Georgia Garden Girl

Garden Great in Zone 8!

Glorious Day!

We survived last week’s frost warning and rain and made it to Easter!  Though the day started out chilly and gray, the afternoon could not have been more beautiful.  After I worked the early shift for the mission trip pancake breakfast, attended an excellent Easter service at The Ridge, and took a walk with my trusty Great Dane Clementine, I headed outside to spend a lovely day in the yard.

As I walked around making my mental to-do list, I saw it.  My first peony blossom.  I planted peonies two years ago, but they never bloomed.  I think the cold winter encouraged the blossoms:

My First Peony Blossom

My First Peony Blossom

I also had a surprise amaryllis bloom.  I usually dig up all the amaryllis bulbs in September so I can have them blooming for the holidays (seems like they always bloom right after the holidays), but I missed this one:

Surprise Amaryllis!

Surprise Amaryllis!

After I admired the flowers, I had to get to work.  There was a lot to do!  I spent most of yesterday afternoon pulling up pansies (and weeds) to make way for summer annuals.  Today, I finally trimmed back the tea olive (I hated to cut them while they were blooming, so I just now got around to this task).  Then I planted some zucchini and basil.  Right. In. The. Front. Yard.  Yes, people, I am a rebel.  I figured 1) I’ve already got the tomato teepee, so I’m not destroying any fancy aesthetic by adding more veggies;  2) zucchini and basil are pretty; 3) there aren’t any draconian anti-vegetable restrictive covenants in my neighborhood (as far as I know); and 4) I was out of room in the raised beds.

I planted my dahlias right behind the zucchini and basil.  I had dug up the dahlia tubers last fall and then started them in pots in March. I planted all of the ones that had shoots (only one didn’t—oh, well).  I’m trying a new approach to weed maintenance: newspaper and pinestraw.  That’s right.  My Ledger-Enquirers will serve an important second purpose: weed barrier.  I have tested this approach in several areas in the past, and it really does work for about a season.  So I’ve decided to expand.

Why newspaper when the stores sell fancy weed barrier fabric?  Friends, I’ve tried the fabric, and I’m here to tell you: don’t waste your money.  Weeds are going to grow on top of the fabric after a year or two anyway.  It’s a pain in the neck to cut holes when you want to plant something in the fabric covered area.  And it’s expensive.  Newspaper just lasts a season, but it’s easy to cut, and it’s free.  If I want something a tad more durable–like for paths between my raised beds–I use cardboard or old towels and sheets that are too grungy for Goodwill.

A couple of pointers.  The Ledger-Enquirer is so thin that I just lay out a whole section at a time.  I find that it’s helpful to have a hose handy, particularly on a windy day.  After I lay a few sections of newspaper, I wet them so they don’t blow away.  Also, after experimenting with several different methods, I’ve determined that the best method is to cover the bed in newspaper and pinestraw, THEN plant the plants.  Here is the finished product:

Zucchini, Basil, Dahlias, Knock-Outs, and Tomatoes

Zucchini, Basil, Dahlias, Knock-Outs, and Tomatoes

After I got the zucchini/basil/dahlia bed done, I used a similar approach with my strawberries and onions.  I hope it works!  I’ll keep you posted.  Happy gardening.

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Freeze Warning!

Y’all, there is a freeze warning for parts of Georgia and Alabama tonight. Please check your forecast and take appropriate precautions if the temperature is expected to dip below 32. Walter Reeves advises us to cover tender plants (tomatoes, basil, etc.) with a cotton sheet or a cardboard box. Make sure to remove the cover in the morning when the temperature rises. See for more info.

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Weekend Update

It was an exciting weekend at my house.  The weather was gorgeous, and I was able to get a lot of work done in the yard.  I also attended the hypertufa workshop at Columbus Botanical Garden—I’ll give you an update on that as soon as I pick up my beautiful creation later this week.  But I know you’re on pins and needles wanting to know what garden tasks I accomplished this weekend, so here is my report.

It is the busiest time of year for me.  I am a procrastinator by nature, so I usually put off important garden prep work until the last possible minute.  Last year, I didn’t even start building my tomato ladders until after my tomatoes were in the ground.  Big mistake.  I decapitated a poor little Cherokee Purple when I dropped one of the “rungs” on it.  And I ran out of steam when it came to weeding an area where I was going to plant tomatoes, so I decided that I would just till it, put down newspaper, and hope for the best.  Well, the newspaper did work for a while, but it was no match for the aggressive encroachment of the dollarweed a/k/a pennywort a/k/a the weedy bane of my existence (for me, the only weed worse than dollarweed is chamberbitter a/k/a little mimosa a/k/a gripeweed a/k/a just plain horrible awfulness).

This year, I am determined to do better.  And I am happy to announce that I appear to be on the right track.  Mainly because the soil temperature hasn’t reached a consistent 65°F, so I haven’t wanted to plant my veggies yet and I’ve had more time for prep work (thank you, cold snap).  If you’re not sure whether your soil is warm enough for you to plant, you can just use your meat thermometer.  Or you can check

Anyway, my two main tasks at this point are (1) weeding and (2) building supports for my vegetables.  This weekend was a perfect time for both tasks.  The ground was still soft from last week’s rain, so weeds came out of the ground fairly easily and the supports went into the ground without a herculean effort.  So I weeded and weeded and weeded.  Then I tied together a lot of bamboo.  And then I weeded.  Then I selected the twenty-one tomato plants (out of the fifty or so I started from seed) that will live in my yard this summer.  And then I weeded and weeded and weeded.

You may wonder why I spent so much time weeding.  First, I have a lot of weeds.  I’ve been lazy about eradicating weeds in the past, plus the two yards behind mine are basically jungles whose weeds send their seeds into my yard.  Darn them.  Second, if I’ve only learned one thing in my six years as a homeowner/aspiring gardener, it’s that there is no substitute for good old elbow grease when it comes to weeding.  I’ve tried weeding-by-tiller.  But I still have to pull up the weeds to prevent re-infestation.  I’ve tried a weed-whacker.  But I wasn’t getting the roots, so the weeds grew back, plus it was easy to maim the plants I wanted to keep.  I’ve tried an herbicide.  But I accidentally injured or killed some of my good plants when I did.  So for me, old fashioned pulling is the way to go.  Which means I actually have to do it or I’ll be overrun with weeds before the first tomato plant sets fruit.  At times, I feel like Sisyphus—but instead of a boulder and a hill, I have weeds.  But if I keep up with it little by little, surely I will prevail.  And there is good news on the horizon: some researchers in Nebraska are creating a robot to pull weeds.  I am not making this up:  Y’all need to know how much I love my three Roombas.  So when iRobot comes out with a weed pulling robot, I am going to buy it.

In the next week or so, I will continue weeding, and I will put down some mulch.  I will also finish my vegetable supports and then plant my baby vegetables.  When things are presentable, I’ll post some photos!

Happy gardening!

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Tough Love

Happy Spring, y’all!

I started my tomato and pepper seeds indoors back in January, and I started some other vegetables in February.  These veggies have been living in the lap of luxury in my laundry room—a constant, warm temperature, regular watering with a light stream of tepid water, and gentle yet effective lights.

Now, it is time to prepare my plants for the harsh realities of the world.  They will have to be tough to make it out there, where the temperature fluctuates, cold rain pours, wind blows, and the sunlight is a lot more intense than a little fluorescent shop light.

Obviously, I should not just go ahead and move the plants into the direct sunlight of the vegetable garden.  They need to be moved gradually so they have a chance to adjust.  This process is called “hardening off.”  And it is very, very important.  I learned this lesson the hard way.  During the first year of my vegetable garden, I grew some beautiful tomato plants from seed, and I was itching to get them into the ground.  So I took them from the laundry room where they had been coddled for two months and planted them directly in my raised beds.  Big mistake.  On their first day outside, the sun badly burned the leaves.  Though the plants eventually recovered, my mistake cost me about a month of tomato production time.  I will never make that mistake again.

Now, I have a five-step process for hardening off my plants.  First, I have to figure out when to start hardening off.  A lot of considerations are factored into the calculus of exactly when to start hardening off.  There’s the date (are we within a week or two of our 50% frost date?).  There’s the weather (is there a threat of a frost? will the temperatures generally be in the mid-40s or above at night? are we expecting a monsoon?).  There’s the soil temperature (is it getting close to 60°F?).  In general, I try to start hardening off the plants a week or two before our 50% frost date, which is March 23 in my part of Middle Georgia.  But if it looks like there will be a frost or a bad storm, I will wait.

After I calculate my hardening off start date, I’m ready to move to steps two through five.  Step Two: I start the hardening off process in the carport.


Step Three: after a couple days in the carport, I move the plants to a shady part of my deck.  Step Four: after a couple days there, I move the plants to a partly sunny part of the deck.  Step Five: after a few more days, I move the plants to a slightly sunnier part of the vegetable garden.  And then, after a few more days, the plants are sufficiently hardened off and ready to be moved to their beds.  Right now, my plants are somewhere between Step Two and Step Three (sorry – I forgot to take a picture).

While you’re hardening off your plants, be careful to watch the weather reports.  If you know there will be a bad storm, you probably want to bring the plants under cover—or at least out of the path of potential falling branches.  And watch the nighttime temperature.  In the 40s, tomatoes and peppers will probably be okay. But not okra.  Last weekend, the nighttime temperatures dipped into the low 40s, and my smallest okra showed serious signs of distress, so it and its brethren are now back inside for a few more days.

The fine folks at the Weather Channel are predicting overnight lows in the low 30s in Middle Georgia on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week; I will keep an eye on the predictions.  If the temperatures do get that close to freezing, I will need to schlep everything back inside at night.

Good luck with your own tough love!

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Lazy Girl’s Guide to Orchid Maintenance

I get a lot of questions from friends about how to care for plants.  The questions about outdoor plants are all over the map (Q: how long will it take my new blueberry bush to produce? A: about 3 years; Q: why did my basil plant turn black? A: it froze; Q: the best thing for my lawn would be to set it on fire and reseed, right? A: Um, wrong.).  But the vast majority of questions about indoor plants are about one type: the phalaenopsis orchid.  Folks are so worried about what to do with these plants!  So today, I would like to dispel some rumors about orchids.

Phalaenopsis orchids (a/k/a moth orchids) are lovely.  Their blooms last at least a month.  They are widely available at florist shops, grocery stores, and big box stores—especially around Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day.  Phalaenopsis orchids make a wonderful gift, and that gift could last for years (my oldest phalaenopsis is at least ten years old).

Most folks think that orchids are fussy and hard to grow.  I too had been led to believe that orchids must be coddled with special light, special fertilizer, and constant care.  Hogwash!  I have had excellent results without spritzing “just so” or even remembering to fertilize on a regular basis.  In fact, all of my phalaenopsis orchids are currently blooming.  Do they look exactly like the ones that were carefully raised in a fancy commercial greenhouse?  Mercy, no.  But they do have flowers, and I think they’re glorious.  See?

IMG_2080   Office Orchid

Here are the major steps I followed.  Disclaimer: my “techniques” have not been approved by any extension services or orchid societies.  Obviously.

  1. I put them near a window.  Phalaenopsis orchids are great because they don’t require a whole lot of light, and they are happy with the temperature in my house (between 65º F and 80º F, depending on the season).  Before I had my shop light set-up in the laundry room, I kept my orchids in a bright window, and that worked just fine.  Now, they are under the shop lights until they bloom.  When an orchid is blooming, I usually put it on display somewhere out of direct light so that the blooms will last longer.  If it’s been a while since your orchid bloomed, it might need more light.
  2. I did not repot them in soil.  Your orchid will likely come potted in bark or moss.  That is because orchids grow best in soilless mixtures.  The experts say to repot orchids every one to three years.  Um, okay.  My orchids are not on an official schedule.  When the roots are spilling out of the containers, I think, “Hey, maybe I should repot that.”  If I have the same thought several times and I happen to have some orchid potting mixture handy, then I might repot the orchid.  But I do always use an orchid potting mixture and not regular potting soil.
  3. I did not let them sit in water (most of the time), and I did not forget to water them (most of the time).  The experts will tell you to water in the morning, placing the plant in the sink and using tepid water and an elaborate ritual that involves letting the water run through the plants for a minute/letting the plant drain completely/gently wiping excess water off the leaves.  If you have time to do that, great.  If not, just make sure they do get watered.  Let them dry out a little before you water them again—if the pot feels heavy, skip watering.  My orchids are all potted in a bark medium in plastic pots.  The pots sit in seedling trays.  I spray water into their pots using an indoor hose that is connected to the laundry room sink.  Occasionally, I accidentally overwater, and water remains in the tray/on the leaves.  They lived.  And although I know I’m not supposed to let the orchids dry out completely, it has happened.  They lived.  My orchids are not on a strict watering schedule, but I’d say I typically remember to water them about once a week.
  4. I occasionally remembered to fertilize them.  But really not that often.  The experts advise using an orchid fertilizer.  Some even recommend special fertilizers based on the season—a high nitrogen fertilizer in the spring, and a high phosphorous fertilizer in the fall.  They recommend feeding weakly (about half strength) weekly or feeding monthly.  Yep.  I haven’t quite gotten there yet.  I do know that too much fertilizer is bad, so I don’t feel terrible about forgetting to fertilize the orchids.  I bought some orchid “bloom booster” fertilizer several years ago, and when I happen to see it sitting on the shelf and happen to have a gallon jug free, I might mix up a batch and feed the orchids.  It might happen once a quarter.
  5. I did not expect miracles.  Phalaenopsis orchids bloom once a year.  That’s it.  So I knew that I wasn’t going to get more flowers shortly after the old ones faded.  Okay, if you know how to prune the stem, you might get a second bloom.  I have never had much success with stem pruning, so I just cut the stem off when the flowers have faded and wait until next year’s blooms.  When the orchid does bloom, the flowers last for weeks.

Now, as you can see, orchids need not be daunting.  They can be beautiful even with imperfect care.  But if you are interested in knowing how to grow orchids the “right way,” check out the tips from the American Orchid Society.


Time to Get Ready

Y’all may as well know.  I love to-do lists.  I love making to-do lists, and I especially love crossing things off my to-do lists.  It’s just about time for the weekend, and that means that my garden to-do list is getting long!

We’ve had some glorious weather in middle Georgia over the past couple of days (though it did get downright cold last night).  I’m sorry to say that our friends at the Weather Channel are not predicting similar gloriousness this weekend.  It is supposed to be cloudy on Saturday and rainy on Sunday.  But that will not stop me from trying to cross a few things off my list:

  • Divide perennials and give leftovers to friends.  I didn’t get around to dividing my spring and summer perennials at the ideal time (October).  It was football season—give me a break.  But now is also a good time to divide.  Mama says, “If you have to buy hostas, you don’t have any friends.”  So get digging and share your wealth of daisies, hostas, black eyed susans, sedums, etc.
  • Weed and mulch perennial beds.  While I’m dividing the perennials, I may as well pull some weeds and then put down some mulch.  If I’m feeling extra industrious, I’ll mulch with old newspapers and then pinestraw—that will save me some weeding time in the summer.
  • Start hardening off vegetable seedlings and coleus plants.  I overwintered my coleus plants inside and rooted some new ones.  Now, I have six flats of coleus plants, and I’m ready to get them out of the kitchen/dining room/living room.  And I started my tomato and pepper seeds back in January, plus some other veggie seeds in February.  They are getting too big to stay under the lights.  Here’s what they looked like last weekend:
    (Yes, those are pumpkins in the middle on the bottom—I was doing some germination tests, and I’ve decided to keep on testing.  Don’t judge).
    Anyway, before I plant any of these babies outside (which I will NOT be doing this weekend), I need to get them used to the sun and the temperature.  So, I will put them outside in a shaded, sheltered location for a few days, and I will gradually transition them into the sunny spot where they will spend the summer.  And if I receive a frost warning, I will bring them right back inside!
  • Check outdoor faucets and hoses for leaks.  My plumber friend is coming by next week to give me an estimate on a bathroom remodel.  While he is at my house, I may as well see if he can fix any outdoor faucet leaks, which means that I need to figure out where the leaks are this weekend.
  • Prune the dwarf yaupons.  It’s a good time to prune ornamentals like hollies and boxwoods.  And if your oleander froze, you probably want to cut that back too.  For pruning tips, click here.
  • Trim the liriope.  Okay, I’ve already done this one.  Isn’t it nice to have something already off the list?  But if you haven’t trimmed your liriope, you probably want to go ahead and get that done before the new growth starts.  Just take a string trimmer to it.  Or, if it’s a large area of liriope and there are no nearby barriers (say, metal or concrete edging), just take your mower, set it to its highest setting, and mow the liriope.

One thing I will NOT be doing this weekend is planting my summer vegetables outside.  I know they’ve got them in the stores, but that doesn’t mean you need to plant them.  Our 50% frost date isn’t even until next Sunday, March 23.  Plus, the soil temperature isn’t warm enough yet.  It is getting mighty close, though.  Remember, we need the soil temperature to be at least 60°F for tomatoes, 65°F for okra, and 70°F for peppers.  Down in Quitman County, the 2 inch soil temperature was about 60°F earlier today, and the 4 inch soil temperature was 56.8°F.  Up in Harris County, the 2 inch soil temperature was 58.7°F, and the 4 inch soil temperature was 53.7°F.  You can check your soil temperature using a meat thermometer.  Or you can go to  The upshot: don’t plant your summer vegetables outside now unless you want to (a) stunt their growth and (b) cover them or dig them up in the event of a frost.  All right.  I’ll get off the soapbox now.  If you really want to plant your tomatoes now, that’s your journey.

I hope you have a marvelous weekend.  And I hope you cross many tasks off your to-do list!

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My Action-Packed Weekend

What a lovely weekend in Zone 8! Sunshine and 70s. Daffodils and hellebores blooming. Bees buzzing around blueberry flowers. New perennial leaves peeking out of the ground. Green grass blades appearing here and there. Viburnums preparing to put on a beautiful display.

It was a great weekend to get some of those late winter/early spring tasks done, so my weekend was action-packed (granted, my definition of “action-packed” may not be the same as yours):

  • Pruned the oleander, which had been hit hard by the recent freezes.
  • Pruned the roses.
  • Cut the suckers off the cherry tree.
  • Checked the hoses and sprayer nozzles for leaks.
  • Dug up some azaleas that I never liked (my predecessor apparently loved red and Pepto-Bismol pink together) and replaced them with baby hellebores from Sunshine Farm & Gardens.
  • Planted the strawberries I had divided several weeks ago.
  • Interplanted roses and strawberries with onions (per the recommendation of the book Carrots Love Tomatoes).
  • Moved some perennials and started making a map of where to plant new ones.
  • Finished building raised beds around my new asparagus crowns, which went in the ground back in February.
  • Planted the fatsia I’ve been meaning to plant for ages.
  • Replaced my sweet, precious winter Daphne (may she rest in peace) with a new one.
  • Repotted some of the coleus I’ve been overwintering inside and started setting it out to harden off.

There were, of course, unpleasant surprises.  I learned the hard way that a colony of fire ants happily spent the winter in my large blue strawberry pot (thank you, Benadryl cream, for fixing my hand).  I noticed that many of my more tender perennials are gone—likely due to a combination of the recent freezes and my former yard man’s eager weed whacker.   And I did make a mistake or two. The most significant one: I followed the package directions on the caladium bulbs and went ahead and planted them BEFORE consulting an expert. Oops. Walter Reeves says that caladiums are tropical and should not go into the ground until the soil temperature is 65°. That’s okra planting weather, y’all. Oh, well. If I had followed my initial inclination to start them in pots, there would be no problem. Or if I had at least marked them, I could dig them up. But I didn’t, so I will just hope they come up anyway.

It is Monday, and I’m a little achy after all that work. But the pile of branches at the street is impressive, and I am glad to see everything start to shape up for spring.

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Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

My Great Aunt Ada had a marvelous yard man for years and years.  He did a wonderful job in her yard and kept everything looking beautiful.  One day, Aunt Ada asked the yard man to fertilize some roses.  The yard man got mixed up about which bag contained the fertilizer, and he accidentally selected a bag of Quickcrete.  Aunt Ada felt that the mix-up was her fault, and she didn’t want the poor yard man to feel bad about killing the roses.  So, legend has it that she did what any polite Southern lady would do: she hired another yard man to dig up the old roses and put in new ones.

I have tried to have the patience and grace of Aunt Ada with my most recent yard man and his crew.  I know that they need a job, and I am terrible with confrontation.  That is how I ended up with a yard man in the first place.  I did not want a yard man.  I actually like cutting the grass, and I find it satisfying to pull weeds.  But a while back, I broke my lawnmower and could not get it fixed before it was my turn to host Junior League Book Club.  It is obviously unacceptable to host any Junior League function with a jungle-like yard, and I needed a one-time mow and blow to get me out of this jam.  A sweet friend recommended her yard man, so I asked for his help.  One time.  But somehow, it turned into a relationship.  And I wasn’t sure how to end it.

The relationship got off to a rocky start when the crew weed-whacked all my groundcover sedums and a prostrate yew, destroying a perfectly good soaker hose in the process.  But I hate confrontation, and they needed a job, so I overlooked these issues.  I tried to counsel the yard man every time his crew cut the grass—they always cut it too short and usually scalped it in several places.  I tried to be patient when the crew blew leaves (and sometimes trash) into my vegetable garden, completely burying a bed of herbs nearly every time.  And I reasoned that they were just trying to help in my flower beds, so I shouldn’t be too upset that several of my perennials looked like weeds to the crew and were therefore eradicated.

But then they murdered Daphne.  My sweet, precious winter Daphne.  She was one of the first harbingers of spring—the one who always told me, “don’t worry, winter is almost over.”  She bloomed her little heart out and perfumed the air with the sweetest scent.  She was beautiful, and I loved her.  But now, Daphne is dead—the tragic victim of an overzealous weed-whacker, inexplicably cut down while she was in full bloom.  My heart is bruised, and my trust is breached.

I know I’m being a bit dramatic here, but Daphne was one of my favorite plants.  And I realize that the winter Daphne plant is replaceable.  But the trust is not so easily fixed.  I suppose that if I had years and years of good rapport with my yard man, then I could overlook this breach like Aunt Ada overlooked the Quickcrete incident.  But if I’m going to be honest, I was disappointed with the yard man from the beginning, and things only got worse every time he ignored my instructions.  I needed to fire him, and the Daphne murder gave me the perfect out.

It was harder than I thought it would be, but I finally did break up with my yard man.  It took six text messages, two phone calls, and one letter.  He groveled.  I listed his past mistakes.  He apologized.  I explained that we are just not a good fit.  He made impassioned pleas.  I almost caved.  But I stood my ground, and I know it will be better for both of us in the long run.

My lesson is learned.  Know thy yard man.  Do not trust him to work in your yard unsupervised until he proves that he can tell a perennial from a weed and knows the proper height to cut your grass.  And do not promise him a steady gig until he can prove that he is reliable, knowledgeable, and able to follow instructions.  And when the relationship goes south, do not be afraid to break up with him.  Bless his heart.

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Resist the Temptation!

Hey y’all. The calendar says it’s spring, but it turns out that General Beauregard Lee had it right and Punxsutawney Phil had it wrong this year. Lesson learned: never trust a Yankee groundhog.

Listen, I know I’ve told you all about frost dates. And I know I told you that our 50% frost date in middle Georgia is March 23. I know you’re itching to get some tomatoes in the ground. But please DROP THAT TROWEL AND TAKE THAT TOMATO SEEDLING INSIDE!

The frost dates are a great guideline, but you’ve got to use common sense and you’ve got to check the soil temperature. The weather folks are predicting some chilly overnight lows in middle Georgia this week. Lows that may harm your warm season plants. And the fine folks (and/or computers) at the Georgia Automated Environmental Monitoring Network say that the soil temperatures in middle Georgia are only in the low to mid 50s. Remember, you need the soil temperature to be at least 60 for most warm season crops (65 for okra).

This girl’s meat thermometer says the soil temperature of her raised beds is only 54, so my tomatoes are going to be coddled inside just a little more. Sure, I’ll take them for a stroll during the day to get them used to the sun, but those babies are sleeping inside.

Please protect your plants too! If you jumped the gun and put them in the ground already (Did you already wear white shoes too? Bless your heart!) make sure you cover them when the overnight low dips into the 30s. Good luck!


Happy New Year!

Welcome to Georgia Garden Girl – Garden Great in Zone 8!  I am a Georgia Master Gardener, and my goal is to help folks in Georgia and other Zone 8 areas grow a great garden!  Whether you have several acres or just a couple containers on a porch, you can have a garden.  January is the perfect time to plan your spring and summer garden.  Over the next few weeks, I will focus on site preparation, plant selection, and seed starting.  Feel free to ask gardening questions, either in the comment section, via email (, or via Twitter (@Zone8GardenGirl).  Let’s get growing!

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