking great all summer. We also offer a service where people bring in their pots and we just put them together for them. That has really grown this year.”
Another huge trend locally has been raised-bed vegetable gardening.
Hamilton said there has been a huge increase in the number of people creating raised vegetable gardens to grow their own produce.
“The benefits are numerous,” Hamilton said. “Everyone knows how great fresh vegetables from the garden taste over vegetables found in a grocery store. Each year I run into more people who are growing vegetables for the first time. And lots of people are doing them in containers.”
Hamilton said this means residents aren’t limited to having a large backyard and the equipment to till and plant. He said container vegetable gardening can be done on apartment patios or decks.
“It’s really neat to see who all is trying to grow what and what they are having success with, especially from beginners,” Hamilton said. “The good thing is we have a lot of information and help we can give them right here at the store. Great information can also be found from the county extension office nearest you.”
Hamilton said organic vegetable gardening is a trend that is really making headway in this part of Mississippi.
“The organic product line for pesticides, whether they are insects, diseases, mites, or weeds, has really exploded in the past few years,” Hamilton said. “The health benefits of not using chemicals are numerous and therefore pushing the use of organic products more and more.”
Hamilton said it is really important to understand Mississippi weather and local conditions.
“With our heat and humidity, our insect and disease pressure is really high,” Hamilton said. “This means you are not going to have the same success with organics that someone say in California would have. So understand that you are going to see more insects and diseases on your plants and you are not going to have a picture perfect plant worthy of a ‘Southern Living’ exclusive. But you can have success in keeping the number of insects and diseases under a tolerant level and get great fresh organic produce right out of you own backyard.”
Hamilton said there is a type of gardening for every lifestyle.
“Get out there and find out what is best for you,” Hamilton said. “The joy of the outdoors and gardening whether in pots or a three-acre plot is too great to miss out on. If you haven’t already, start gardening today. Share what you learn in the process and learn from others who are already succeeding.”
Vicki Katz with Town and Country Garden Club said two gardening trends that seem to stand out this year include planting things native to the area —Plants and turf which requires minimum care — and the popularity of vegetable and herb gardens. Katz is also working with a new container plant.
“One of my most enchanting new plants is a Colocasia gigantea,” Katz said. “It is an elephant ear plant native to Thialand that I ordered from a nursery in North Carolina this winter. It is so huge, my husband and I are shocked each time a new leaf unrolls to a full 36”X26” size. It is surprising how much it loves the sun and weather on our patio in Starkville.”
Emily Jones, the Deluded Diva and next year’s director of the Starkville Area Arts Council’s Everything Garden Expo, describes herself as an “urban gardener” who visits the Starkville Community Market on a regular basis. She said she is continually trying new things in the garden.
“Most are pass-a-long plants from Charlie Weatherly, Shirley Dawkins and Brenda Chambliss,” Jones said. “They always give me instructions and if I follow them, they always produce.”
Jones said this year she is trying to grow tomatoes, herbs and peppers in her front yard because that’s the only place that gets at least six hours of sun.
“My Brandywine heirloom tomato has offered up four tomatoes, then it sat down and died,” Jones said. “Hardly worth what I paid for it. Heirlooms just can’t resist Mississippi conditions. But when they do, they are heaven.”
Charles Weatherly said this year, he has reduced the size of his garden to concentrate on a few favorite vegetable crops.
“Hopefully I can keep up with the smaller garden more adequately as far as watering, fertilizing and keeping insects and pest under control,” Weatherly said. “I hope it will help on the production side as well.”
Weatherly has one 60 foot, double row of green snap beans, including a few of the Lynch beans that The Garden Mama mentioned at the 2011 Everything Garden Expo. He has Louisiana purple pods on one side of the bean trellis fence and his usual Rattlesnake beans on the other side.
“The Lynch beans at this point are far more healthy looking than the other two varieties,” Weatherly said. “As of now, I plan to plant more of them next year.”
Weatherly said this year, he had a fairly good crop of potatoes of three types — reds, whites and Lakota golds. After they were completely removed, he made two wide rows for 18 squash and watermelons. Another Garden Mama suggestion was to use one gallon cans with a small hole punched near the bottom and place by each watermelon, squash and cantaloupe plant. During hot dry periods, it is easy to water them by just filling each can and let the water slowly drip into the root zone. Weatherly said it has worked great so far.
Weatherly has had an abundant early season of asparagus, lettuce, spring onions, radishes and a late crop of okra.
“My Italian Everbearing Fig trees have produced an early crop of their usual very large figs, but considerably less than last year due to a cold snap we had in the spring,” Weatherly said. “The second crop now fills the trees with a much smaller fig but in great quantity.”
As for tomatoes, Weatherly has 18 plants of about eight different varieties, all planted in modified earth boxes he made last year.
“Since I was late getting them planted due to non-cooperative weather, my production will be late as well but all of them seem to be filled with fruit at this time,” Weatherly said. “Fortunately I have only seen a small amount of blossom end rot. I have picked a few ripe grape types called Juilet.”
All of the row crops in Weatherly’s garden was made via “no till” on recommendation of Dr. Glover Triplett at Mississippi State University.
“I did not even bring a tiller into the garden,” Weatherly said.
For the potatoes, which were the earliest things he planted, Weatherly added a considerable amount of composted leaves and grass clippings as mulch all over the five rows of potatoes.
He used Roundup as a clean up weeding method before the potato plants emerged from the ground. As the plants came up and grew taller, Weatherly pulled the mulch up around them on a regular basis.
This afforded several advantages Weatherly noticed right away:
• The plants were never stressed, even during the dry hot periods as the mulch held the moisture in the soil much better than last years’s crop.
• It conserved water as he did not have to water as often as before.
• The plants stayed healthier and more vigorous throughout the growing season.
• The soil was much more porous and pliable and easier to dig the potatoes out.
• Weatherly had a much higher production of potatoes than the year before.
• The soil bed, with the additional compost that was added, was immediately ready for the next crop with very little preparation, and it was much easier to prepare five new wide rows within which he planted squash, watermelons and cantaloupes.
• These new plants appear to be much more advanced and ready for more production than last year as a result of the no till soil beds.
• Weatherly noticed a similar improvement in his green beans, which were also planted by the “no till” method, with the addition of mulch at the plant bases. He also used Roundup on these rows as an effective weeding procedure prior to the bean plants emerging from the soil bed.