Organic Gardening on the Gulf Coast - Lessons and tips from Foley's Cooper Farm

Revitalize your summer garden: A second chance for Gulf Coast gardeners - Cultivating the Coast with Kitti Cooper, presented by Saunders Yachtworks

Rethink and revitalize your garden during the Gulf Coast's second gardening season


If your spring garden suffers from early pest damage and diseases, don't worry — you still have time for a fresh start with your vegetable garden.

The Gulf Coast's unique climate allows for two summer gardening seasons, which can be both a challenge and a blessing. For those new to gardening in this region, it's not uncommon to be harvesting peppers as late as Christmas Day.

Now is an ideal time to rethink and replant your summer garden. Use this opportunity to consider what you might do differently or to rotate the locations of crops that didn't perform well previously. This second chance allows you to optimize your garden's potential for a successful harvest.

There is still plenty that can be seed started to give you a fresh start or a continuous bumper crop in your garden.

What you can be seed starting now up until end of June are:

  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers
  • Eggplants
  • Winter Squash

Fun fact: Winter squash is called "winter" squash not because it is made to grow in the winter but because once cured off the vine they can be stored for a very long time, typically throughout the winter and up until your spring garden begins. This is a wonderful way to be able to enjoy the fruits of your labor from your garden for a few months. These are varieties such as butternut squash, acorn squash, etc.

  • Pumpkins

Tip: Start pumpkins now to have them just in time for Halloween! Don't forget to also plant gourds for fall decorating.

What you can be seed starting now until end of July:

  • Cucumbers
  • Watermelon
  • Cantaloupe
  • Beans
  • Corn
  • Okra
  • Squash


Struggling with pests or diseases in your garden? Here's a comprehensive guide to help you understand and address each issue individually, ensuring you choose the right solutions for your specific problems. Organic gardening on the Gulf Coast is entirely feasible, but it requires a different approach than conventional methods. Organic solutions aren't like a "can of raid" that instantly kills pests on contact; they take time to work, which is why preventive care is crucial for success.

Neem oil

Neem oil is an effective pesticide that gets rid of over 200 species of insects, not just a few.
Since neem oil can kill insects at varying stages, you can use it as a dormant-season application to kill overwinter pests and eggs or as a foliar spray to repel and kill insects.

You can use neem oil to prevent or even kill fungus on your plants. Use it for powdery mildew, which we are more susceptible to with all this humidity and other common fungal diseases.

To prevent fungi, spray susceptible plants every seven to 14 days until the fungus is no longer a threat. To kill fungi, spray plants once a week until the fungi clears up and then spray every two weeks to keep it from coming back.

It interrupts the life cycle of chewing and sucking insects. It works by turning off the insect hormones that make an insect feed and mate. When ingested, it will make them "forget" to eat and unlikely to send pheromones that attract mates. When affected insects do mate, the eggs they lay are not apt to hatch, and those that do, produce larvae that don't develop properly.

It is effective in reducing the populations of bugs that plague our gardens like squash vine bugs and leaf-chewing beetles. It is taken into the plant tissue and becomes systemic, affecting any bugs that attempt to feed on the sprayed plants.

BT oil

Bacillus thuringiensis, shortened to BT, is a gram-positive bacterium that, during the process of sporulation, produces parasporal crystal proteins having insecticidal activity. These proteins are known as cry toxins.

When the bacteria is consumed by certain insects, the toxic crystal is released in the insect's highly alkaline gut, blocking the system which protects the pest's stomach from its own digestive juices.

Simply put: It's a bacteria that is fermented and upsets soft bodied bugs stomachs. The same way fermented foods and drinks are beneficial for our gut health, BT is bad for theirs (their being the bugs.)

The stomach is penetrated, and the insect dies by poisoning from the stomach contents and the spores themselves. This same mechanism is what makes BT harmless to birds, fish and mammals whose acidic gut conditions negate the bacteria's effect.

This is most effective against soft bodies such as caterpillars and worms.

Spinosad oil

Spinosad is a natural substance that is used to control many soft bodied insects like aphids, mites, etc., that infest plants.

You may have to wait a day or two for spinosad to affect the aphid populations on your plants. An insect that eats or touches spinosad finds that its muscles begin to flex uncontrollably. It is largely because spinosad attacks their nervous system by first being paralyzed and then later die.

Spinosad is a natural substance made using the fermentation juices of a specific soil bacteria. It only has a three-hour effective life so only use in late afternoon after the pollinators are done with their jobs for the day.

Copper fungicide

Copper is a metal that, in dissolved form, penetrates plant tissues and helps control fungal diseases such as: powdery mildew, downy mildew, septoria leaf spot, anthracnose black spot and fire blight. That said, its effectiveness is limited against late blight of potatoes and tomatoes, which is why preventive measures are key.

The product works best by protecting plants against the development and onset of new infections. Ideally, apply copper fungicide before fungus is visible. Otherwise, apply the product immediately when you first notice signs of fungal disease to prevent spreading.

Tip: If you're having issues with birds eating your tomatoes hang red Christmas ornaments on your plant they act as a great decoy.


Did you know your fertilizer only has a half-life in temperatures above 80 degrees? That means the 10-10-10 fertilizer you are using is working like a 5-5-5 in extreme heat.

Most gardeners mistake their plants for lack of growth or slow growth due to not liking the heat whereas usually it is due to under feeding. Do not apply double the amount of fertilizer you use. Instead, if you are fertilizing once a month in the summer months, then June, July and August begin fertilizing every two weeks.

Tip: Plant beans around heavy feeders in the summer time like tomatoes and melons. Vegetable plants in the legume family release nitrogen into the soil aiding in fertilizing and make a wonderful companion plant for that reason.


As temperatures rise, it's crucial to adjust your plant and tree care routines to help them survive and thrive. Here are some of our favorite tips and tricks to ensure your garden stays healthy during the scorching heat:
Even plants that usually don't require daily watering need extra moisture during extreme heat. Potted plants may need to be watered twice a day due to faster moisture loss compared to in-ground plants.

Water early in the morning (before 8 a.m.) or late in the afternoon (at dusk). This timing ensures that plants have enough time to absorb water without it evaporating quickly under the hot sun. We water everything here on the farm late afternoons. It gives the plants longer time to absorb the water into the night without the sun drying it out faster than the plant can take it in.

Avoid getting water on the leaves. Water droplets can act as magnifying glasses and burn the leaves. Focus on soaking the soil thoroughly to ensure deep root hydration. Be sure you are soaking the ground of the plants and not just giving it a little short sprinkle.

Keep in mind how far water has to travel to reach a plants room system. The top of the soil being wet doesn't always insure its root systems are also.

Summer gardening on the Gulf Coast presents unique challenges, but with careful planning and diligent care, you can enjoy a thriving vegetable garden. By planting appropriate crops, maintaining proper watering and fertilization routines, and using organic pest control methods proactively, you can ensure a bountiful harvest. Embrace the summer heat as an opportunity to experiment and refine your gardening techniques, and you'll be rewarded with fresh, homegrown produce well into the fall and beyond. Happy gardening!


Tip: Azaleas can still be pruned until the middle of next month without harming next springs buds.


If you missed my comprehensive seed starting guide, you can find it along with my other gardening articles at

Photos provided courtesy of Kitti Cooper.