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Tips can increase garden's success
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Springtime has a way of making would-be gardeners dream of fresh tomatoes, corn and beans, but putting in a garden requires some planning ahead.
David Nagel, horticulture specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said light, drainage and water are absolute necessities for plants.
“If you want to grow any vegetable and most flowers, you have to have at least half a day of sunshine,” Nagel said. “Most things do best in a full day of sunshine, but a half day is an absolute minimum.”
To check for drainage problems, look at potential garden spots 24 hours after a big rain. Standing water indicates poor drainage. This can be solved by using raised beds or draining the area using a ditch or drywell.
Plants need regular water, so make sure water for irrigation can reach the garden.
“Although we average an inch of rain a week in Mississippi, we frequently go three to five weeks without rain, and most things won't survive that,” Nagel said.
Any irrigation method works, but be sure leaves are dry before the sun goes down. Diseases thrive overnight on wet leaves. Do not water in the heat of the day unless the soil can be wet 4 to 5 inches deep. Nagel said 60 degree water from the hose on a 95 degree plant will cool the leaves, but unless water reaches the roots to cool them as well, the plant can get heat shock.
“Anytime you water, if the soil will accept it, put down an inch of water at a time, applied once a week,” Nagel said. “If you have a clay soil, the water will run off after soaking only the top inch or two or soil, so water until it starts to run off, then wait a day and put the rest out.”
To determine the type of soil in a garden, wet a bit of soil and rub it between the thumb and fingers.
“If you can feel sand, it's a sandy soil. If you can smash it out flat and run a ribbon, it's a clay soil,” Nagel said. “If it's somewhere in between, it's a loam, which is the best soil made of sand, silt and clay.”
Decide what plants will go into the garden and how much yield is desired. Someone who wants to can or freeze produce will need a larger garden and more plants than someone who wants fresh tomatoes for the table and a frequent mess of green beans.
“I use the example of yellow squash,” Nagel said. “Each squash plant will yield one squash per day. People who like squash need about three plants, but a seed packet contains 17 to 21 seeds. If you plant all these, you'll have about 20 yellow squash a day and a lot of work to produce more squash than you may know what to do with.”
In Mississippi, the sun is always to the south, so place tall plants at the north end of the garden so they don't shade shorter plants. Most soils in Mississippi are acidic and will need lime added and worked into the soil to bring the pH above 6.
Larry Oldham, Extension soil specialist, said gardeners should get a soil test run to learn their soil pH and mineral nutrients. Indicate what the garden will be used for so the soil test can make specific recommendations for amendments.
“Soil fertility determines whether or not you have the ability to sustain growth,” Oldham said. “Soil management to provide a good rooting environment for the plants may involve using raised beds or installing drainage. You also may consider adding organic matter such as compost or peat moss.”
Oldham said the Extension Service offers soil tests for $6, and results are available in about seven days. Soil samples can be dropped off at any county Extension office for testing.
Once the soil has been prepared, plant vegetable transplants as deep as possible, leaving something green above ground.
“The advantage of this is the roots will be in the deeper, moist soil and will do better than those roots that are right at the surface,” Nagel said. “Plant flower transplants at the depth they were in the container, and keep them watered appropriately.”
Prevent weeds by killing or removing lawn grasses before tilling the bed. When weeds appear anyway, Nagel said the best control is a hoe, but chemicals are available. Consult the label for correct use.
Insect control is best done early before pests can breed.
“For every plant, there is an insect that eats it, and most times there are several insects that eat it,” Nagel said. “Use the appropriate insecticide and remember that to work, it has to get on the insect. Spray from the bottom or side of the plant rather than across the top.”
More tips and information on correct spacing and specific needs of plants are available in the Extension Garden Tabloid available from county Extension offices.