Gardening in Oconee County?

sresutekJanuary 9, 2013

Hi all!

I was wondering what the seasons and pests are like when gardening in Georgia! I grew up in TX and now live in the Northeast so I've lived in some very different environments.
Up here, don't plant until mid-May and stop planting EO Sept. But you don't have to water your plants much! The soil is great, too.
In Central TX, all of my plants were on life support it seemed. The soil was THIN and had rock about 4" down. But the season started early (March) and ended late (Nov) :))

Up here, we get biting flies when spring emerges, ticks are an issue in the summer, and we have voles/woodchucks. As for big creatures, we have bears, moose and ticks are a problem in the woods in summer (Lyme Disease is not uncommon). In central TX we had tree scorpions and fire ants.

What do you have in GA? There's a chance I'll end up there and I want to make sure I'm not dreaming that the grass is greener! (Which, btw, does the grass die there in summer?)

Thanks, all!

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Georgia has been in a drought for two, maybe three years. I'm in Gwinnett county. Georgia has probably as many diverse situations as Texas. Re the grass, depends on which variety. Think your question is too general.


    Bookmark   January 10, 2013 at 5:39AM
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Gosh, rosiew, I was trying to be specific by listing the county and the specific "pests" and conditions that I've dealt with in my two locations. I'll try to list questions, then.

My husband and I will likely have 10+ acres, so we won't be in a neighborhood/housing development. I want to know some of the answers below b/c I have young kids and want to know what to protect them from!

1) Are there fireants there?
2) Are snakes a problem? My MIL told me about finding snakes (not garter) wrapped around the bushes in her yard in SC- we have no snakes up here so I'd like to know if I should "tap" the bushes are something crazy like that ahead of time before working on it.
3) A friend's dad lives in the country around Atlanta and told me he has scorpions... I never would have thought that in GA!

1) Re: grass dying - we likely won't have a sprinkler system or fancy/$$ grass. Grass doesn't die up here during the summer- it's a nice soft carpet all summer (unlike TX!)
2)Any general comments about the soil? I've heard about the GA clay...
3) According to, Oconee COunty actually gets more rain in July/August than April/May...?? TX was exactly the opposite - July and August was DRYDRYDRY. You'd go weeks w/o rain (thus the plants on life support).

All strange questions, but as I said, I want to make sure I'm not picturing "paradise" and perfect gardens and then pack up and move there and reality hits. I want to know reality! :))

Thank you for your response!

    Bookmark   January 10, 2013 at 9:31AM
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Sarah, Guess I was responding to "what do you have in GA".

Others will jump in on this, I'm sure. Don't think you'll find paradise, but close! Our summers, at least north of Atlanta, can be hot, but nothing like those in many parts of Texas. And you'll have access to tons of info from UGA and your county extension office. Also tap into the brains at the many small nurseries - they'll know the answers. There's lots of wildlife, large and small. It'll depend on where you build. All my kids went to UGA so I spent a lot of time there, especially the Horticulture dept. - daughter got a degree in hort.

Looking forward to following this thread.

    Bookmark   January 10, 2013 at 9:54AM
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Hi Sarah,

Yes we have fire ants. There are snakes, but not excessive numbers, watch walking along edges of blacktop roads when the weather is cool and the blacktop is warm. All the snakes in my yard have been beneficial (rat snakes, king snakes, etc.). We have little scorpions which aren't much trouble.

Grass--bermuda goes dormant in the winter, requires little water in the summer. Soil red clay near Oconee county; raised beds are nice for some things.

On the good side. I'm picking broccoli right now. My loquat tree is loaded this year and has just finished blooming. The camelias are blooming right now.

It's warm in the summer, but upper 90's are not that common and it cools down significantly at night (not like the midwest).

    Bookmark   January 10, 2013 at 8:25PM
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opal52(z7b GA)

Hi Sarah,

We all have different experiences, depending on where in Georgia we are. I grew up near the Tennessee border, and live in Rockdale County now. My experiences in Rockdale would be closer to what you could expect in Oconee County.

We have fire ants. We have snakes. Mostly beneficial, but in rural areas you should be aware that you can find Rattlesnakes and Copperheads. Rare, but still worth researching. We have biting flies (and black gnats that bite) early spring. Mosquitoes can be bad from late spring through first frost, same as lots of other places. Ticks are common, especially in wooded areas or high grass, weedy areas. I live in the city limits and have had tick bites because I have flower and vegetable gardens and didn't always wear repellent when I should have. In North Georgia, we needed to be careful about nests of Yellow Jackets. In a rural area, you are likely to have rabbits and deer, so if you plan to have vegetable gardens you will want to use fencing. In rural areas, raccoons are common. We have seen them in the our area also, although only very early in the mornings. My brother has a farm in North Georgia and the raccoons come right up to their house looking for "free" food (pet food left outside - they know better!). It is not a good idea to be friendly to raccoons. (My opinion - others may not agree.)

Bermuda grass is common here. It goes dormant in winter. It will also go dormant in summer during periods of dry weather. Not always lush green because of our crazy summer weather patterns of late. There is lots of clay soil here. It can be amended, or as Scott mentioned, raised beds are a good idea. The worst thing about the red clay in my life experience is the stains your kids clothes can get from playing in or around it.

The things I have mentioned that are dangerous, are rare. But I would want to know about them if I were coming here.

If you relocate, I believe you find Georgia to be a nice place to live, as many of my friends have who have relocated. I'm native so I'm biased :~)

    Bookmark   January 11, 2013 at 2:12PM
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Don't plant bermuda grass! Horrible, spreading stuff. If you want a winter-dormant, spreading grass, consider zoysia instead. Otherwise, for low cost green grass, fescue is the choice. Most people seed it in (low cost) and a lot of people like the look of green in the winter. But it does struggle in the hottest months.

Yes, fire ants, but the amount varies by location. I have hardly any at my place; I think places with fields may have more of them. Scorpions here are small things with stings like bees. One was in my shoe in the garage and stung me when I put my shoe on (don't leave shoes in the garage!); it hurt but not unbearably so and didn't require medical attention.

Georgia clay is perfectly fine - holds moisture well when mulched (turns into concrete when left exposed). It's not a bad thing. Mulching also brings in beneficial soil organisms to help you out.

If you get 10 acres then hopefully you will get some "natural" wooded areas. Watch out for invasive plants that have seeded in; they can make a natural area look trashy (think kudzu). I'm a native plant fan so I try to keep the native plants and get rid of the naturalized ones.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2013 at 10:11AM
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Noooooooo! I don't want to live with scorpions again! Ugh! Which type is the type that would be in Oconee County?

Thanks for all the info, y'all (can't wait to hear that again!) Please keep the tips coming - obviously it might be paradise weather-wise (mostly), but not creature-wise!!

What is the landscape like in Oconee County? Flat? Rolling hills?

    Bookmark   January 12, 2013 at 3:47PM
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sarah, I moved to Roswell, GA in 1979, have gardened extensively since then, had an acre wooded garden, now on onceuponapasture. I've seen ONE scorpion in all that time. And he/she was really small. I'd only seen them before in Dallas so wasn't sure what I was looking at because of its size.

You'll here y'all and ma'am here, of course.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2013 at 5:03PM
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sarahtx I live 2 counties south of Oconee and have never seen a scorpian in the 30 years I have lived here. The worst pest here are the fire ants. We had an armadillo once that drove my dogs crazy. they have been known to get into peoples flowers and reek havoc My impression of Oconee is it's a nice rural area. We have killed one poisonous snake in all the time we have lived here

    Bookmark   January 16, 2013 at 12:15AM
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Hi Sarah,

I live right next to Oconee County, about 5 miles away as the crow flies. "Devil" scorpions are the ones we see. I'm sure whether or not you see them varies by the area you live in (our house is in a creek bottom with mixed pines and hardwoods close to the house). These are little about 3/4 inch long brown scorpions. We have probably had 20 in our house over the last 25 some years, most have been found dead. I finally decided they were in the attic and were falling through the bathroom fan vents since the fans vented into the attic. I sprayed insecticide by the vents and no more scorpions.

Oconee county is very nice, mostly rural gently rolling red clay hills with pine trees and farmland. Watkinsville is a very pretty little town.

I have lived in Texas. Scorpions, snakes, and fire ants are definitely not as much of issue here.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2013 at 10:58PM
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squirrellypete(z7b AL)

I now live in East Alabama but grew up in GA and find them to be about the same with regard to weather, temps and pests. Everyone's experience differs, the worst pests I contend with in my rural woodsy area are fire ants, yellow jackes/hornets/wasps and fruit stealing squirrels!!

We also have to watch out for scorpions and they can often be found under a moist rock...sometimes they can get into the house. As was suggested, don't leave shoes unattended outside or in your garage and if you do be sure and check them first before putting them on. It's like second nature around here. Putting them up on a shelf or in a bin of some sort would be smart to avoid those nasty little surprises. I freaked out the first time I stepped on one because I thought it could be deadly....hurt worse than a hornet sting but the pain started to subside within about 10 minutes. After doing some frantic research everything I read stated that there are no deadly or highly poisonous varieties this far East so if you can ride out the pain you'll be fine and no need to go to the ER unless you have some sort of allergy to them (do people even have scorpion allergies??).

Speaking of hornets...around here you will find hornet, yellow jacket and wasp nests EVERYWHERE. I usually have to do multiple wasp & hornet spray sweeps of our porch and pumphouse during the year to rid ourselves of large quantities of them. I get stung at least once a year by brushing up against the pumphouse roofline or removing Christmas garland from my porch railing. During warm winters which we can have the little buggers will persist even into the winter time.

Fireants are usually easily spotted by their large mounds in the grass...learn to spot them and your life will be better. Use fire ant killer liberally if they're in an area where you like to walk or the kids play. widows are common as are brown recluses and probably other lesser known poisonous varieties. The widows especially love to hide in or under anything wooden that's left outside. I rarely garden or do any yard chores without gloves....and that's not just to keep my hands from blistering. Do a quick glance over on all sides if you pick anything up like a log, a big rock, an empty plant pot that's been sitting out, etc....I have read that Widow bites are actually not fatal but they can make you feel like you're dying. Never had one bite me yet knock on wood but I spot and kill quite a few each year.

Ticks....lots of ticks. Check yourself and the kiddies over if they go out playing in the woods, a field, etc...

Most of the snakes around here are non-poisonous but do learn to watch out for the nasty ones, they are around. We've shot several rattlers in the last few years that came too close to the house, as well as a Copperhead every now and then, but sightings on our property have dwindled. Water moccasins can also be found if you have a lake or wet area on your property.

We have deer and rabbits ALL OVER the place....yet surprisingly they seem to leave my gardens alone. My outdoor cat helps keep the rabbits in check and my neighbors plant corn so I think the deer must be more interested in what they have to offer. My main vegetable plot has a 3 foot decorative fence around it which may be a mental deterrent for some deer, however they could easily jump over it.

Raccoons and opossums are plentiful but usually only bother the cat or dog food if left outside at night. The most damaging warm blooded critters to my garden so far have been voles. They dine on the root systems of my daylilies....grown established plants aren't as affected but newly planted or young plants will die easily if you don't catch it in time.

Larger, bobcats and coyotes are very common. Here coyotes most of all and they can be a real problem if you have domestic animals, chickens, goats, etc....around. I've had to shoot at them to scare them, they come right up to the house at night running around just inside the woodline. I built a gate on my porch stairs so the dog and cat have a safe place to sleep at night. Neighbor raises goats and rabbits and has to have a large dog that lives with the goats and keeps the coyotes at bay.

As far as bugs, the Japanese beetles are always a continuing problem depending on what you grow...they like some things and will leave others untouched. Things they commonly like in my yard are roses, hibiscus, canna lillies and crape myrtles. They aren't a problem the entire year, only for a little while. Aphids are also an issue, especially on my daylilies. Our winters typically don't get cold enough to kill them off very well so you can really have a problem during a warm wet Spring. You'll never get rid of them completely but if you catch them early in the year and do something about it, whether an organic or inorganic approach, they can be properly controlled.

The other nasty thing I was introduced to for the first time last year are the cucumber beetles. They are a big problem for Squash, cucumbers and other similar plants. Cucumbers especially can easily die from the bacteria transmitted when the beetles feed on them. I'll have to make some changes this year in order to grow a successful crop which will probably involve some kind of protective netting....last year they completely devastated my plants and I got nothing despite multiple replantings and spraying. The year before, I had an outstanding harvest with hundreds of cukes so this was very disappointing. I saw many threads posted on the subject in 2012 so I believe this was a massive problem last year in particular and not just locally. I guess environmental factors must have been very favorable for them.

The rain can be unpredictable and vary widely from one county to the next, even within a county. Some people will get hit by every thunderstorm that rolls through the state and others can be in a severe drought for weeks or even months. If you have your own property you may have your own well which will be beneficial in that you probably won't be subject to watering restrictions from municipalities. However I would still suggest taking measures to effectively collect rainwater, grey water, etc...and use it as much as possible to offset the strain on your well pump. Things of great benefit would include rain barrels, gutters and cisterns, and the use of soaker hoses or drip irrigation. I started implementing drip irrgation last year and it's been a lifesaver, even though there's some initial financial investment. The plants are much happier during our hot dry spells.

If you could plan ahead and devise a system to divert grey water from certain household applications so that it drains into your flower garden instead that would be awesome. You don't want to store grey water though, it should be used immediately. Rainwater on the other hand can be stored and used on your veggies and flowers when needed most. We also divert the condensation lines that are pumped out of our home's 2 A/C units into large collection barrels for use in my hydrangea bed. You would be amazed at how much water your A/C unit or multiple units can generate in the summer especially.

Well that's a big enough novel for tonight.
Good luck if you make the move!

    Bookmark   January 28, 2013 at 2:56AM
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Wow everybody, thanks for all the great comments! I was starting to feel better about the whole creature thing with the last few postings... and then I read squirrellypete's posting! Aaaaaah! Sounds like there's every scary creature except for sharks! Maybe I'll move onto the 27th floor in a downtown high rise instead... ;))

I appreciate all of your honest feedback and local expertise! Keep it coming if you think of anything else!

    Bookmark   January 28, 2013 at 11:31AM
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Hi Sarah,

Just a few things to add to what SquirrellyPete said:
I mostly have fire ant hills where I mow, not in the woods or overgrown areas. I treat them first thing in spring (when the ground is moist) and any time during summer when needed after a rain with Amdro. That keeps them knocked back pretty well, but unless your neighbors also have a fire ant control program, you'll have fire ants each year no matter what you do.

Over the 14 years I've lived just north of Oconee County in Jackson County (on 13 acres -- mostly wooded), I've seen, at most, 5 snakes a year. Most were non-venomous, but I do see copperheads at least once/year, and my 12-year old dog has been bitten twice, mostly because he HAS to poke them with his nose. Copperhead venom, however, is fairly non-potent. Teach your kids not to pick up snakes, and they'll be fine.

I occasionally find scorpions in my house but have never seen one outside. My partner was stung by one, and barely felt it...

If you do move here, gear up for a long, rewarding gardening season. I often plant a few tomatoes in late March, before the last average frost date of April 15 in this area) -- I sometimes lose them, but every couple of years, I'm eating homegrown tomatoes in early June. My squash rarely make it past July, but tomatoes (sometimes), peppers, okra, and flowers+flowers keep going until frost in November. Then, you can grow cool-season crops in winter.

The GA clay can be very hard during hot months, so a good mulch is essential -- leaves work great. My soil is actually pretty easy to dig and till in winter and spring (but make sure it's drained enough after a rain before you dig/till, or you'll end up with big clumps of hard clay later).

Hope this helps - good luck if you move.

    Bookmark   January 28, 2013 at 11:45AM
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Sarah, you've gotten everything from gentle stuff to the whole truth. Just realize there are a lot of folks who love the area and wouldn't live anywhere else.

One of the pluses I love is intermittent fabulous weather in the middle of winter......shirtsleeves stuff. It's such a welcome break.

Rosie, in Sugar Hill (north metro Atlanta)

    Bookmark   January 28, 2013 at 1:19PM
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