Vegetable gardening in Augusta can be a challenge for newcomers. High humidity, fluctuating temperatures, wide variations in soil type (from extremely sandy to hard red clay), and uncertain frost dates complicate things.
The Augusta area is split into two gardening zones by the fall line, which runs from Columbus, Ga., through Macon to Augusta. North of the fall line, the soils tend to be predominately clay; south of it, they are sandier. Some of the sandy areas have an underlying clay base, others do not.
Still, we can grow great lawns, stunning flowers and excellent vegetables. Those who are patient, select the right plants and manipulate the soil and microclimate are amply rewarded.
More often than not, newcomers previously gardened where “you stick a plant in the ground and it grows.” Those from northern or midwestern states are often puzzled why certain plants that did well for them there do poorly here.
The clay soils of our areas can have poor aeration that limits root growth and the plants’ ability to replenish water losses when rainfall is low and the temperature is high. Sandy soils are void in nutrient content and dry out too fast. On both soils, use organic matter or compost to enrich them and make plants grow better.
Our average last frost date of March 20 (coincidently the first day of spring) is just that – an average. The last one can be in February (in 2011 it was Feb. 13) but many times it is during Masters Week. About 20 years ago, I can remember our last one was April 20. So I have seen a swing of more than two months between last frost dates.
The first average frost date is about Nov. 20. I have seen them come in late October and as late as mid to late December. The last two years I have harvested bell pepper after Christmas.
With all this in mind, put your garden in the best place you can. The best plot is sunny, away from trees and close to water, with good air circulation and drainage.
Raised beds will help move air and reduce some of the humidity-spawned diseases. Low places are likely to get killing frosts much quicker than places with good air circulation.
Gardens where cold air is trapped may have earlier frost kills than even nearby gardens. So don’t put hedges, fences or walls downslope from your garden, where they can trap cold air and cause early cold injury.
Our long growing season brings problems with insects, diseases and weeds, but don’t despair. You can cope with them, as we have for 250-plus years.
Don’t think you can kill them all. You can’t, they’ll outsmart you. But don’t just do nothing, because they’ll take you over. Remember, there are organic and inorganic ways to deal with pest problems.
Weeds will likely be the worst problem, diseases second, and insects the least of your worries. I know it is very seldom that I spray for either insects or diseases, but I am forever hoeing weeds.
But all is not lost and there is a brighter side.
Augusta’s long growing season and abundant sunshine enable gardeners to grow some of the best vegetables and flowers anywhere.
Vegetables, with some care in selecting varieties, grow just fine in most places. Without snow and bone-chilling temperatures, we can grow some things year-round.
Fall and winter are prime gardening times for cool-season crops. Cool nights and warm days let gardeners grow excellent potatoes, cabbage, lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower and other cool-season vegetables.
The latest gardening information is always close by. The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service has the latest gardening information online.
You can find useful information on these home pages and can click on the publications section and find all of the UGA Extension gardening brochures.
County agents or master gardeners can also answer specific questions you may have.
Don’t forget that neighbor guru of yours who has been gardening here for a long time and likely knows most of the tricks.
Many great friendships have begun over the garden fence.