In Bailey, North Carolina, the hardiness zone is 7B, meaning we have a temperate climate with cool winters that occasionally dip between 5 and 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Though the hot, humid summers rival the tropics, varieties of plants that do well in our climate often require a degree of drought tolerance and fungal resistance to keep up with both the dry and humid periods experienced throughout our summers. The final frost in Spring usually comes mid-late April and our first frost usually occurs mid-late November. These dates are helpful when planning your planting season as warm weather crops tend to be sensitive to cold and must be planted after the final frost, while cool weather crops tend to suffer in the heat of the summer and can only thrive when temperatures are cooler in Spring and Fall. By working along the natural cycle of the seasons, you will find your gardening journey much less stressful!
Plants are broken down into two main groups: annuals and perennials. Annuals live out their full life cycle, from seed to flower and seed again, within a year. Annuals do not come back the following season. Most vegetable plants like tomatoes, peppers, squash, and beans fall into this category. The second category, perennials, have life cycles that can span multiple years. They will grow, flower, and fruit, followed often by a dormant season during the fall and winter, all to come back again the following spring. Plants in this category include asparagus, strawberries, herbs, and fruit/nut trees. A third group, biennials, have life cycles that span a total of two years- broccoli, kale, and swiss chard fall into this category, though are often grown as annuals. Having a mixture of these categories ensures that your garden is working on producing throughout the year.
When purchasing plants, $15-50 is reasonable cost for most fruiting bushes and small trees, including blueberries and apple trees. We purchased our trees from www.centuryfarmorchards.com. They ship in November, as Fall is the best time to plant trees and shrubs for good root establishment. Planting them in the summer requires frequent watering and maintenance, whereas our fall season is usually cool and rainy enough to help them settle. They mostly communicate by email or phone, but are willing to help in your selection if you are unsure of varieties. Seeds are often $3-6 per pack depending on variety and weight. Seed packets will often tell you the planting window, spacing, and length of time a plant will take to mature. During summer, most seeds are started directly in the ground/garden, whereas greenhouse setups can be utilized in the fall and spring to get a jump start on planting. Seed starting mixes can be purchased pre-mixed, or you can make your own using a 2:2:1 ratio of compost, peat moss or coco coir, and perlite and amendments like greensand and worm castings.
Pathways can be made with woodchip mulch- ChipDrop.com is a free service that links gardeners with local arborist for free/low cost bulk wood chips. Carolina Seasons is a reputable NC nursery based in Greenville that delivers both woodchips and compost. They charge per cubic yard (which usually covers about 80 square feet depending on how thickly it is spread). Mulching is a great way to improve moisture retention and keeping the soil cool during the hot summers. It also encourages earthworms and beneficial fungi and bacteria to make their homes in your garden. Compost has similar effects with the added benefit of nutrients. Like a natural fertilizer, it can be added to your soil each season to boost soil nutrients and helpful interactions in your soil. Soil3 is another business that services compost locally- though they are more expensive per cubic yard, their quality of compost is very rich. The City of Rocky Mount's solid waste department also has free compost available for pickup at their facility, though the quality can be inconsistent.
Irrigation is something that can be looked into to increase efficiency, but watering by hose can be a great way to start the practice in slowing down and spending time in the garden. Dripdepot.com has customizable kits for gardens, including raised bed systems, with fair pricing and delivery.