NGA Articles: Vegetable Gardening 101

Vegetable Gardening 101

By: National Gardening Association Editors

The first step in planning a new garden is deciding where to put it. Don't be discouraged if you lack an ideal spot. Few gardeners have the perfect location. Here are some think about when selecting the garden site and suggestions for ways of dealing with less-than-ideal conditions.

Sunlight

Your garden will do best if it gets full sun; 6 hours a day of direct sun is the minimum needed by most vegetable plants for optimum growth. However, if your site for a garden gets less than this, don't give up. Some crops, especially leafy ones like lettuce and spinach, produce reasonably well in a partly shaded location. Root crops such as carrots and beets need more light than leafy vegetables, but may do well in a garden that receives only morning sun. Fruiting plants such as peppers, tomatoes, and beans are sun worshipers and will yield poorly, if at all, with less than 6 hours of direct sun. If your garden is shaded, experiment with the more shade-tolerant vegetables to see which do best.

You don't have to plant all your vegetables together in one plot. If your only sunny spot is in the front yard, you might plant a border of tomatoes and peppers along the front walk and set lettuce plants in a shadier spot out back. If the shade in your garden comes from nearby trees and shrubs, your vegetable plants will be competing for water and nutrients as well as for light. Tree roots extend beyond their drip line, the outer edge of their leafy canopy. If possible, keep your garden out of the root zone surrounding plantings. If this isn't possible, just give everything extra water and fertilizer.

Drainage

Plant roots need air as well as water. Water-logged soils are low in air, which is why soil drainage is an important consideration in choosing a garden site. Heavy clay soils are usually not as well drained as sandy ones. Puddles of water on the soil surface after a rain indicate poor drainage. One way to check your garden soil's drainage is to dig a hole about 10 inches deep and fill it with water. Let the water drain, then fill the hole again the following day and clock how long it takes for the water to drain away. If water remains in the hole more than 3 to 4 hours after the second filling, poor drainage is likely to become a problem.

The quickest way to improve soil drainage is to build raised garden beds and fill them with amended, loam soil. If your soil is really soggy, due perhaps to a high water table, drains buried in the ground may be the only solution. Consult a landscape contractor for information on this fairly expensive option.

Soil can also be too well drained. Very sandy soil dries out quickly and needs frequent watering during dry spells. Adding organic matter to sandy soil will gradually increase the amount of water it can hold.


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