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Planning is key to successful gardening

By Kristen Tribe | Published Wednesday, March 14, 2018

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With the official start to spring just around the corner, it’s prime time to plan your garden.

By giving some thought to your garden’s size, location and favorite vegetables, you’re more likely to have a successful growing season and end up with produce your family will enjoy.

Messenger photo by Joe Duty

STEP 1: PICK THE SITE OF YOUR GARDEN.

Paige Haynes of Decatur Garden Center said an important element to picking the location of your garden is the hours of sunlight it will receive. A garden needs at least four to six hours of sun every day, according to Haynes – but the more, the better.

Your garden also needs to be easy to access.

“One of the best things for your garden is the gardener’s shadow,” said Allyson Murray, who works at the Garden Center.

In other words, don’t put your garden in a location where it’s easily overlooked or forgotten.

“If you’re out in the country and you have 40 acres and the garden’s in the back, it’s probably going to be eaten by the deer or, if you’re like me, you’ll forget it,” Murray said. “Put it somewhere where it’s not unseen.”

Another important consideration in picking the site is access to water.

“You’ll need something other than rain,” Murray said. “You may just use a hose or choose to install a drip irrigation system because it reduces water costs.”

Either way the garden needs to be near a water source.

STEP 2: PREPARE THE SOIL.

Haynes advises all gardeners have the soil tested so they have a starting point and know what nutrients might need to be added to their plot. The Garden Center has soil sample kits, as does Texas A&M AgriLife Wise County, all of which are sent to Texas A&M in College Station for testing.

“A basic analysis gives you a lot of information. That way you’re not shooting in the dark. You know what you’re beginning with,” Murray said.

It’s also important to till the soil until it’s “nice and fluffy,” according to Haynes.

Murray said if the plot hasn’t been previously worked, try to remove as many roots and weeds as possible.

Once the soil is tilled, use the results of your soil test to determine what amendments should be added, such as cotton burr compost, peat moss or even potting soil, as well as fertilizers.

STEP 3: CHOOSE WHAT TO PLANT.

“Consider how much you’re going to eat, and if you have a surplus, what are you going to do with it? Are you going to put it up or give it away?” Murray said.

She also suggested considering what your family likes to eat.

“If you’re planting something just because it’s a vegetable, but your family’s not going to eat it, that defeats the purpose,” she said.

It’s also important to find out what grows best in this area during this time of year. Murray said they offer free planting guides to customers. The guides also include information on crop size, planting distance and depth and average harvest time.

Once you pick the vegetables you’d like to grow, decide if you want to start with seeds or transplants.

“Usually with transplants, you can get things going earlier and get a greater yield before it gets too hot,” Murray said.

STEP 4: ADMINISTER TLC POST-PLANTING.

After the garden is planted, work to keep weeds out with shallow hoeing or spreading mulch among your plants.

“You don’t want to use wood mulch, though,” Murray said. “It’s heavy and saps the ground of water. You want to use things like old, rotten hay – things that would break down quickly and not pull nitrogen from the soil.”

Murray said mulch also helps conserve water by holding the moisture in the soil.

“You need 1 to 2 inches of mulch, but you don’t want a real thick layer early in the season,” she explained. “And don’t put mulch around seedlings until they have come up.”

As the plants grow, you must also consider disease and pest control. Haynes said a quick stroll through the garden to check for fungal disease and look for bugs is a good first step to keep it in check. She said it’s always important to follow the label instructions on all treatments, and if you’re unsure, consult with a professional.

STEP 5: DON’T BE INTIMIDATED.

Haynes encourages everyone to try gardening.

The physical activity is healthy for your mind and body, plus you’re providing wholesome food for your family. If you’re a newbie, start small, evaluate what your family will actually consume and the amount of time you can invest in the project and go from there.

Murray maintains it’s all about time and attention.

“It doesn’t matter if your thumb is green; it matters if your knees are brown,” she said.

*Editor’s note: Murray said an excellent source for beginning gardeners is the Texas A&M Horticulture Department, aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu. The local Texas A&M AgriLife Extension office is also a good resource.

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