Gardening Tips from Jo Kellum

Jo Kellum is a freelance garden writer and landscape architect. Most recently she has published Southern Sun: A Plant Selection Guide and Southern Shade: A Plant Selection Guide. Both books are now available from UPM.

Jo recently clued us in on the challenges that face Southern gardeners and the best way to overcome the climate we live in.

Read below for her gardening tips.

Why is gardening in the South different than other parts of the country?

Sunlight in the South varies greatly in intensity from winter to summer and even from morning to afternoon. This fact alone makes many national gardening resources less useful for Southern gardeners, as advice that ignores this little truth, is advice of limited value in our region. We Southerners, whether first-time yard owners or experienced gardeners, need to know which plants thrive within which set of distinctly Southern conditions that occurs within our landscapes.

Knowing what we want plants to do for us, how big plants get, what shape they grow, and what conditions are agreeable to different plants, are critical to successfully putting the right plant in the right place. That's why regionally specific advice can go a long way toward ensuring landscaping satisfaction. Gardening in the South is quite a beautiful challenge.

What advice would you give to Southern gardeners?

The advice I'd give to new gardeners is to consider the landscape as an extension of the house. In doing so, they can learn to choose plants to fulfill functions just as they select furniture, artwork, paint colors, and rugs to do certain things for the insides of their homes. Next, I'd say, get to know the conditions within your own yard. Are you willing to make changes to make challenging areas more hospitable to plants, or do you need to choose plants that can thrive in existing conditions? Southern gardeners particularly need to pay attention to sun and shade at different times of day and within different seasons. Remember, more water isn't always the answer--you can water less and grow more if you match plants properly to growing conditions.

What is the most common mistake amateur gardener’s make?

The most common mistake among amateur gardeners is making plant selection decisions based on what's for sale on a given day at a given nursery. That's how homeowners end up with too much variety and not enough unity in their yards, overgrown plants, and plants that die because they're not right for the conditions where they've been stuck in the ground after the shopper returns home. Choosing plants without regard to what you roles you need plants to fill in your yard--add privacy, draw attention to the front door, fill in a bare space, frame a view, or whatever--means that you've lost control over how the plants will perform for you.