Helpful advice from the Lowcountry’s preeminent plant nerd
Early March is a pretty time to be in the South Carolina Lowcountry, and after some very cold and damaging weather I am ready to be outside digging in the dirt. Sorry, “soil” is the preferred horticultural term for that brown crumbly stuff we grow our flowers, shrubs and vegetables in.
Service since 2006. Rose is a South Carolina native, a certified nursery professional, Master Gardener coordinator and bona fide “plant nerd.” Past president and charter member of the
Southcoast Chapter of the South Carolina Native Plant Society, she lives and gardens on St. Helena Island.
What, yours isn’t brown and crumbly? Maybe it is sandy and loose, or yellowish packed clay. Good garden soil should have tilth, and what holds it together is the organic matter and moisture. There are so many ways that we can add organic matter into our soils: compost, leaves, mulches and green grass clippings are readily available at garden centers or free.
Vegetable scraps are a free source of organic matter that can be turned into “brown gold.” For shrub beds, this is easily done by mulching around plants to moderate soil temperature, prevent moisture loss and help with weed control. Fresh mulch can give the garden and landscape a finished look.
Lawns can be “top-dressed” with compost, and we should be leaving the clippings instead of bagging them. Whether your soil is sandy or clay, organic matter can help plants get the nutrients they need and roots to have an easier time mining those nutrients. Organic matter doesn’t last forever in our hot, humid temperatures. Wherever yours comes from, keep adding it often and early.
The Clemson Home and Garden Information Center has many fact sheets for lawn and garden assistance. We can help you in our office and plant clinics answering questions in person if you want to bring a sample of a problem or soil for testing.
The Beaufort County Extension office is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and Hilton Head Master Gardeners are on hand every from 9:30 a.m. to noon Wednesdays at the Beaufort County Government South Office at 539 William Hilton Parkway on Hilton Head Island.
Many things can be planted now, when soils and air are cool. Shrubs that are overgrown or in the wrong place can be successfully moved, or if it’s not a priority, fall is the best time to transplant. Putting down pre-emergent herbicide to prevent sands purs and other warm season annual weeds is best done now when the daffodils are blooming.
It is too early to fertilize lawns and shrubs, so please wait until April, when plants are actively growing and completely out of dormancy. Many lawn problems and diseases can be avoided by proper timing of fertilizers. Splitting the amount of fertilizer recommended into two applications is also an option. These would be applied in April and August at half rates.
There is lots of cleaning up and cutting back to do now because of the cold damage. With herbaceous perennials, tropicals, gingers, daisies or irises, you can cut back all of the dead material. Don’t cut back deciduous woody plants yet unless they are broken, damaged or overgrown. Once the leaves start to come out, you should be able to tell what needs to be removed. You can divide clumps of daisy, canna, salvia, muhley grass and liriope now. They make great pass-along plants or starts for new beds. You should also mow border grasses and cut back ornamental grasses if they look untidy.
There are lots of vegetable and herb transplants available in garden centers. Seeds can be started indoors now for tomatoes, peppers and eggplant, and can be moved outside March 25 to April 10 — well after an expected frost. Cool season crops like lettuce, kale and spinach can be directly seeded and enjoyed until warm weather.
Check the planting date chart for the coastal plain on the Clemson website, www.clemson.edu/extension, and remember you can plant lots of food in a small plot. But don’t overwork yourself, because the local farmers markets are going to have all of the special things that you don’t have room for. Support our local growers!
Laura Lee Rose is the consumer horticulture agent in Colleton and Beaufort counties. She has worked in the horticulture industry since 1987 and for the Clemson Cooperative Extension Service since 2006. Rose is a South Carolina native, a certified nursery professional, Master Gardener coordinator and bona fide “plant nerd.” Past president and charter member of the Southcoast Chapter of the South Carolina Native Plant Society, she lives and gardens on St. Helena Island.