A Guide To Gardening In The Southeast

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The US Department of Agriculture defines the Southeast gardening zone as:

  • Alabama
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Mississippi
  • North Carolina
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee

Gardening zones 6 through 10 cover the southeast, with the coldest area having an average minimum temperature of 0 degrees, while the warmest areas don’t even dip below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

The southeast is known for hot, humid summers and mild winters, allowing for year-round gardening. There is normally plenty of rain, though drought conditions can occur. The soil ranges from red clay that remains wet and heavy, to sand that is infertile, to rich, healthy loam.

For the most part, the southeast is an excellent region for gardening, with several spectacular public gardens to show off the fact, such as:

  • Botanical Gardens at Asheville in North Carolina
  • Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Florida
  • Memphis Botanical Garden in Tennessee
  • Atlanta Botanical Garden in Georgia
  • Birmingham Botanical Gardens in Alabama
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Roses

Humidity is tough on roses, encouraging blackspot and mildew. Nevertheless, there are varieties of rose that are tough enough to thrive even in the hot, wet southeast. Here are a few good choices for your southeastern garden.

  • Knock Out series: These excellent landscape roses now come in a wide range of colors, need little deadheading, produce seemingly endless blooms, and are very easy to care for. Grow them as a hedge, as individual specimens, or in a mass of color.
  • Blush Noisette: Noisette roses originated in South Carolina, and are beautiful, old world roses that climb and scramble over their surroundings, and cover an arbor or support with fragrant, delicate pink flowers. The clusters of flowers come in seemingly endless bursts of bloom.
  • Tiffany: Thriving in the southeastern heat, Tiffany explodes with glowing pink flowers fading to a yellow base. The strong fragrance combined with perfectly shaped blooms makes Tiffany a beautiful addition to your garden.

Trees

Trees are the major element of your garden, so pick carefully. Some good choices for the southeast include:

  • Crape Myrtle: Thriving in the summer heat, Crape Myrtle produces small, papery clusters of flowers in shades of intense pink, lavender or white. Attractive fall foliage and interesting bark in winter make the Crape Myrtle a good specimen tree year round. Crape Myrtles usually grow between 15 to 20 feet high.
  • Magnolia: Nothing says the south like a flowering magnolia tree. The enormous white flowers can be as much as a foot across, and the citrusy scent makes them even more wonderful. Depending on variety, magnolias can grow 20 to 80 feet high.
  • Redbud: One of the early harbingers of spring, redbud trees burst into glorious pink, red, purple or white blooms even before the leaves appear. Redbud can range from 10 to 40 feet high.

Lawns

A lush, green lawn is the goal of gardeners everywhere. Here are some good grass varieties for the southeast.

  • Bermuda Grass: Bermuda grass is a warm season grass that spreads by creeping stolons. Bermuda grass needs full sun, and is fairly low maintenance. It will turn brown over the winter, but overseeding it with rye grass will keep the lawn green throughout the year.
  • St. Augustine: A good choice for shady areas, St. Augustine can cope with heat and humidity. It does best in the Deep South, as it is not tolerant of freezing temperatures.
  • Zoysia Grass: Zoysia spreads slowly, but is fairly shade tolerant, and can survive freezing weather. Zoysia will also tolerate dry conditions.

Shrubs

Shrubs are the hard-working backbone of the garden. Pick shrubs with flowers or berries to add color and interest.

  • Hardy Hibiscus: This tropical looking beauty provides large flowers summer through fall in bright shades of pink, white and red. A North America native, it reaches up to 8 feet tall.
  • Carolina Allspice: The deep red flowers of the Carolina allspice smell like fruit, and bloom throughout the summer. It’s a hardy deciduous shrub, and will reach 8 feet in height.
  • Arrowwood Viburnum: Growing up to 15 feet, arrowwood viburnum has white flowers in the summer, followed by purple berries and red leaves in autumn. It attracts birds, and is quite hardy.
  • Beautyberry: The bright purple berries give this plant its common name, and the light purple flowers that precede them are just as attractive. Birds love beautyberry, which is native to the southeastern US, and grows to be around 6 feet high.

Perennials

Perennials add bursts of color to your yard, and by selecting varieties with different bloom times, you can have year round color.

  • Obedient Plant: A southeastern native, obedient plant earns its name from the way flowers will hold their position when moved. Its flowers look a little like snapdragons, and it blooms through the summer.
  • Yellow Flag Iris: If you have a wet area in your yard, yellow flag iris will be happy to provide bright yellow flowers to brighten the spot. It blooms in the spring.
  • Rudbeckia: A cheerful cottage garden favorite, rudbeckia loves the heat, and produces seemingly endless flowers through the summer in shades of yellow, orange and gold.
  • Crinum: Also called bog lily, crinum likes moist soil and is easy to grow. The fragrant pink, purple or white flowers look like daylilies, and nod above the grassy foliage through most of the year.

Keep your southeastern garden beautiful, colorful and healthy throughout the year by choosing plants that thrive in your zone. Easy care plants will leave you more time to sit and enjoy the garden, one of the most pleasant activities on a warm summer evening.

Last Updated: December 27, 2011
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About Michelle Ullman Michelle Ullman has lived and gardened in Southern California since childhood. A freelance writer, she covers topics ranging from gardening to home improvement to health issues. She also has experience as a catalog copywriter and poet. Michelle has trained and worked as a respiratory therapist and surgical technologist, but prefers to spend her time gardening, and walking with her dog. Michelle holds a Bachelor's Degree from Redlands University in Business Management. 

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