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Posted By Tony Melton Florence County Extension Agent

This past week I did a garden club talk at a residence next door to the nursing home where my Mama lived prior to her death. Lord, I miss my Mama.  If was difficult, but as I spoke, I peered out the windows of this older home with its mature yard and stately old plants and reminisced about Mama’s yard.
Mama’s yard had a tough as nails Bermuda grass lawn which I remember as being almost as tough as nails to mow.  Unlike her mother, who had a wonderful swept lawn that exhibited the beauty of the sandy soil of McBee and glistened like diamonds in the sunlight, Mama’s yard had a lawn that was green and lush except when the sky withheld its rain.
Mama’s yard had many wonderful tried and true plants that are still the foundations of southern gardens today.  With all the new types of plants and varieties on the market today, we have a tendency to forget these trustworthy plants that will withstand our abusive summers.
Mama’s yard was filled with Abelias.  Abelia is a wonderful evergreen plant that flowers and flowers and attracts bees and then more bees.   Today we have wonderful dwarf cultivars, but the old standard was practically carefree with only a little pruning to keep it within bounds.
Mama’s yard was accented by the lowly Flowering Almond. Almost forgotten today, this low growing deciduous shrub is covered with beautiful pink flowers in early spring.  This plant deserves to be revived, and some local nurserymen are carrying it again.
Mama’s yard had Crinium Lilies growing in the foundation planting.  Today even small bulbs sell for extraordinary amounts of money.  Mama had two large clumps clustered on either side of the front door.  I forgot to save these beauties when we demolished the old home place, but a master gardener gave me a prized bulb at last year’s Southern Plant & Flower Festival so now I have that plant growing in my garden.   
Mama’s yard was awakened in the spring by Pearlbush, Redbud, and Flowering Quince.  Getting its name from the pearl-like buds that appear in early spring, in my opinion Pearlbush is really a pearl.  One of the first plants to flower in the spring, this tall, open shrub has a tendency to awaken bees and people from their winter rest.  Redbud, or what my dad called  Judas Tree, is a short-lived, small, early flowering tree that has made a comeback in today’s landscape.  Many new varieties and flower and foliage colors are available today.  Flowering Quince is another early blooming, bee- attracting, medium-sized shrub that wakes us up in the spring.  This plant deserves to be in the background planting of all gardens.
The center spectacle of Mama’s yard was a purple fountain of Wisteria.  Today many people are afraid to plant this invasive, early flowering vine.  However, my mother’s technique of maintaining it as a medium-sized shrub will keep it in bounds.  Just plant wisteria away from other and where you can mow all around it, prune it into a shrub form, and you can still enjoy its  blossoms without having to worry that it will take over your yard.
Mama’s yard was really thrifty and covered with Thrift.  This wonderful, spring flowering, creeping phlox is one of the toughest plants in the garden.  In May the old standard variety was covered with pink flowers but many variations in color are available today.  On ditch banks and dry spots where nothing else will grow, Thrift will flourish.
Finally, I must not forget the Azaleas, Cherry Laurels, Weigelas, Spireas, and many different Magnolias that glorified Mama’s yard. 

In my memory I will always love and enjoy strolling through Mama’s garden, and I know that she is resting in the greatest garden of all.

Posted By Tony Melton Florence County Extension Agent

   One of my fondest childhood memories is going "Garden Getting" with my dad.    Daddy loved to garden and always had a gleam in his eye when we went searching for those plants, seeds, and tools to make our garden successful enough to feed us nine kids.  Our first trek on this important journey, made about this time of year, would be to buy supplies for our spring garden which not only supplied us with sustenance but lifted us out of the gloom and monotony of winter. McBee High School was the first stop where we bought vegetable transplants from Mr. E. B. Earle, our local agricultural education (ag-ed) teacher.  Mr. Earle is still living and is a legend in the McBee area.  I clearly remember pulling transplants out of Mr. Earle's make-shift hotbeds made from light-poles covered with plastic and heated with strings of light bulbs.  Today his son Pat continues his father's work in McBee, as he has taken over the reins as the ag-ed teacher. Pat, too, grows excellent transplants; however, he utilizes modern greenhouses and growing techniques.  Many ag-ed teachers all over the state have similar programs that not only supply excellent transplants to gardeners but also are excellent teaching tools for their students. Next, we would visit the hardware store in McBee.  Back then the local stores, although, small, carried as much merchandise as possible to keep the community functioning. Many times they would have that one item you needed to complete a job.  McBee doesn't have a hardware store at the present, but many local communities do.  In fact, for many years my son helped manage a hardware store in Bethune.  With the high price of gas today, these stores are returning as a part of the life blood of these small communities.

   Finally, we would head to Hartsville (the big city) and visit our local feed-and-seed establishment which I called the "Checkerboard Store" because of the checkerboard painted on its side advertising dog food.  If I close my eyes and think back, I can still smell the pungent onions and the musky potatoes, hear the seeds rustling as they are poured into sacks, and see Daddy smiling as he bought his brand-new version of the Farmer's Almanac.

   To learn more about decorating, gardening and country living watch both of our Emmy Award winning TV programs, Making It Grow (MIG) and Down Home with Tony and Amanda.  MIG can be seen at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday nights on regular ETV.  However, at present Down Home can be seen on digital cable and some satellite systems on the SC Channel (channel 802 on Time Warner Cable).  Also, you can view both programs on the web at The Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service
offers its programs to people of all ages, regardless of race, color, gender, religion, national origin, disability, political belief, sexual orientation, marital or family status and is an equal opportunity


Posted By Tony Melton Florence County Extension Agent

 Vegetable Gardening is once again the “Talk of the Town.”  In fact I was encouraged to write this article by folks who never have gardened or only have a faint memory of their parent’s gardening. Therefore, let’s talk about the BASICs of vegetable gardening in the south.

BA -    First of all, you need to realize that growing your own vegetables will be a Big Adjustment for both you and your family.  We are Big-time Addicted to running to the grocery store to get everything we need, when we need it, and exactly the amount we need.  Vegetables take months to grow and produce, each crop has its own season or production timetable, and for goodness sakes you may have to adjust your recipes, diet, or lifestyle to fit the crop “Coming In,” as my daddy the old time farmer would say.  Also you will need to develop a Bad Attitude against weather extremes, destructive insects, and disease.  Seventy degrees one day and snow the next day- --if it is tough on you it is tough on plants.  Also, scout your garden for insect and disease problems and treat only when necessary.  For instance, many local vegetable growers have replanted their spring transplants twice or three times already.  The moral of the story is that you have to possess a mailman mentality and you cannot let the cold, heat, drought, rain, insects, or diseases destroy your hard work. Remember, if all else fails our long growing season many times allows you time to replant and start anew and there is always next year, so never give up.  Also watch out for Bad Advice.  For instance, many of the gardening shows on TV are produced in the North, even many that are on SCETV, and present little relevant, reliable, or trustworthy information for the SC gardener.

S -       Next, as I teach all Master Gardeners “A Good Soil is the Foundation of a Good Garden”, there are three things you can add to improve your soil “Organic Matter, Organic Matter, and Organic Matter, but organic matter only stays in the Soil for one year in SC. Also, take a Soil sample so you will know the pH, the concentration of nutrients, and the lime/fertilizer requirements of your Soil in relation to the crops you are trying to grow.  You may obtain sample bags which explain how to properly take a Soil sample, at our office located at the back of the Social Services Building on the corner of Third Loop and Irby, each sample costs $6, and will take 2 weeks to get your answer.

I -        Next, Irrigation is the key to consistently producing vegetables in our area.  I remember back to the days when my granddaddy and daddy, who did not have the option of irrigation, were devastated because drought had destroyed their crops.  If you want a successful, long-lived, and pleasant gardening experience - Irrigate.  Most vegetables require between 1 and 1.5 inches of water per week which can be supplied by rain or Irrigation.

C -       Finally, determine who will Care for the garden and plan accordingly.  Around my house I am the gardener so I plant only what I can handle, Care for, harvest, and prepare.  If you are blessed enough to have others to assist you in your gardening efforts---plant more, more often, and enjoy.


Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to people of all ages, regardless of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, marital or family status and is an equal opportunity employer.  If you enjoy gardening and using flowers and plants in decorations, please watch Down Home with Tony and Amanda on Thursday nights at 8:00 pm.

Posted By Tony Melton Florence County Extension Agent

   Every spring I write this article telling folks that it is time to apply a pre-emergent herbicide on their lawns to prevent summer weeds.  Without fail a few weeks later I would get many calls indicating they read my earlier article and is it too late to control those summer weeds.  Timing is very important with most pre-emergent herbicides and if they are applied too late in the spring their effectiveness is limited or totally lost.  Pre means before, emergent means before the seed germinates, and herbicide means it kills plants. Therefore, a pre-emergent herbicide should be applied before the weed seed germinate, the small weed comes up, and the weed begins to grow.  The proper time to apply these pre-emergent herbicides for these summer weeds is when daytime temperatures reach 65-70 degrees F for four to five consecutive days.  With the ups and downs of our weather it is very difficult to determine when to apply these herbicides.  However, a good indicator that the soil is warm enough for summer weed seed germination is when the yellow bells (forsythia) are in full flower.  During this time of year, I always look out for the yellow bells, and in my opinion full flower is now.

   Also, “What mama told you about an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure” is true when it come to lawn weeds. So, now is not the time to rest on your laurels or what my daddy would call “Lollygag Around” because now is time to apply that pre- emergent herbicide to help prevent those summer weeds from overwhelming your lawn.  Soon these summer weeds will be emerging as tiny plants from tiny seeds, grow larger throughout the spring, and take over your yard in early summer. 

   Many pre-emergent herbicides under many brand names may be purchased locally including Atrazine, Balan, Surflan, XL, Team, and etc.  When applying near sidewalks and streets always sweep the hard surfaces to prevent washing of chemical into the storm drains. The type of herbicide you use should be determined by the type of grass, weeds, or landscape plants you have.  You probably get tired of me saying this but always read and follow all label directions because the label is the law.  You need to know what, how, and when to apply. Some products can only be applied to grass and some can be applied to both grass and shrub/flower beds.  I know you would like for me to tell you exactly what to use but it is not that easy.

   Also, many pre and post-emergent herbicides are combined with fertilizer.  Avoid these because it is too early to put fertilizer on your lawns.  It is still winter and most plants including grass, shrubs, and trees are not and should not be encouraged by fertilization to grow vigorously.   Therefore, without plants using these nutrients they will be soon leached into streams and rivers polluting the environment.

   Frankly, there are some bad, weedy yards out there this spring. Even if you kill these weeds now with chemicals the seed is still present to produce an ample crop of weeds next year.  Therefore, there is very little you can or need to do now except for cranking up your mower to control the weeds that are already showing their ugly heads in your lawn.  However, the good news is that those weedy rascals will meet a fairly quick demise, die as soon as it gets hot, and not emerge again until the fall.





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