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A Guide to Spring Gardening in Lower Alabama

If you’re hoping to eat from the garden this summer, don’t delay. It’s time to get to work.

Want to take advantage of the Gulf Coast growing season but don’t know squat about squash? Take a deep breath of that warm spring air — we’re here to help, month by month. First, let’s start out with the basics. 

1. What gardening zone do I live in?

Congrats, you live in zone 8b! (Although a few of you in Gulf Shores and Dauphin Island are technically in 9a.) These zones are designated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and are determined by winter temperatures in each region. When buying seeds or bulbs, always keep your zone in mind.

2. What does it actually mean to “sow” something?

No, not a needle pulling thread. To “sow” means to plant seeds, either directly into the ground or into a planter. Depending on how much garden space and sunlight you have, you’ll want to do a little research to decide which flowers and vegetables will grow best for you.

3. Why are you making me do this?

Because it’s fun, cheap and potentially delicious. Our Gulf Coast climate is a gift that should be seized and never taken for granted! Plus, World Naked Gardening Day is on May 6, and I know you’ll be disappointed if you miss out. (To save you a Google search, yes, that’s a real thing.)

March

WHAT TO PLANT 
Start out the month sowing corn, summer squash and cucumbers. Eggplant and bell pepper seedlings are ready to be put into the ground. Hold off on sowing the okra, field peas and beans until the end of the month.

ALL EYES ON ME
It’s tomato time. If you’re just now realizing this, don’t bother with seeds. Go ahead and get yourself good seedlings, at least a foot tall, if you want summertime “T” to go with your “B” and “L.” There’s a lot that goes into successfully farming tomatoes, but you’d be smart to ensure your plants get full sun and composted soil. (See March Project, below.) And good news: If you fail this time, just wait until July and try again!

MARCH PROJECT
Creating your own compost bin will reduce your waste, improve the quality of your soil and won’t cost you more than a few bucks. Start by drilling inch-wide holes all over the sides and bottom of a large plastic-lidded garbage can. Add two or three handfuls of leaves with every large deposit of raw vegetable scraps, and nature will quickly take its course. A quick internet search will tell you what you can and can’t compost. The answers might surprise you.

Event

March 16 - 19: Plantasia! Spring Plant Sale
Stock up on flowers and other plants at this annual event benefiting Mobile Botanical Gardens.

March 23 - 26: Festival of Flowers  
Find horticultural inspiration at this year’s “Wildly Whimsical” show at Providence Hospital.

April

WHAT TO PLANT
As temperatures continue to rise, your vegetable patch will want to get in touch with its more tropical side. Start out by transplanting hot pepper and eggplant seedlings into your garden. Continue to sow okra, squash and cucumbers, and add some heat-tolerant beans to the mix. Lima beans are a local favorite.

ALL EYES ON ME
If you have enough sun, planting the right springtime flowers can add some bright color to your garden and support dwindling butterfly populations. Butterflies love plants such as  salvia, milkweeds, lantana, asters and zinnias, among many other colorful blooms. 

APRIL PROJECT 
Prune azaleas right after they bloom so that you can avoid the pitfalls of accidentally removing next year’s flower buds. (A good rule is to never prune past the Fourth of July.) Luckily, the pruning process shouldn’t be all that difficult. Bypass the electric trimmers in favor of a hand-held lopper, and target those few self-righteous branches that have gotten a little too big for their britches. Your azalea bush will regain a tidier shape in just a few seconds, while still retaining a hint of unruly charm. 

Events

April 15 - 30: Rose Bloom Out
8 a.m. - 5 p.m. Tour the Bellingrath rose garden, featuring more than 75 varieties and more than 2,000 roses. For precise bloom times, check Rose Watch at bellingrath.org

May

WHAT TO PLANT
Things are heating up in the garden this month, and you’ll spend more time harvesting than planting. You can still get away with sowing the most heat-tolerant field peas and beans, but July is the next big month for sowing veggies. 

ALL EYES ON ME
Enjoy the blooms of petunias and geraniums while you can because summer in all its humid glory is coming, and the flowers of spring will fall by the wayside. Keep this in mind when buying annuals this month, and anticipate the hot and soggy days ahead by planting coleus, impatiens, hibiscus and mandevillas.

MAY PROJECT
Although you won’t necessarily need it now, a rain barrel is a nifty way to store water during those wet summer months so that when drier days come, your water bill won’t know the difference. It works by directing the water from your rain gutters into a large barrel with a hose spigot at the bottom. For the conventional gardener looking for an easy and reliable option, there are several easy-to-install rain barrels on the market. For the handy and adventurous green-thumbers with a plastic drum, a drill and a dream, may the water source be with you.

Event

May 12: National Public Gardens Day
10:30 a.m. Celebrate this national holiday with a behind-the-scenes tour of the Bellingrath greenhouses and learn the secrets of their horticultural management team. 

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