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12 of the best fruits and vegetables to grow in the South

Photo Credit: Aravind Sivaraj via Wikimedia Commons


12 of the best fruits and vegetables to grow in the South

Because much of the South enjoys mild winters, our gardens thrive in cooler months as well as warmer ones but some fruits and vegetables are particularly suited for planting sometime around summertime. With just a bit of forethought and consistent care, you can drop classic Southern produce in your garden from now until fall, elevating not only your diet but also your landscape.

Summertime in the South is a sticky, sweaty affair. In fact, the only redeeming thing about this sweltering time is the bounty of fresh fruits and veggies gardens will yield. But which ones are particularly suited for Southern gardens? Read on, find out and dig in.

A must-have in Southern cooking, okra thrives in the heat and humidity but seeds won’t germinate in soil cooler than 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Georgia Organics suggests starting plants from seeds planted about a foot apart, with full sun and soil that drains well. An added bonus? The plants produce gorgeous flowers you can admire in the weeks before okra is ready for harvest.

A Southern favorite, collards can be successfully planted as seeds or plants. They prefer full sun and well-drained soil. Think long-term when starting: Collards need to be planted in early spring for a summer harvest, and again in midsummer for fall/early winter harvest, so there's still time to go green(s) if you didn't start a few months ago.

Available in two forms, vining and bush, cucumbers enjoy explosive growth in hot weather. Depending on the variety, you should plant seedlings 36 to 60 inches apart and keep them well watered. Vining plants do best when grown on a trellis.

A notoriously low maintenance fruit, container-grown fig plants can be planted any time of the year, while bare-root figs fare well when planted in late winter or early spring. They are a picturesque addition to your garden or yard but you'll want to plant figs where and when they’ll receive full sun all day, and enjoy the fruit between July and October.

These lovely shrubs require little more than plenty of sun and moist, well-drained soil to produce bounties of sweet bulbs of indigo berries.

Blackberries and Raspberries
These expansive shrubs love lots of sun and water. Space the plants 2 to 3 feet apart and don’t forget to trellis them (unless you purchase an upright variety).

Resilient and delicious, apple trees require plenty of sun and well-drained soil. Trees are available in standard, semi-dwarf, and dwarf sizes; the latter two take up less space and bear fruit at a young age, making them ideal choices for most people.

No Southern garden is complete without tomatoes, which do well in large, deep containers as well as the garden. Buy seedlings with sturdy stems and plant at least 15 inches deep in a spot that receives at least 6 to 8 hours of sunlight a day. For the first few weeks, water thoroughly every 3 or 4 days. Once the plants start growing, water deeply with less frequency. Plants will need to be staked with a cage.

A gorgeous, old-fashioned perennial, hollyhocks come in a variety of colors and grow over 8 feet tall. Started from seed in spring, the plants grow during their first year but they don't bloom until the following spring and summer. They require full sun and rich, well-drained soil. Flowers spike from the base and continue until they are about 6 feet tall, and they will need to be staked. In the spring, plant seeds roughly a quarter-inch below the soil surface, but keep about 18 inches of distance between seeds so flowers don’t crowd each other.

Tea olives
Another favorite of yesteryear, tea olives are not only pretty but they also smell divine. What’s more, tea olives require minimal pruning. Tolerant of a range of light, from full sun to medium shade, they are long-lived and virtually pest-free. Southern tradition dictates they be planted as window hedges or by doorways to maximize exposure to their heavenly scent.

While containers make it easy to grow herbs inside, hearty basil does well in moist soil and full sun. Once it reaches around 12 inches tall you can begin to enjoy it, and frequently, too -- this helps ensure larger leaves.

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Appalachian born and bred, Brook Bolen is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Guardian, Salon, Reader's Digest, and Thrillist, among others. She lives in the beautiful mountains of Southwestern Virginia with her family.