Planning a Spring Vegetable Garden

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Q: Do I need to start making plans for a spring vegetable garden?

 A:        During these cold, winter days of January and February, it is a great time for gardeners to start flipping through their seed catalogs to make plans for what to grow when warmer weather arrives. In Eastern North Carolina, we can usually get an earlier start than our gardening friends to the north and west of us.

When it comes to what vegetable to plant when, you can break vegetables into two groups: warm and cool season. Cool season vegetables will perform better during the cooler months of spring and fall. These vegetables can tolerate colder temperatures and some light frosts. Examples of cool season vegetables would include broccoli, cabbage, carrots, collards, lettuce, onions, garden peas, potatoes, radishes, rutabagas, spinach, and turnips. The great thing about most cool season vegetables is that you can plant them for a spring and/or fall garden. For a spring garden, many plant cool season vegetables from late February through March. A fall garden would be planted in late August to September.

Warm season vegetables perform best in warm weather and can not tolerate frost or freeze. Examples of warm season vegetables includes: beans, cantaloupe, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, okra, peppers, squash, tomatoes, watermelons, and zucchini. Warm season vegetables are best planted in late April into May after the chance of frost has passed.

If this is going to be your first try at a vegetable garden you will want to do some planning to prevent problems later down the road. The first consideration would be selecting an appropriate site. It is usually wise to start out small for the first garden. Often times people “bite off more than they can chew” and cannot keep up with the care of their garden.

There are several 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.

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 (compost). You can incorporate a 2 to 3 inch layer of compost in late winter/ early spring before preparing the soil for planting. A soil sample should be taken every two to three 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 available at the Wayne County Cooperative Extension Office.

Now is a great time to start making plans for this year’s vegetable garden, especially for a spring garden. The Wayne County Cooperative Extension Office has a Wayne County Vegetable Planting Guide that can be picked up at our office. This guide has information on when to plant vegetables in our area. Making those preparations now can lead to a rewarding harvest of freshly grown vegetables this year.

 Wayne County Gardening Starts Here . . .Learn More!

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 Jessica Strickland is an Agriculture Extension Agent, specializing in horticulture for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Wayne County. Forward any questions you would like answered from this week’s column to