Moving from the North to the South can be a marvelous thing. Relocating from Chicago to Atlanta was a no-brainer for my sister. “Abundant sunshine, exercising outside year-round and flowers blooming most of the year,” she said. With such a positive attitude, what could go wrong?

hydrangea

Georgia hydrangeas can be cut all summer for indoor display, and they keep blooming from June through frost. Prune them back early, as they set buds in the summer for next year’s blooms.

Photo Credit: Kathy Stratton

Gazania

In the South, gazania shows up mid-March and blooms through frost, which often doesn’t happen until the end of October – and sometimes into November.

Photo Credit: Kathy Stratton

Sundrops

Sundrop plants are used as a food source for larvae of some species of moths and butterflies. In Georgia, the bloom time lasts from early June through October.

Photo Credit: Kathy Stratton

Morning glory

Morning glories might seem disappointing in Southern climes at first because they take an afternoon nap, but they’re so prolific you might just forget about their down time.

Photo Credit: Kathy Stratton

Of course, she hadn’t planned on having to tune her ears to understand a Southern drawl – or to have to deal with drought and yellow pollen 1/8 of an inch thick that covered everything! My sister soon learned that moving her gardening skills from the cold North to the hot South brought along a few surprises. Her beloved annuals started acting like perennials, and her old favorites didn’t come back every year. She learned quickly that there was more than a change in USDA hardiness zones to her southerly move.

Meanwhile, I was left up North with the cold winter on my northern ridge and no flowers for six months of the year. I wondered how we would talk gardening across our temperature zones? I live in Zone 5, while she now basks in a warm Zone 7B/8. How was I going to be able to answer her questions about growing pansies in December when I only grow them in spring or fall?

Of course, we found our way: Talking gardening together over the years prior gave us a good base to work from, so we learned to work through the distance and the heat. And we eventually learned the expectations for the different plants in the different zones. Here are some of the things we discovered as we weathered the transition from North to South hundreds of miles apart: 
My sister was used to tulips, daffodils and iris coming up every spring. While I still revel in that Northern springtime rite, Georgia doesn’t have a long enough cold snap for that magic to happen. She solved the problem by planting new bulbs about every other year. While my bulbs need dividing every few years, I end up spending my money on annuals each year – which she rarely needs to do.

In addition to changing her bulb plantings, my sister adjusted to her new flower beds, which are now filled with hydrangeas, black-eyed Susans, lavender and sweet potato vine. Asters grow everywhere in her garden. Gazania, dahlias and golden marguerite all flourish in that humid Southern heat – for months on end. Of course, the same plants grow up North, but not in this robust fashion. By me, these beauties often struggle for enough sun to last a few months before the snow comes back. Furthermore, many are only annuals in the North.

For example, gazania is a half-hardy annual north of Zone 8. It involves complex indoor sowing instructions. But in Georgia, the plants pop back up every year. Sweet potato vine, an ornamental climber, is also only an annual anywhere above Zone 8. Of course we still use it up North, where we cherish the plant for its rapid growth. My sister, on the other hand, needs to clip hers back all summer long so the vine doesn’t envelop the entire driveway – and the plant returns every year as voracious as ever.

And there are other differences my sister has noticed: Dahlias are bushy, tuberous plants native to Mexico and Central America that are supposedly killed by frost. Up North I dig them up religiously every fall. In Georgia, my sister just watches them grow.

Marguerite daisies (often included in the genus Chrysanthemum, but more delicate) are considered an annual in most places. In the South, however, it’s a perennial subshrub. My sister’s plants spread rapidly and transplant easily. She just digs up the roots and plants them in an additional location.

Thankfully my sister is still able to grow a few favorites from her cold-zone days. “My special surprise was morning glories,” she recalls. “They bloom prolifically from July to frost. Despite the heat, the [vines] are filled with blooms every morning.”

All in all, my sister is quite happy with her relocation. “So some disappointments, adjustments and surprises came with my move South. However, gorgeous flowers are always worth it,” she says.

Meanwhile, I struggle with planting annuals, mulching heavily during the winter and brushing off my tubers to replant each spring. But I have to agree with my sister: Gorgeous flowers are always worth it!