Nothing quite compares to the excitement of planning, planting, and enjoying the harvest of vegetables from your own garden. It’s a good idea to plan before planting. Planting a garden plot or a container of herbs is an excellent activity while staying home during the current pandemic. Taking the time to plan can result in better vegetable production and can be great fun as well. Important things to consider in the planning of a garden are plant selection, sun, water, and soil.
The first step in planning your garden is to think about the plants you want to grow. Choose vegetables that you and your family especially enjoy eating. Also become familiar with the climate in your region. Optimal planting dates for individual vegetables can vary widely depending on your area. Before planting, refer to the NC State Extension web page, Garden Calendars, to view planting timetables for your region. Consider the space you have available. Decide whether you’ll plant in rows or raised beds or whether you’ll have both. Seeds and plants can be found through catalogs or local garden shops. Determine whether vegetables will grow vertically and need support poles or trellises, or whether they will require extensive ground space. Read the directions on seed packets concerning spacing and thinning. It’s a good idea to draw a diagram of your garden in a notebook or on graph paper so you’ll have a visual plan. Be sure to leave room for flowers to attract pollinators.
Site selection. Sun and water availability are essential.
The second step in choosing a garden site is the availability of sunlight. Most vegetables need at least six hours of sun each day, with eight to ten hours being ideal. Planting where there are no trees or other structures to block sunlight will help assure healthy plants and a bountiful harvest.
The availability of water is a very important consideration. Growing vegetables need at least one inch of water each week and rainfall can be unpredictable. Having a spigot near the garden can be helpful, but depending on the size of the garden, it may be possible to use a watering can. Many gardeners use hoses or portable sprinklers to provide moisture for growing plants, but prolonged periods of wet foliage can lead to leaf disease. The possibility of developing diseases in your garden can be reduced either by watering early in the morning so plants can dry in the sun or by using a soaker hose or drip irrigation. Avoid establishing the garden in a low area like the base of a hill since most vegetables don’t grow well with constantly wet roots. Applying organic mulch at the base of each plant can also help conserve moisture in the soil and reduce the growth of weeds.
Soil quality is the key to healthy plants.
The final consideration in garden planning is the soil. Healthy plants require loose, fertile, well-drained soil. The garden should be tilled or dug deeply by hand to loosen and aerate. A soil sample test kit can be used to find out the pH (acidity) of your soil so you will know whether you need to add missing nutrients. Under normal circumstances we recommend a soil test before planting, but due to the pandemic, the lab is currently processing only agricultural soil samples. The best way to improve soil is to add organic matter such as compost, well-rotted leaves, or old manure which is free from herbicide carryover. The top few inches of amended soil can be smoothed with a rake to remove rocks and create a level place for plants to grow. The development of rich loamy soil may take a few gardening seasons to establish, but it will definitely be an invitation for seeds and plants to grow.
While it may be ideal to prepare a garden site in autumn, early spring can also be a wonderful time to locate and prepare a desirable place for growing. Consider the vegetables you want to grow, sunlight availability, water source, and soil enrichment as you anticipate an exciting summer of gardening.
Article written by Mary Alice Ramsey, Buncombe County Extension Master Gardener.
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