Planting Strategies for Your Garden

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Plants have a wide variety of cultural partialities or tolerances. Planting and gardening is not an exact science because there are so many variables. They include soil type, soil pH, and nutritional levels, moisture requirements, sun or shade levels and unique situations like wind exposure. Keep in mind that your garden is likely to have pockets where the temperatures are warmer or cooler than the general zone recommendation for our area.

Where to plant them? In order to put the right plant in the right place, think about your garden’s place in the larger landscape of your neighborhood and county. A south facing brick wall might raise temperatures by 5 or more degrees. An exposed spot at the base of a slope might hold onto cool air and lower the temperature by the same amount. A plant that survives midway up a south-facing slope may not thrive or even survive the long term at the bottom the slope where cold air sinks and settles.

Get a good idea about the intensity and length of sunlight it receives throughout the day, and even over the entire season. When the tag on the plant reads “full sun” that usually means at least 6 hours or more of direct sunlight. Most of your vegetables will need full sun to produce a good yield. Remember that there are some factors that you can’t change, such as plantings or structures on a neighbor’s property that throw shade onto your site. Consider how wind moves through your site, and if contains exposed areas, select plants that are durable enough to cope with regular buffeting from strong breezes and possible drying effects. Watch how your property drains. The flip side of drying in exposed areas can be drainage issues in low areas, and clay or compacted soils.

When to plant them? Of course your schedule affects how much time you have to plant, but give your plants the best chance of succeeding in the garden by planning ahead for the best times of the year. Transplants will begin appearing in garden centers in a few weeks but there is still time from mid February through mid March to plant seeds for cool season vegetables. These include radish, beets, turnips, kohlrabi and carrots. Root crops need deep, loose soils to develop the shapes we like to see. If garden peas, snow peas and sugar snap peas please you, be sure to plant these climbers on trellis supports by early March

Don’t forget to watch for the shoots of the spring and early summer flowering bulbs that you planted in the fall. When the bulb foliage begins to show it’s time to apply a balanced fertilizer, repeating what you used in the fall when you put them in.

Whatever you decide to plant, be sure the soil is not frozen or too wet. The last frost date for our area is April 19th, give or take 12 days. Warmer soil temperatures make for ideal conditions for helping the roots of new plantings get established quickly and adapted to their new home in your garden. Even if the plants you’ve selected are drought tolerant, they will need steady moisture to get off to a strong start. For ornamental shrubs and trees, this establishment can take two seasons or more. To find out more, take a look at these publications:

Minda Daughtry is Horticulture Agent for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.