Spring ahead – Getting your garden ready for the season

By Laxmi Natarajan 

The first day of spring is one thing, and the first spring day is another.  The difference between them is sometimes as great as a month.  ~Henry Van Dyke

This morning I looked out of my window and saw the first blooms on my flowering plum and could smell the spring in the air.   This month early spring flowering bulbs such as daffodils and grape muscari start to flower and it reminds me that it is time to get ready for the sowing season ahead.  It is the time to fix your garden structures, ready the flower beds, prepare the soil for the vegetable garden, cleanup the weeds, add a bare-root fruit tree or a rose bush and the list goes on.

For those of us who love our tomatoes, eggplants, peppers and plan to have a good harvest this year the secret is to design and plan the veggie garden keeping a few rules in mind.

Planning your vegetable garden
–    Locate the garden as close to the house as possible and with easy access to water supply. Most vegetables grow best in a level area with loose, well-drained soil and at least six hours of sun (eight to ten hours is ideal). Create contour rows, terraces, planters, raised beds on slopes. South-facing slopes are warmer and less subject to damaging frosts. Avoid planting near trees and shrubs; they compete for nutrients and water and may cause excessive shading.

–    Figure out how much space is available for the vegetable plot. It may be an entire section of your yard or just a few planter boxes lined up on your patio or a few containers on your deck.  An interesting and easy way to do this is by following the square foot gardening as explained by Mel Bartholomew at http://www.squarefootgardening.com

–    Consider the time you will spend in the garden to plant, weed, irrigate, harvest and some pest control measures in the garden on a regular basis.

–    Plan the garden on paper first. Draw a map showing the arrangement and spacing of your crops.

–    Choose your vegetables and how many based on what you like to eat and how often you want to harvest..  You'll want to grow vegetables that are high yielding. For example, a single zucchini planted in a container could produce a dozen or more fruit over the course of the summer, where the same container planted with spinach might only produce enough for a single serving.  So if you want spinach for the whole family, allocate a bigger area.  Lettuce, pole beans, tomatoes and zucchini are all good choices for high yielding vegetables.  If this is your first time choose easy vegetables like tomatoes and eggplants and zucchini.  Sometimes buying a start (little plant) as opposed to starting from seeds is more convenient and time saving. (especially if you are going to have just a few plants)

–    Placing the plants: Start by placing tall and trellised crops on the north side of the garden so they won’t shade the shorter vegetables. Group plants by the length of their growing period. Plant spring crops together so later crops can be planted in these areas when the early crops mature.  Consider the length of harvest as well as time to maturity. Place perennial crops to the side of the garden where they will not be disturbed by any tillage that is needed.

Succession planting is the most effective way to plant for  a steady supply of vegetables. Plant a group of different vegetables on a certain week and plant the same group again after two weeks and 4 weeks. This way, each group will be ready to harvest two weeks after the previous one, giving you a fresh supply of vegetables for longer and this also makes harvesting manageable.
    
Many factors influence the growth of plants: water, light, air, temperature, humidity, nutrients, and soil. Growth depends on a favorable combination of these factors.  So refer to specific requirements for the vegetables that you choose.

Cool-season vegetables like broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower can be planted in early March. Other crops include beets, carrots, Swiss chard, collards, lettuce, mustard, radish and turnips. These crops grow best in the milder weather of early spring.
The air temperature is important but the soil also needs to be warmed up to be at lease 55 degrees before planting seeds of warm-season vegetables. Peppers do best if transplanted a few weeks later than tomatoes, once the soil has warmed up. So start them now indoors or in protected areas/containers and wait for a few more weeks before you put these in the ground.   You can start growing seeds inside.

Some vegetables that require bright sunlight (8-hours full sun) are Beans, Eggplant, Pumpkin, Broccoli, Okra, Squash, Cantaloupes, Onions, Strawberry, Cauliflower, Sweet Potato, Corn, Peppers, Tomatoes, Cucumbers, Potatoes and Watermelons. Also consider including herbs like coriander, rosemary, lemongrass, mint, thyme, oregano, basil in your garden patch. In addition to providing good flavor for your vegetables they will keep some of the harmful insects out of the vegetable bed.

Veggies To Plant In March: This month is a transition month between winter and spring. You can set out broccoli, cabbage, kale, lettuce seedlings, potato tubers, and shallot sets. Make successive sowings of beets, carrots, lettuce, green onions, peas, radishes, spinach, and Swiss chard. You can also plant herb plants such as chives, parsley, rosemary, sage and thyme.

Once you have the plan and the plants in the ground we will move on to maintaining and taking care of the vegetable garden, the joy, the pests and the harvest that comes along in another follow-up article. So now that Spring is almost here, take a step outside and prepare for a wonderful growing season.

Science has never drummed up quite as effective a tranquilizing agent as a sunny spring day.  ~W. Earl Hall

Laxmi Natarajan, our gardening expert, is also available to answer reader questions. Send in your queries via our feedback form. 

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