Gardening questions for the new year

Container herb gardens can be brought near the house to add beauty to a patio and provide easy access to the kitchen.
Container herb gardens can be brought near the house to add beauty to a patio and provide easy access to the kitchen. MSU Extension Service

As we head into a new year of gardening adventures, I’ve been thinking about a variety of landscape questions and quandaries that pop up from time to time.

A common question in the spring concerns starting plants from seed.

I understand the idea of saving a little money, because I also like to garden on the cheap. It’s also exciting to observe the potential contained in a little seed. But if you’re a novice, you may not be prepared to properly care for that seedling for the six-to-eight weeks of production time needed for it to reach the stage of plants for sale at the garden center.

Production time is also a problem if you have busy, hectic schedule. Buying plants from the garden center allows you to have a beautiful landscape without dealing with the production worries.

Another landscape paradigm I’d like to change deals with identifying plants as perennials.

Labeling a plant as a perennial is not the same thing as saying it will live forever. Many gardeners are surprised when perennials don’t survive the winter — especially in South Mississippi, where we don’t experience really hard winters. Our normal winters are cool and wet, and these conditions cause significantly more winter kill than freezing temperatures.

Every plant has a normal lifespan, and I like the definition of perennials as plants that live more than two years. I think plants should be classified by hardiness zone and as short-lived or long-lived perennials. Gardeners can make better decisions when armed with this information.

And while we’re on the topic of plant classifications, let me remind you that if you’re only planting summer annuals, don’t worry about the hardiness zones. This classification just refers to the plant’s ability to survive winter average low temperatures. It is important information for trees, shrubs and other long-lived plants, but winter’s cold won’t affect summer annuals.

Home gardeners continue to be interested in growing fresh produce, but many think that having limited space rules out growing vegetables. Not true.

Think about growing edible plants that do double duty by tasting good and being beautiful. There are even vegetables bred for the ornamental market. Leafy greens like Redbor kale and Bright Lights Swiss chard are cool-season favorites. For the warm summer season, there are tomatoes and mini eggplants like Fairy Tale and Hansel and Gretel, and who can ignore the colorful ornamental peppers like NuMex Easter and April Fool’s Day?

An idea for the edible landscape that I’m using is placing my container herb garden on the back porch ready to harvest and provide a flavorful addition to dinner while looking pretty the rest of the time.

My last thought to all my Southern Gardening friends is to get out and garden, and have a great 2017.

Gary Bachman is a professor of horticulture at the Coastal Research and Extension Center in Biloxi.