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Garden Planning

How To Plan For A Garden

Tight family budgets and a desire for healthier food motivated many people to try their hand at gardening for the first time this year. With your first growing season under your belt, you'll probably do some things differently next year. Review these suggestions to learn how to improve your garden next year.

Plan now

A family plans a gardenWas your garden so big that it became unmanageable or so small that it didn't yield the quantities you had hoped? Adjust the size accordingly. A 16-foot by 20-foot plot usually is sufficient for a family of three or four.

Determine what vegetables you'd like to grow next year, adding and deleting items based on what your family enjoyed and what grew successfully. Look to your local Southern States dealer for information that can help you choose suitable vegetable seed varieties for your local area.

Use the garden space efficiently by sketching it out on paper. Plant the tallest crops toward the back with an eye toward how their shadows could impact shorter plants in front of them. For optimal sun, plant rows north to south. Leave two to three feet between rows, so you can move around easily. Save time by placing any necessary plant stakes, towers or cages when the seeds or seedlings go into the ground.

Did you plant some items too early or too late? Develop a schedule and plant each crop at the appropriate time for your climate zone. For continuity, later growing vegetables can be planted among the earlier crops.

The elements

Did the garden get enough sun? Vegetable gardens require six to eight hours of sunshine. If neighboring buildings, fences or trees limit sun exposure, search out another site.

Was watering a chore? Vegetable gardens need plenty of water, particularly if your area is prone to drought conditions. Soaker hoses are easier to use than dragging regular hoses or carting watering cans to the site. They also deter fungus growth. Use mulch around the plants to keep moisture in. Regularly check the soil's moisture one to two inches down. A thorough weekly soaking benefits plants more than a light daily watering.

Assess the garden's drainage, too, to ensure excess water doesn't rot the plants and roots.

The soil

It's easy to just dig and plant the first year, but soil condition and composition are critical to success. Take advantage of Southern States' soil testing services to know how to improve the soil now for next year's garden. Pull weeds and clean out debris from this year's crop. The plot may require fertilizer, manure or compost, so till the soil to work in needed nutrients.

Look for chemical fertilizers made specifically for vegetables and follow the application directions. Many backyard gardeners choose easy-to-use slow-release fertilizers that are applied when they plant. Other gardeners prefer organic fertilizers. If you've added compost to your soil, you'll need to use less fertilizer.

Bugs and pests

Strong, healthy plants can fend off a number of pests and diseases. Choosing disease resistant plants can minimize how much pesticide you'll have to use. Learn about pests that can invade your garden and the options for controlling them. Some damage looks bad, but doesn't diminish taste. Find out how to attract beneficial insects that can improve your garden.

Need to keep hungry four-legged visitors from chowing down? Put up a fence and secure the gate. Deter burrowing animals by burying a mesh fence at least a foot deep. Six to eight feet of height is needed to keep bounding deer out.

Labor

Consistency matters, so a convenient garden location is best. If the site is handy, it's more likely you'll tend to it. Visiting daily or every few days keeps you in touch with the garden's progress and any emerging problems that need attention.

Overrun by weeds? Keep them manageable by weeding regularly. If time is a factor, weed small sections in rotation rather than the entire garden all at once. Mulching helps keep weeds from sprouting.

Once harvesting season begins, pick ripened crops daily or every other day. You get peak flavor and the regular picking encourages more growth.

If you're fortunate to grow more than your family can eat, consider canning and freezing the bounty. Share with family and friends. Charitable organizations that feed the hungry welcome fresh produce, too.

How was your first year of vegetable gardening? Share your story in the comments section below. Tell us what you'll be changing for your second year!

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