1 Feb 2006
Virginia Cooperative Extension, Charlottesville/Albemarle County Office
460 Stagecoach Road, Charlottesville, Virginia 22902
phone: 434.872.4580 fax: 434.872.4578
Nice sunny days like we have been experiencing lately are a good opportunity to get out and think about how we are going to garden this year. If you have not already done so a planning session or two can reward you later.
When planning your garden, vegetables or not, it is important to ask a few basic questions:
Who will be doing the work? Will the garden be a group project with members who will work willingly through the season or will you be handling the hoe alone? Remember, a small, weed-free garden will produce more and be more enjoyable than a large, weedy mess.
For a vegetable garden, what do you like to eat? There is no value in taking up gardening space with vegetables that no one eats. Make a list of your favorites, ranked in order of preference. This will make a useful guide in deciding how much of each to plant. Successive plantings of certain crops, such as beans, will give a longer harvest period and increase your yield. List recommended varieties and planting dates.
How do you plan to use the produce from your garden? If you plan to can, freeze, dry, or store it, this will be a factor in planning the size of the garden and in selecting the varieties grown. Some varieties have much better keeping quality than others. Care should be used in choosing the seeds, making sure the varieties you select are adapted to your area and intended use.
How much space is available? That is, how much area can be converted into usable garden space, not simply how much empty ground is available.
Some additional planning hints
- Summer is the best time to plan next year's garden so you have the fall to prepare the soil and winter to order the seed.
- Plan the garden on paper first. Draw a map showing the arrangement and spacing of crops. To keep the garden growing all season, make a spring, summer, and fall garden plan.
- Plan the garden and order seeds by January or February. Some plants may be started indoors as early as mid-February.
- In your plan, place tall and trellised crops on the north side of the garden so they won't shade the shorter vegetables.
- Group plants by length of growing period. Plant spring crops together so later crops can be planted in these areas when the early crops mature. Consider 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.
Locating the Garden
- 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).
- Use contour rows, terraces, or raised beds on sloped or hillside sites to avoid erosion. South-facing slopes are warmer and less subject to damaging frosts.
- Avoid placing the garden in low spots, at the base of a hill, or at the foot of a slope bordered by a solid fence. Such areas are slow to warm up in the spring, and frost settles in these places since cold air naturally drains into low areas.
- Avoid windy locations; if you must plant in a windy spot, build or grow a windbreak.
- Locate near a good and easily accessible supply of water.
- Choose a spot near your home so it is convenient to work in the garden when you have a few minutes.
- Avoid planting near trees and shrubs; they compete for nutrients and water and may cause excessive shading.
- Sites too near buildings may result in plants not receiving enough sunlight. Observe shading patterns through the growing season, if possible, before starting the garden. If you have a shaded area you wish to use anyway, plant shade-tolerant crops. If needed, increase effective light by providing reflective surfaces around plants.
- Try not to plant vegetables from the same family (peas and beans or squash and pumpkin) in exactly the same location in the garden more often than once in three years. Rotation prevents the buildup of insects and disease. Use previous plans as guides for rotating crops.
- Avoid locating the garden on a site where buildings with lead paint have stood; soil lead may be present in toxic amounts. If you are unsure about your chosen location, have the soil tested for lead content, or have tissue analyses done on some leafy vegetables.
- Gardening where sod has long been established, whether converted pastures or lawns, requires a great deal of preparation to eliminate sod, weeds, and soil insects.
Many factors influence the growth of plants: water, light, air, temperature, humidity, nutrients, and soil. Growth depends on a favorable combination of these factors. Any one of them, out of balance with the others, can reduce or even entirely prevent the growth of plants. Thus, the factor which is least available will often limit the extent of plant growth.
For more information about these and other landscape gardening topics contact your local Virginia Cooperative Extension office. The local Virginia Cooperative Extension office numbers are Albemarle 872-4580, Fluvanna 591-1950, Greene 985-5236, Louisa 540-967-3422, and Nelson 263-4035.