Learn to grow a better garden

Published 9:53 am Thursday, February 2, 2017

By Pam Jones

Horticulture Agent

Cooperative Extension

This is the time of year when gardeners are dreaming of warmer days and planning for fresh fruit and vegetable feasts.

Seed catalogs, seed displays in local garden centers and farm stores, and sizing up tools in the hardware store bring a spurt of happiness and anticipation to those of us yearning for spring.

So how does one begin planning their dream garden, whether it be vegetable, fruit or flower?

Site Assessment

First, assess your site possibilities.

The majority of fruits and vegetables need a minimum of eight hours of full sun each day to thrive. Ten hours or more is better. As for flowers, there are plants for all types of light requirements from full sun to shade.

The next thing you need to consider is the soil type. How does one know if the soil is suitable for what they want to grow? Is the soil well-drained?  Few plants can tolerate soils that are not; so, take that into consideration.

Then, you need to determine the nutrients available in the soil and the soil pH. A soil test is needed for this. The supplies needed to perform a soil test are available at the Extension office along with an instruction sheet. The soil report will give a recommendation on whether or not the soil needs to be limed and the correct amount and formula of fertilizer to apply for what you intend to grow.

Gardeners with a soil analysis do not waste money applying unneeded lime and achieve more optimum plant growth and higher yields by using the right fertilizer. If you have questions about your soil report, call your Extension office for assistance in understanding it.

Next, are you close to a water source if you intend to water your garden? Vegetables and most fruits are up to 90 percent water. At least one inch of water is needed weekly with that amount increasing during heavy production and periods of extreme heat.

The past two summers, rainfall has not been adequate in most areas to meet this requirement. Your goal is to keep the top six to eight inches of soil moist.

Catalog Dreamin’ :  Transplants or Seeds?

Many gardeners do not have the space, equipment or inclination to grow seeds indoors for transplants and find it easier to buy tomato, lettuce, pepper, and other vegetable transplants. Onion sets and sweet potato slips are other examples of plants usually purchased rather than grown from seed.

If you are up to the challenge, there are detailed directions for growing your own transplants available by contacting the Extension office.

How does one know how to purchase the best seeds?

Always read the seed packet carefully. Be certain that the seeds you are purchasing were packaged for the current growing season. There should be a date on the packet that indicates when the seeds were packed or what season they were packaged for. So, look for something like “Packed in December 2016” or “Packed for 2017 Season”. Also, look for seeds for plants that are adapted to our USDA Hardiness zone, which is 7B.

When looking for varieties to grow, notice the letters on the packet. These letters indicate the variety’s resistance to certain diseases. This is important especially with tomatoes, which tend to have many disease problems. A “V” usually means resistance to Verticillum wilt disease for example. Don’t purchase your seeds yet. A few more details must be taken care of first.

What’s Next?

• Come by the Extension office at 180 S. Main St., Mocksville to pick up soil sample supplies.

• Note and record how long your proposed site has full sun each day.

• Consider how you are going to supplement rainfall to keep an adequate water supply to your garden.

The next installment is next week. Until then, come by or call (336.753.6100) for publications that will help you have the best garden ever.