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Plan for success in vegetable gardens
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Nothing quite matches the freshness of home-grown vegetables, and gardeners can ensure a successful backyard crop of their own with proper planning.
Rick Snyder, vegetable specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said finding the right location is one of the first and most important steps in planning a vegetable garden.
"Pick a spot that is not too far from your house so that it will be easy to access for weeding, pruning and harvesting," Snyder said. "Be sure to pick a site that drains well, ideally on a slight slope. Don't plant in a part of the yard where water tends to stand."
Take a look at what is already growing on the potential garden site. Avoid areas where the ground is covered in moss, opting instead for land that has grassy growth and few persistent weeds. Choose a site with full sun, or one that is sunny most of the day.
Sample the soil when planting a new garden or if the soil has not been tested in the last couple of years. A soil test will determine the soil's phosphorus, potassium, other nutrient and lime needs. Sample boxes, instructions on how to take the samples and required forms are available at the local county Extension office.
Extension nutrient management specialist Larry Oldham said while soil testing in the fall allows more time to plan and implement a fertility program, gardeners still can have soil tested for this season.
"Soil testing is a powerful tool for home gardens," Oldham said. "Soil test results will recommend a fertility plan for the crop and whether the pH should be adjusted. The proper pH level makes the nutrients in your soil more available and creates a better growing environment for your plants."
Once the soil is tested and fertilizer recommendations met, it is time to decide what to plant in the vegetable garden. Snyder said families should make a list of the vegetables each family member likes to eat, and plant accordingly.
"Divide the vegetables you want to grow into cool-season and warm-season crops, and decide what needs to be planted when. For example, peppers, eggplants and tomatoes are cold-sensitive, so they shouldn't be planted until after the last frost," Snyder said. "On the other hand, cold-tolerant vegetables like Irish potatoes, English peas, carrots and sweet corn can be planted quite early."
Snyder recommended gardeners consult the Extension Garden Tabloid for planting dates for various vegetables. He said this publication is one of the best resources available to gardeners. Ask the local county Extension office for publication 1091.
Irrigation most likely will be needed during long dry spells to ensure plants get adequate water.
"In Mississippi, we have an average of 55 inches of rainfall per year. This is plenty of water, but it's not divided equally over the year, and there may be two- to three-week periods where there's no rain at all," Snyder said. "In general, vegetables need between 1 and 1 1/2 inches of water per week. If it rains that much, good; but if not, you will need to irrigate to make up the difference."
After planting vegetables, frequent upkeep is needed, and the more frequent, the better. Snyder advised pulling weeds several times a week when weeds are small, typically less than a couple inches tall.
"It's a lot easier to weed frequently. If you wait a week or two, it's a lot harder to get them out, and it takes more work," he said. "We have a severe weed problem in Mississippi because of all the rain we get. It pays to start weeding early and keep up with it."
Be on the lookout for insect and disease problems, and control them as needed. Snyder said gardeners can remove insects by hand or use various spray insecticides.
Mississippians can choose from a wide variety of temperate, tropical and subtropical crops for their vegetable gardens. Snyder said even crops that typically are grown in colder areas can thrive in Mississippi.
"For the home gardener, Mississippi is probably about the best place to live because you can grow just about anything," Snyder said.