Plan before planting your garden
by Lewis W. Jett, Horticulture Specialist, WVU Extension Service
In West Virginia, we garden so we’ll have fresh, nutritionally intact food that we can eat ourselves or share with others. A garden allows us to grow fruits and vegetables that we can’t find at the local supermarket.
Successful gardeners always plan before planting. Choose a garden site that has abundant sunlight, good drainage, and adequate soil fertility. Protecting the garden from wildlife damage is essential to having a successful season. You may wish to garden in the same location each year, or you can rotate to a new site every other year. Avoid low sites where cold air drains to form a frost pocket.
Gardens on a southward-facing slope will warm up faster in the spring.
Perform a soil test.
Once you’ve chosen a suitable site, collect a soil sample to determine soil fertility. A soil fertility test should be performed every one or two years. Most gardeners test their garden soil in the fall so they’ll have adequate time to make fertility or pH adjustments. But spring is also a suitable time to test the soil.
Take multiple samples to a depth of 6 to 8 inches from different locations in the garden. Mix the samples thoroughly and take a sample from this mixture (approximately a pint). If you want to
plant specific crops that have strict soil pH requirements such as blueberries or asparagus, these samples can be collected and analyzed separately from the other garden soil. Obtain a soil test kit from your WVU Extension county office, which will send the sample to the WVU Soil Testing Laboratory for analysis.
Change the arrangement of your garden.
Most vegetables and fruits grow well on raised beds. A raised bed can be created by ridging the soil 6 to 10 inches high. A raised bed provides more soil for the root system to grow, facilitates good soil drainage, and actually warms the soil for early planting. Plants growing on a raised bed
are easier to harvest.
Plants can be grown in linear rows on the beds or planted as small squares. Square-foot gardening – arranging vegetables in 12-by-12-inch planting squares – is an efficient way to garden in a limited space. Lettuce, spinach, chard, and carrots can be spaced very close together. Planting such crops in a square arrangement or in several short rows is actually the best way to grow them. Sweet corn is most effectively pollinated if it is planted in a block of short rows rather than a single row.
Water your garden regularly.
Unpredictable rainfall makes it necessary to irrigate garden crops. Many successful gardeners have invested in small drip irrigation kits that can be used to “bottom water” plants. Mulching with plastic mulch or organic mulches will help reduce soil moisture loss, keep the fruits clean, and prevent many diseases from attacking plants.
Decide what to grow.
The most important step in planning the garden is deciding what to grow. Obviously, this should be based on what you like to eat or what your neighbors like if you plan to sell your produce. Gardens are a great place to mix and match different fruits, herbs, and vegetables. For better pest protection, try alternating vertical (high-growing) plants with low-growing, compact ones. Plant flowering plants along the garden’s border to attract beneficial insects that will help pollinate crops or feed on harmful insects.
Try something new.
This doesn’t have to be a different vegetable or fruit, but it could simply be a new variety of your favorite plant. Contact your county’s WVU Extension agent for suggestions.