Is Your Garden Ready to Grow? Try These Tips

— Written By and last updated by Diane Lynch

Q: How can I prepare a site for a vegetable garden?

A: Home vegetable gardens have grown in popularity over the past few years. Having a vegetable garden at home provides freshly grown vegetables right in your backyard. By having your own vegetable garden, you can grow your favorite vegetables and even grow some hard-to-find vegetables. A home gardener takes pride when seeing their hard work result in freshly grown vegetables that can be used immediately or be canned and frozen. Now would be the time to start planning and preparing for a vegetable garden since you can start your garden by planting several cool season vegetables like potatoes, lettuce, spinach, and onions in the next few weeks. When planning your vegetable garden, there are several things to take into consideration that will result in a garden to be proud of this season.

The first consideration when planning a home vegetable garden is selecting a site. If this is the first time you are going to have a vegetable garden, remember to start small. Often times people “bite off more than they can chew” and cannot keep up with the care of their garden. There are five factors to consider when selecting a garden site. Sunlight is a factor to consider when looking for a garden site. The garden should receive at least six hours of direct sunlight each day, eight to ten hours each day is ideal. Another factor is the nearness to the house. The closer the vegetable garden is to your house and the easier it is to reach, the more you will probably use it. The third consideration is soil. The soil should be fertile, well-drained, and easy to till. Avoid wet areas where the soil remains soggy after a rain. Heavy clay and sandy soils can be improved by incorporating organic matter such as compost. The fourth factor to consider is water. The garden will need at least 1 inch of water per week. Therefore, locate the garden near a water source. The last consideration when selecting a garden site is good air drainage. Avoid locating the garden in low spots such as the base of a hill. These areas can be slow to warm in the spring and frost forms more readily in them because the cold air cannot drain away. Vegetable gardens located on high ground are more likely to escape light freezes, permitting an earlier start in the spring and a longer harvest in the fall.

After selecting an appropriate site for a vegetable garden, the next step is to plan the garden. This is when you select the vegetables you want to grow. It can be helpful to draw a diagram of the garden site. The diagram can show the kind of vegetables to be planted, the distance between rows, and the time of planting. Putting the time of planting on the diagram can help plan when each vegetable needs to be planted so that it is not put off too late.

Before planting vegetables, time should be taken to prepare the soil. If the soil in the garden site is heavy clay or light sandy soil, the soil can be made more loamy by adding organic matter. You can incorporate a 2 to 3 inch layer of compost in the spring before preparing the soil. A soil sample should be taken every three to four years to find out the pH or acidity of your soil. The ideal pH for most vegetables is 6.0 to 6.5. The soil test report will tell you how much lime and fertilizer your garden soil will need. When applying lime, try to apply it several months before planting. Soil test kits are free and can be obtained at the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service Office.

Fertilizer should generally be applied before or at planting time. The fertilizer can be broadcast, applied in the row, or a combination of the two. Fertilizing by broadcast is when the fertilizer is applied over the entire area. Applying the fertilizer in the row is known as banding. A complete fertilizer such as 8-8-8 or 10-10-10 may be applied at the rate of 20 to 30 pounds per thousand square feet when soil test recommendations are not readily available.

If you’ve been thinking about growing your own vegetables, now is a great time to start making plans. Vegetable gardens can easily be kept small and simple and you can gradually expand each year as you learn more. Making preparations now can lead to a rewarding harvest of freshly grown vegetables throughout the year.

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• Shiitake Mushroom Production Workshop will be held Friday, March 22nd, 9am to 3pm at the Johnston County Livestock Arena (520 County Home Road, Smithfield, NC 27577). Johnston and Wayne County Extension Offices are working together to offer the workshop. The Cost is $20 and includes materials, lunch, and handouts. Participants need to bring 2 to 4 logs, preferably red, white, or scarlet oak that are 4” to 8” inches in diameter and 4 ft. long with the bark intact. Logs need to be cut no more than two weeks before the workshop. Register by calling Amie Newsome at the Johnston County Extension Office at 919-989-5380 or by e-mailing

• Blackberry Production and Planting Workshop – Saturday, March 23rd, 9am to noon at CEFS (Center for Environmental Farming System) Service Building located at 201 Steven’s Mill Road, Goldsboro, NC. Dr. Gina Fernandez, NC State Extension Specialist, will provide a short classroom presentation and then have an outdoor demonstration on planting blackberries. Participates are encouraged to dress warmly for outdoor demonstration. Registration is required and cost $10. CEFS is accepting registrations by contacting Lisa Forehand at 919-513-0954 or by e-mail

NCSU & NC A&T University commit themselves to positive action to secure equal opportunity regardless of color, creed, national origin, religion, sex, age or disability. In addition, the two Universities welcome all persons without regard to sexual orientation.

Jessica Strickland
Extension Agent
North Carolina Cooperative Extension
Wayne County Center
P. O. Box 68
Goldsboro, NC 27533
Phone: 919-731-1525
Fax: 919-731-1511

Written By

Photo of Jessica StricklandJessica StricklandExtension Agent, Agriculture - Horticulture (919) 731-1521 (Office) jessica_strickland@ncsu.eduWayne County, North Carolina
Posted on Feb 28, 2013
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