Local Fresh Produce in baskets

Seasonal produce guide: What and when to plant in the Lowcountry

Story + Photos by Danielle Petty

The Lowcountry’s distinctive climate offers a lush backdrop for an extended growing season. Characterized by its hot, humid summers and mild winters, the area supports a broad variety of produce throughout the year. However, it’s not without its challenges. The subtropical climate brings tropical storms and thunderstorms, which can result in heavy rain, strong winds and flooding that can pose risks to agriculture. Such conditions can be detrimental to crops, leading to issues such as early flowering and bitterness in lettuce and mildew in cucumbers, squash and zucchini. Additionally, the sandy soil dries out quickly, requiring frequent watering. Local gardeners often employ strategies such as using compost, manure or mulch to retain soil moisture. Understanding the seasonal weather patterns is crucial for successful gardening and farming in the Lowcountry.

What to expect each season

In the Lowcountry the wealth of fresh produce available year-round is a product of the region’s fertile lands and favorable climate. The extended warm seasons allow for a wide variety of spring and summer fruits and vegetables to be available well into the cooler months, supported by an array of farms, markets and seasonal events. Here’s a breakdown of what to expect in each season:

Strawberry plants with lots of ripe red strawberries in a balcony railing planter, apartment or urban gardening concept.
Container vegetables gardening. Vegetable garden on a terrace. Herbs, tomatoes growing in container

Spring: This season welcomes a burst of fresh flavors. Enjoy the first flush of the year with arugula, asparagus, basil, early beets, bok choy, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, cilantro, collard greens, cucumbers, fennel, garlic, green onions, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuce, microgreens, mushrooms, onions, parsley, peas, peppers, radishes, red and white potatoes, rutabagas, spinach, strawberries, Swiss chard, turnip greens and turnips. 

Summer: The season for grilling and fresh salads, summer in the Lowcountry is rich with flavor. Enjoy basil, beans, blackberries, blueberries, butter beans, cantaloupe, cilantro, collard greens, cucumbers, edamame, eggplant, figs, green peanuts, kale, lettuce, microgreens, mushrooms, muscadine grapes, okra, onions, parsley, peaches, peas, peppers, plums, radishes, red and white potatoes, rice, yellow squash, sweet corn, tomatoes, watermelon and zucchini. Watch for end-of-summer gourds and kohlrabi.

Fall: As the air cools, the harvest brings late-season greens and root vegetables. Harvest arugula, basil, beets, bok choy, broccoli, butter beans, carrots, cauliflower, cilantro, collard greens, cucumbers, eggplant, fennel, ginger, gourds, kale, leeks, lettuce, microgreens, mixed greens, mushrooms, muscadine grapes, napa cabbage, onions, parsley, peas, pecans, peppers, plums, potatoes, pumpkins, radishes, raspberries, rutabagas, sunchokes, Swiss chard, rice, tomatoes, turmeric, turnip greens, turnips and early watermelon.

Winter: Even in the colder months, the mild climate ensures a steady supply of produce, keeping the local cuisine vibrant and diverse. Wrap up the year with beets, cabbage, carrots, cilantro, collard greens, green onions, kale, leeks, lettuce, microgreens, mixed greens, mushrooms, onions, parsley, potatoes, radishes, rice, rutabagas, turnip greens and turnips. 

Vegetables growing in the garden
Fresh cabbage from farm field. View of green cabbages plants.Non-toxic cabbage.Non-toxic vegetables.Organic farming.

Local insight and tips

Larry Tuten, owner of Tuten Farms in Hampton, is a fixture at the Farmers Market of Bluffton, offering watermelons, cantaloupes and strawberries among his seasonal produce. He advises customers to choose produce based on visual appeal, encapsulating his philosophy, “If it looks good, it likely is.” His stand promotes a “try before you buy” approach, emphasizing the importance of quality and taste. Tuten notes the local climate’s challenges, particularly storms that can damage sensitive crops like cherry tomatoes. However, his farm successfully cultivates certain crops year-round by protecting them from frost, suggesting that gardening success in the Lowcountry hinges on trial, error and fortune.

Otis Daise Sr., alongside his son Otis Jr., has led Otis Daise Sr. and Son Produce on St. Helena Island since the ‘70s. Otis Jr. highlights their offerings such as cabbage, broccoli and collard greens — especially popular during the holiday season. The duo plans their planting around the Lowcountry’s climate, seeding summer and fall crops at specific times to mitigate the challenges of harsh January freezes. Beyond market sales, the Daises are actively involved with the Gullah Co-op’s food bank, underlining their commitment to community and sustainable farming.

striped watermelon on the field during ripening

Growing tips

The Lowcountry’s gardening landscape offers both unique opportunities and challenges. To navigate these successfully, the Clemson Cooperative Extension Service and local gardeners provide a wealth of knowledge. Here are a few tips for thriving gardens in our coastal region. 

farmer collecting soil samples in a test tube in a field. Agronomist checking soil carbon and plant health on a farm

Soil testing: The foundation of your garden

Why it’s important: Beaufort County’s sandy soil tends to drain quickly and may lack essential nutrients. Testing your soil provides a baseline for its pH and nutrient content, enabling you to make informed adjustments.

How to do it: Soil testing kits can be purchased from garden centers or online. Alternatively, the Clemson Cooperative Extension Service offers soil testing services. Collect soil samples from several areas of your garden for a comprehensive view.

Amending your soil: Based on the test results, you may need to add organic matter like compost to improve nutrient levels or lime to adjust pH. This ensures your soil is in the best condition to support plant growth.

water dripping from black rigid soaker hose with garden background

Water wisely: Efficiency is key

Drip irrigation and soaker hoses: These systems deliver water slowly and directly to the plant’s root zone, reducing waste and minimizing leaf wetness that can lead to fungal diseases.

Timing matters: Water in the early morning to allow leaves to dry out during the day, decreasing disease risk. Evening watering is less ideal, as it can leave plants damp overnight.

Conservation tips: Collect rainwater in barrels to use in your garden. Mulching also reduces the need for frequent watering by retaining soil moisture.

Sweet Basil growing in rich garden soil in a raised planter bed in a kitchen garden, fresh herbs for cooking

Pest management: A balanced approach

Integrated pest management: This sustainable approach involves monitoring your garden for pests and choosing control methods that reduce risks to humans, beneficial insects, and the environment.

Companion planting: Certain plants can repel pests naturally when planted alongside your main crops. For example, marigolds can deter nematodes, and basil can repel mosquitoes and tomato hornworms.

Encouraging natural predators: Beneficial insects, like ladybugs and lacewings, feed on common garden pests. Planting a variety of flowers can attract these helpful predators to your garden.

Organic mulching tomatoes. Woman is placing natural mulch (straw) around the stems of tomato, care of tomatoes concept

Mulch matters: More than just aesthetic

Types of mulch: Organic mulches such as straw, bark chips or grass clippings not only suppress weeds but also improve soil quality as they decompose.

Application tips: Apply a two- to three-inch layer of mulch around your plants, keeping it a few inches away from plant stems to prevent rot.

Temperature and moisture control: Mulch helps maintain a more consistent soil temperature and moisture level, both crucial for plant health in the Lowcountry’s fluctuating conditions.

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