Weather Outlook


As we are entering late winter and approaching early spring, I’ve been getting questions about what the weather is going to be like this year.  There’s a lot of local information on the website but even with that my crystal ball has not been working too well lately so I turned to our weather specialist Pam Knox for predictions.

So first, if we want to look further in to 2018, it’s good to know that we are currently in a weak La Niña, and the second year of a “double-dip”, because a little stronger La Niña occurred last winter. Typically La Niña brings warmer and drier conditions to the Southeast in winter, especially in southern Georgia, Alabama and Florida, however, this year the La Niña is fairly weak, allowing very cold air to move south from the Arctic across the eastern half of the United States which has caused problems with cold damage to fruit trees, and it’s also provided plenty of chill hours as compared to the last two mild years.

The current forecast is dominated by the likely end of the La Niña over the next few months and the return to neutral conditions. Warmer and drier than normal weather is still considered the most likely to occur, although this year I would not be surprised to see an outbreak of more cold come through the region late this winter or in early spring. If a cold outbreak occurs after a few warm weeks, then it could cause problems for fruit farmers simply because we’ve had ample chill hours this year and the trees are ready to bloom.

Looking at a longer-term, temperature trends since about 1970 are pushing us towards warmer conditions. In that time both the annual average temperature and the April-September temperatures have risen about 2°F. Night-time temperatures are rising more quickly than daytime temps. And if we have a drought, the likelihood of above-normal temperatures goes up because most of the sun’s energy goes into heating the ground (and the air above it) rather than into evaporating moisture so the bottom line for this coming growing season is this:

Drought is more likely than usual this summer, especially in the Tennessee Valley area. If average temperatures continue to rise, it will make warmer temperatures more likely, especially if we are in drought. Summer is likely to be hotter than last year, which means heat stress on crops and livestock will be more of an issue this year. And the Atlantic Ocean basin will probably have another active year, but at this point we can’t say where the storms will go or what destruction they are likely to cause but you should always be prepared for damage and power outages every year, regardless of whether they come from hurricanes, ice storms or severe thunderstorms.

By:  Eddie Ayers, County Extension Agent

For more information on this year’s weather outlook, contact me in the Gilmer County UGA Extension office.

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Raised Bed Gardens vs. In-Ground Gardens


By:  Eddie Ayers, County Extension Agent


People often ask if a raised bed is better than an in ground one.  To help answer this question I talked to Robert Westerfield and David Berle at the Urban Ag Center in Griffin.  They had some very good information about this subject. A raised bed frame can be made of wood, masonry or other building material. Raised beds can vary in size depending on the site, the materials used in their construction and gardeners’ preferences, but they are typically 6 to 8 inches high, 3 to 6 feet wide and 6 to 8 feet long. Some raised bed frames are further elevated above the ground with blocks or bricks to make them more accessible to people who have difficulty bending or stooping. There are many advantages to gardening in raised beds, including:


  • Manageability: Raised beds offer a manageable way to garden a smaller space intensively.
  • Prevention of soil compaction and plant damage: One of the greatest advantages of raised beds comes from the protection the structure provides from foot traffic. Since people work on the paths and don’t walk in well-designed raised beds, the soil does not get compacted and plants are less likely to be damaged.
  • Longer growing season: Raised beds warm up more quickly in the spring and drain better (assuming the soil is properly prepared) allowing for a longer growing season and better growing conditions. Particularly in the South, a properly prepared raised bed allows plant roots to breathe.
  • Less weeding and maintenance: Once the soil in a raised bed has stabilized, compaction is almost non-existent so the need for seasonal tilling is minimal. Weed populations decrease over time in a raised bed that is well cared for and mulched.
  • Better drainage: A well-prepared raised bed allows the soil to drain better than in an in-ground garden. In some areas of Georgia, the soil drains so poorly that raised beds enable gardening of crops that would not otherwise grow.
  • Easier soil amendments: A raised bed can enable crop growth in an area that otherwise would not support gardening. On steep slopes, raised beds can act as a form of terracing. Raised beds can be built on parking lots and other compacted, difficult-to-garden urban soils. For specific crops that thrive in particular soils, raised beds can be amended appropriately.
  • Material conservation: Because the gardening space is concentrated, the management of water, fertilizer, mulch and soil amendments can be more carefully controlled, leading to less waste.
  • Access for gardeners with disabilities: Raised beds, at the proper height, can improve access for wheelchairs or for gardeners who have a hard time bending over.
  • Reduced conflict: In gardens where plots are leased for the year, raised beds clearly define boundaries and reduce inadvertent trampling.


Now let’s look at In-Ground Gardens. Growing and gardening directly in the ground offers significant advantages. It allows the use of tractors to initially prepare areas plus the start-up costs are far lower than for raised beds.  Other advantages include:


  • Use of existing soil: Most soils are perfectly fine for gardening, provided the soil is properly tilled, mulched and watered. Even without organic amendments, most Georgia soils can produce a bountiful harvest.
  • Financially economical: By using existing soil and not importing soil, money can be saved and used for organic amendments that would be needed to improve even the imported soil. Since it is highly unlikely to find real topsoil in Georgia, it is often better to improve what you have than import something new and possibly unknown. Purchased topsoil is usually either man-made (consisting largely of bark and sand) or similar to the soil already available on-site. If amended properly, clay soils have benefits that are not found in man-made soils. If you are uncertain of the quality of your soil a soil test is a good start.  Soil testing is conducted through the Gilmer County UGA Extension office.
  • Less start-up work: A flat, well-drained area can be prepared with a tractor or large roto-tiller.
  • Less permanent: An in-ground garden can easily be replaced with another crop or moved to another location.
  • Lower water requirements: In-ground beds won’t dry out as quickly as raised beds and will therefore require less water to maintain.
  • Easier irrigation: Irrigation systems for flat, in-ground gardens are simple to design and easy to install compared to raised beds that require careful design and installation.


While there are many advantages to raised beds, there are also some disadvantages. Raised beds require the construction of a wall or edge restraint. While this can be built with recycled materials, it still requires additional work, at least initially. Elevated raised beds are even more expensive and require some degree of engineering to support the weight of the soil. Raised beds also need to be filled with soil, which can become expensive and requires a good understanding of soils and soil amending. Raised beds are more permanent than in-ground gardens, so planning for future use is essential. Some crops are not well suited to raised bed production. For example, sweet corn requires larger blocks of plants to ensure proper pollination. Watermelons tend to overtake a small raised bed, unless compact varieties are grown and perhaps trellised. Finally, most raised bed gardens rely exclusively on hand labor for all tasks, including planting, fertilizing and weeding. So before starting a garden, it is important to consider which type of garden is appropriate for your current and future needs plus the amount of time and resources your situation will require. For more information, contact me in the Gilmer County UGA Extension office.


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University of Georgia’s team of agricultural economists kicks off 2017 Georgia Ag Forecast seminar.


By: Eddie Ayers, County Extension Agentgarden2

Good information is the best defense against unforeseen circumstances like changing governmental regulations and weather patterns that can impact agriculture. That’s why the University of Georgia’s team of agricultural economists kicks off each year with the Georgia Ag Forecast seminar series. There, they present valuable insights into what the upcoming year will hold for the state’s largest industry. The 2017 seminar series will be held January 18 – 27 in Macon, Marietta, Carrollton, Tifton, Bainbridge, Lyons, Waynesboro, and Athens.

The UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences hosts the annual seminar series, and its attendance grows every year. Nearly 1,000 producers, agribusiness representatives and community leaders attended the seminars in 2016.

Economists from the Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development and from the UGA Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics will deliver the economic outlook which will focus on Georgia’s major commodities and the way that global markets, weather patterns and historical trends will affect those commodities. The 2017 keynote topics will be a Farm Bill Update and the Veterinary Feed Directive.

Kent Wolfe, Director of the UGA Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development says the main objective of the ag forecast seminar series is to provide Georgia’s producers and agribusiness leaders with information on where the industry is thought to be headed in the upcoming year. It helps farmers plan what they’re going to plant in the next year, but it’s also good for bankers and others who have businesses involved in agriculture or who will be impacted by the farm economy. Sharon P. Kane, Food Business Development Specialist, at UGA’s Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development will give a briefing on GATE and how it is reflected in county sales tax revenue.

The 2017Ag Forecast sessions will be held Wednesday, January 18 at the Georgia Farm Bureau Building in Macon, Thursday January 19 at the Cobb County Civic Center in Marietta, Friday January 20 at the Carroll County Ag Center in Carrollton, Monday January 23 at the UGA Tifton Campus Conference Center in Tifton, Tuesday January 24 at the Decatur County Ag Center in Bainbridge, Wednesday January 25 at the Toombs County Ag Center in Lyons, and Friday January 27 at the UGA Center for Continuing Education in Athens.

Coffee and registration begins at 9 am then the 90 minute seminar is from 10-11:30 am followed by a networking luncheon. Participants will leave the meeting with a copy of the 2017 Georgia Ag Forecast book, which is designed to provide a detailed analysis of major commodities produced in the state. Individual registration is $30 and if you are registering a table of 8 attendees, the registration is $200 which would be $25 per person.

The Georgia Ag Forecast is organized by the University of Georgia (UGA) College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES). This event is made possible through the Georgia Farm Bureau Land Grant University Lecture Series Endowment and supported by the Georgia Department of Agriculture and the Georgia Agribusiness Council.

Registration is already open, contact someone at the Gilmer UGA Extension office. We can print, fax or email the form for you. For more information on this event, contact me at the Gilmer UGA Extension office.

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By: Eddie Ayers, County Extension Agentgarden1

Christmas day is almost here and if you have a gardener on your shopping list, here are some gift ideas that might help you out and best of all, most suggestions can be found locally, so you still have time to get them before the big day.

Gardeners can never have enough books. Make sure it is written for our area and it is educational, not one just trying to sell items. A magazine subscription also falls in this category. Many gardeners are excellent cooks so a mix of gardening and cooking books can bring great delight. Whether it’s an actual cookbook or an apron with a gardening motif, or a book about herb plants, it will be appreciated. And don’t forget the So Easy to Preserve books available for purchase through the Office of Communications at the University of Georgia.

One group of gifts that are often overlooked is items that are health related, items such as a good sun hat and sunscreen fit here. And although they sound a bit out of season right now, sunscreen products can now be found year around in most drug stores and department stores. Sun hats may be hard to find this time of year, but they are in some stores. If you can’t find one, give them an IOU. What about the cooling towels that are worn on the neck to help prevent overheating. A gift card works too, but when you get something specific they know you were thinking about them.

A good quality water hose, padding for knees and small stools or chairs are good choices too. A couple of interesting items are an ice cream scoop that can be used to plant bulbs or a water timer to make sure plants are watered at the right time and water is not wasted.

Some of the best tool gift ideas include big and little-headed hoes for the garden. A hoe with a smaller head is really handy because it can get up next to plants much easier. The scuffle hoe works backward and forward, and requires less effort than a regular hoe. The one tool indispensable to a gardener is a spading or turning fork, but don’t buy the welded type because they just don’t hold up under heavy work.

A good hand trowel is another tool you shouldn’t skimp on. Look for one-piece construction, which eliminates the problem of bending or breaking the tool. A wheelbarrow or garden cart is impossible to do without. A large wheeled garden cart may be even better than a wheelbarrow because it doesn’t tip over and can carry heavy loads with little effort.

As for hand pruners, the bypass types are preferred because they cut cleanly, whereas the anvil types tend to cut and crush the plant tissue. For weaker hands, a pair of shears with ratcheting handles makes a great gift because they are much easier to cut with, and a pair of loppers makes easy work for somewhat larger branches. A pruning saw is also indispensable and a long handled or pole pruner is especially useful.

How about a soil sample? Surprise your neighbor or loved one with soil sample results so that they can get the most out of their garden. If lime is needed, how about a bag of lime or load of topsoil or composted manure? They are always recommended because they are much needed for new planting areas. If they sell items at the local farmer’s market, why not buy their permit for next summer.

I trust this list helps you think and perhaps come up with even more ideas so you find that perfect gift. Just keep in mind that most gardeners like things that are practical and from the heart, so happy holiday shopping and Merry Christmas!

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Boxwood Concerns



I have often heard the phrase the lull or the calm before the storm and I think that’s where we are right now.  Even though it’s still cold, the days are getting longer and some of us are anxious to get outside and work in the yard but before you rush out to prune or plant, let’s take a look at boxwoods.


Boxwoods are one of the most popular foundation plants in Southern landscapes, but they are under attack from a disease that is killing many of the plantings.  Boxwood blight, a new ornamental disease affecting plants in the boxwood family, may soon be heading to a landscape near you.  While boxwoods are known to be fairly tough landscape plants, this pathogen is sure to leave a path of destruction wherever it shows up.


The fungus causing boxwood blight, Calonectria pseudonaviculatum, has been found in landscapes throughout Georgia. Boxwood blight was first identified in the U.S. in 2011 and has since been found in 20 states. While the pathogen can be spread in a variety of ways, it mostly travels between states and regions through the movement of infected plants. Dwarf English boxwoods are highly susceptible to the disease, as are the American, or common, boxwoods. Cultivars of the Korean and Japanese boxwoods appear to be slightly less susceptible however none of the commercial boxwood cultivars are immune to this disease. Other plants within the Buxaceae family, such as pachysandra, also can be affected.


According to Jean Williams-Woodward, University of Georgia Plant Pathologist, initial symptoms include circular, tan leaf spots with a dark purple or brown border. Often, black lesions, or sores, are also seen on the stems. As the disease progresses, infected leaves become tan and fall from the plant. Rapid defoliation is a symptom of boxwood blight. Shady environments, humidity and warm, wet environments tend to favor disease development. Leaves must remain wet for 24-48 hours for disease initiation to occur. While the fungus can be killed at higher temperatures (seven or more days at 91 degrees or hotter), it has the ability to produce structures (microsclerotia) to survive adverse environmental conditions.


The disease is spread primarily through infected plants and debris, such as leaves. While the white tufts of sticky spores aren’t spread by wind, they can readily be transported by animals, shoes, hands and tools (such as pruners and shovels.) Exclusion is the best control option available. Do not introduce the disease on tools and pruners. Disinfect tools frequently. Mix 2½ tablespoons of Lysol Concentrate Disinfectant (5.5 percent) per gallon of water and pour into spray bottles. Spray tools and allow them to dry for maximum effectiveness. Other products such as bleach and isopropyl alcohol can be used too.


If boxwood blight is detected in the landscape, the plant and debris need to be bagged, secured tightly and disposed of in a landfill as quickly as possible. Leaf debris can be bagged, buried or burned on-site. Do not compost. This disease cannot be cured with fungicide treatments. And because of this disease, homeowners are urged to consider other foundation plants to plant this spring. For more information on this boxwood concern, contact me in the Gilmer County UGA Extension office. Karol Kelly, County Extension Agent, in the Bibb County UGA Extension office provided some of the information for this article.

By:  Eddie Ayers, County Extension Agent

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