When Dr. Gary Bachman addresses the crowd at the “Spring Garden Fever” seminar Tuesday in Lacombe, the Mississippi State University horticulture professor may surprise a few guests with his take on gardening in the Deep South.
“I’d like to change the garden paradigm by convincing gardeners to do things they don’t think they can do,” he said. “I also want them to have fun.”
Referring to the longtime local LSU AgCenter garden adviser, Bachman jokingly describes himself as the “Dan Gill of Mississippi.” He writes garden columns, appears regularly on the radio and records brief television spots every week. And though he now lives and gardens in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, he says his years up north in Michigan (his birth state), Ohio and Illinois taught him that gardeners everywhere experience the same problems and issues.
For example, no matter where gardeners live, he says, watering properly is a challenge.
“The No. 1 reason that new gardeners fail is because of inconsistent watering,” Bachman explained. “They either over-water or under-water and spend a lot of time worrying about when and how much to water.”
To help new gardeners get the hang of it, Bachman recommends a product called the EarthBox, a growing system that includes a water reservoir beneath the container. Each EarthBox can be filled with two cubic feet of potting mix for growing vegetables or ornamental plants. The soil above the reservoir absorbs moisture from below and stays consistently moist.
“I like them so much that I bought five in 2008, and now I have 134 that my wife and I use to grow plants to sell at the farmers’ market we started,” Bachman explained. “A bountiful vegetable garden doesn’t have to be big — you don’t need 10 acres out back. Even if all you have is a balcony, it doesn’t mean you can’t grow vegetables. That’s another misconception I want to change.”
A second relates to terminology and the risk that it can limit what gardeners feel confident enough to plant. Chief among the problematic terms, he says, are the labels “perennial” and “annual.”
“Many gardeners, for instance, hesitate to plant hibiscus for fear a freeze will wipe them out. But I think if you like a plant, and it blooms from May through the first frost, you should have it in your garden. Think of it like an annual instead of a perennial and you’ll get a lot of pleasure out of it,” he said. “If you spend $20 on a hibiscus that blooms for six or seven months, it’s a lot more cost effective than spending $20 on a poinsetta that you’ll only enjoy for only six or seven weeks.”
There are new releases that Bachman says he’s had terrific luck growing and recommends people try for themselves.
“One that I really like is the Picasso burgundy Supertunia — it performed like crazy for me. Any hardy hibiscus, like the dinner plate variety, looks dynamite in our Southern gardens. And I personally can’t get enough of lantana,” Bachman said. “That’s one of the things I own up to in my talk: I can’t guarantee it’s what everyone will like, but it’s what I like.”
Presented by the St. Tammany Master Gardener Association and the LSU AgCenter, “Spring Garden Fever” also features talks by three additional speakers and a Q&A panel of experts. The event arrives just in time to help inspire gardeners to get a jump on spring before it’s too late.
“The swamp red maples are already in bloom and the groundhog predicted we have an early spring coming, so we have to get ready,” Bachman said. “It’s still too early to put tomatoes in but, otherwise, we are good to go.”
R. Stephanie Bruno writes about homes and gardens. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.