Dr. Grow: Getting ready to garden

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

I'm sitting at home listening to the howling cold wind blowing outside on this early March day. As I shiver, I keep thinking spring is just around the corner. Hopefully the wind will change direction soon and blow in the spring temperatures I am longing for.

Despite this lingering winter weather, I am amazed at how many people I have talked to in the last few weeks tell me they are going to plant a vegetable garden this year. The reasons vary from "I want to save some money" to "I haven't grown one in years." I have also heard things like "I want to enjoy the flavor of a tomato picked right off the vine." For whatever reason, gardens seem to be on the minds of many more people this year.

For those of you who have not gardened recently or ever, I would like to make a few suggestions so your garden is a success and so you don't get burned out when the temperatures rise during the summer.

Select a garden spot that is fairly flat and in all-day or all-afternoon sun. Keep your garden away from trees. A good rule of thumb is to measure the distance between the drip line and the stem of the tree closest to your proposed garden. Locate your garden at least two times that distance away from the tree.

If the tree is black walnut, find a different place to put your garden. Roots from black walnut exude a chemical that is toxic to vegetable plants, especially tomatoes.

Keep your garden plot small. A 10-by-20-foot garden will you give you plenty of space to provide fresh vegetables for your table. Novice gardeners usually think bigger is better. Unfortunately, large gardens mean more work and may mean more stress and quicker burn-out.

If your garden plot has not been cultivated recently, you will be more successful if you put some time and money into the soil of your new garden. Till the area as deep as you can, double dig it with a spade (this means digging two spade faces deep), or ask someone to work the area with a plow.

Next, place a three-inch layer of peat moss or composted organic matter over the area. Till this organic matter into the soil as deep as you can. Next, add gypsum to the soil at the rate of 40 pounds for every 200 to 500 square feet of garden if you live in an area where soil has high clay content.

Next check the pulverized and amended soil's pH. Purchase a test kit from you local garden center or take a soil sample to your local Extension office. Fallow soils in Southeast Missouri will often need added lime.

If lime is needed, I recommend you apply pelletized agricultural lime. This is powdered lime (powdered lime activates in the soil faster than granulated lime) that has been glued together into pellets. The glue is water-soluble, so once the lime is spread, the glue will break down after heavy dew or rain. Pelletized lime is also easier to spread than powdered lime.

If you put time and money into the soil of your new garden, you have a much better chance of making it a success. Your efforts will be rewarded when you see, taste, feel and smell the fruits of your labors.

In my next column I will discuss fertilizers you need to add to the garden soil during and after planting.

Send your gardening and landscape questions to Paul Schnare at P.O. Box 699, Cape Girardeau, Mo. 63702-0699 or by e-mail to news@semissourian.com.

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