Gardening in the South Ain’t So Hard

December 9, 2008 | By | Comments (14)

Is gardening in the South harder than in other regions of the country? That’s what some transplanted Northerners think, but the Grump disagrees.

I was perusing another blog the other day, Garden Rant (see the link below), when I ran into an article written by Allan Armitage, Professor of Horticulture at the University of Georgia and one of the foremost experts on growing perennials in the South. Allan’s a transplant himself and he made the case that growing perennials and other plants down here is harder than it is up North.

Well, the Grump just had to weigh in. This is the response I posted:

“Hey, I grew up in Maryland and have spent the last 26 years in Alabama. You don’t need any map to tell you whether you live in the North or South. All you need to do is observe your neighbors. If they grow rhubarb, you’re a Northerner. If they grow okra, you’re a Southerner. If they offer you a slice of rhubarb-okra pie, do not accept.

I totally disagree that gardening is harder in the South. Every region presents its challenges. For example, try Las Vegas in July. You don’t have to worry about root rot and powdery mildew! It never rains and the relative humidity is about 0. Of course, it’s also 112 degrees in the shade for weeks at a time, which is why most residents prefer to lose their virginity in a casino than their sanity in a garden.

All one needs to do to succeed in gardening anywhere is look around at what grows with no care from you and make that the backbone of your garden. Choose plants adapted to your climate. Here in the Southeast, where summer means endless heat and humidity and winter is short and mild, we can’t grow lilac. But we can grow crepe myrtle, a vastly superior plant. All sorts of semi-tropical and tropical plants offer us spectacular flowers and foliage for months on end. Plus, we can have something blooming in the yard every month of the year. So I don’t cry about gardening in the South — unless it’s my turn to eat the rhubarb-okra pie.”

Top 10 Better Alternatives for the South

To reinforce my point that the South gives gardeners great opportunities, here’s a list of 10 plants we can’t grow well and 10 we can. As you’ll see, the South gets the long end of the stick.

We Can’t Grow……

1. Lilac

2. Heather

3. Foxtail Lily

4. Norway Spruce

5. Apricot

6. English

7. Bunchberry

8. Quaking Aspen

9. Mountain Ash

10. Rhubarb 

But We Can Grow

1. Crepe Myrtle

2. Azaleas

3. Ginger Lily

4. Southern Magnolia

5. Japanese Persimmon

6. Lavender

7. Rosemary

8. Lenten Rose

9. Live Oak

10. Possumhaw

11. Okra

Any other examples y’all can think of?:

COMMENTS

  1. Gardening With Confidence

    What in the world (north) is a bunchberry?

    December 9, 2008 at 4:42 pm
  2. Gardening With Confidence

    What in the world (north) is a bunchberry?

    December 9, 2008 at 4:42 pm
  3. Lianne

    Kudzu?

    December 10, 2008 at 12:43 am
  4. Jean

    One thing the yankees cant grow is our southern drawl Ya’ll!
    Who wants to eat rhubarb anyway? Bleech! Give me the south any day!

    December 10, 2008 at 8:07 am
  5. Elizabeth Licata

    Lenten rose (hellebore), lavender, and azaleas can all be easily grown in the North. You did forget peonies as a plant not great for the South. I would add that tulips and daffodils are also difficult for the South. (Many bulbs must be chilled to succeed in warm weather zones.)

    December 10, 2008 at 9:39 am
  6. Cameron (Defining Your Home Garden)

    Oh, that explains my lilac! Gosh darn.
    Wait… I’m a Southerner, make that “dag nabbit” :-)
    Cameron

    December 10, 2008 at 11:45 am
  7. Becca

    I have beautiful tulips, daffodils, and peonies blooming every spring and we’re smack in the middle of Tennessee. Last time I checked, that was the south. Sorry to tell you, Elizabeth, but that disproves your theory.

    December 10, 2008 at 12:27 pm
  8. Grumpy Gardener

    Be still my beating heart! I have stirred up some really heated controversy. The Grump appreciates those of you who have sought to correct his judgments. However, you’re still wrong (because I am almost always right), as elucidated below.
    1. There are a number of old-fashioned peonies, most notably ‘Festiva Maxima’ and ‘Sarah Bernhardt,’ that bloom reliably even in the Lower South. I once did a story about ‘Festiva Maxima’ blooming for a family in Jackson, MS for over 100 years. Granted, peonies as a whole prefer long, cold winters up north, but you can still grow them here. And heck, the Grump didn’t even make a case for them to begin with.
    2. Tulips as a whole do need winter chilling to do well in the South. However, a number of species tulips, such as Tulipa bakeri, T. clusiana, T. saxatilis, T. tarda, and T. turkestanica, need no special treatment and come back ever year.
    Daffodils do great in the South and do not need any chilling even in north Florida. Tazetta, jonquilla, and miniature types do fine in central Florida (Zone 9).
    The Grump should also point out that he can leave the following bulbs and bulblike plants in the ground all winter and have them come back just fine — amaryllis, calla lily, canna, dahlia, ginger lily, pineapple lily (Eucomis), agapanthus, rain lily, magic lily, spider lily, crinum, and society garlic.
    3. Yes, Lenten rose will grow in Ohio, PA, and southern Illinois and Indiana. But if anybody is growing it in MN, WI, the UP of Michigan, most of Iowa, or the Dakotas, please let me know.
    4. Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) is a beautiful, deciduous ground cover that grows 6-8 inches high, spreads by creeping roots, bears white dogwood-like blooms in early summer, followed by clusters of shiny red fruits in late summer. It prefers the cool, moist weather of the mountains. In my garden, it would live for maybe 8 seconds.
    5. FINALLY — I think Northerners need to be introduced to the delights of kudzu. You think it’s too cold to grow there. Don’t forget about the Miracle of Global Warming!

    December 11, 2008 at 11:39 am
  9. Judy Lowe/Diggin’ It

    I agree with you, Steve. As a displaced Southerner living in Boston, I can tell you that even with the bugs, it’s easier to garden in the South than it is the North. It’s also more rewarding — with all those flowering broadleaf evergreens and a long growing season.

    December 29, 2008 at 1:05 pm
  10. Grumpy Gardener

    Ah, vindication by someone who should know! Hi, Judy. For those who don’t know, Judy is a well-known garden writer who used to live and work in Tennessee before abandoning the good life and moving to the land of ice, snow, and Kennedys. Judy, what plants do you grow in MA that remind you of your former home? Some things are surprisingly cold-hardy. I saw prickly pear cactus sticking up through the snow at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum (a great botanical garden in Minneapolis). And needle palm (Rhapidophyllum hystrix) can take below zero temps. Wouldn’t it be wild to see a hardy palm growing in Boston?

    December 31, 2008 at 10:37 am
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  14. Paul

    I totally agree that every region presents its challenges..I mean it’s plain unreasonable to claim that something it easier in an entire region..that’s just plain generalizing..and I don’t like generalizing..I mean ok if one claims that one specific smaller area is easier for planting that another smaller area that I can understand..but entore regions…no?!

    December 16, 2009 at 11:24 am