By Wayne McLaurin
University of Georgia
We try to grow plants that look good in the mall, plants that come from all over the world. We don't pay attention to their original environment but are sure we can make them grow in our backyards.
Some of us want to grow only "native" plants. As I hike Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina (yes, there are beautiful places within 40 miles of Clemson), I see all types of native plants growing along the ridges and beside creeks.
They're natives, but can I grow them in my drought-stricken backyard when they grow along streams in the wild? I wish I could. Not a chance! Even though they're natives, their particular growing conditions must be met.
I visit the great Northwest and see all of the wonderful plant types and say to myself, "Maybe it will grow if I give it special attention." But Georgia has neither the rainfall nor the temperature of the Northwest.
Moreover, if I brought it home, there would probably be one of those giant banana slugs attached, a pest that in our milder climate might multiply and start an epidemic. We do not need more pests!
Colleges of agriculture in each state test plants' growth under that state's growing conditions and recommend the plants that grow best. Tests are done on all plants -- vegetables, fruits, ornamentals, cotton, corn, peanuts, soybeans, turf grasses.
It's important to find out which plant will do best in a particular place. If a plant doesn't make the grade, it's tossed off of the recommended list.
If the plant you want to grow isn't on the recommended list, you have alternatives. One of the best sources of information is to ask gardeners in your area. I've found very few growers who weren't overjoyed to share growing experiences and be honest in their recommendations.
The only warning I have is to make sure you have enough time to listen to other stories -- you know, "the giant pumpkin," or, "Remember the time my picture was in the 'Market Bulletin' with the 6-pound sweet potato?"
If you want information on growing plants in Georgia, visit the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences' Extension Service Web site at www.ces.uga.edu and click on "Publications." Click on alphabetical or subject listings and follow the instructions.
My own garden stories? Maybe I'll write a book when I retire and have time. No, I'll be too busy working with that New Zealand plant I just know will grow back there by the fence near the compost pile.
(Wayne McLaurin is a professor emeritus of horticulture with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)