Planning Next Year’s Garden

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The New Year is Here! Hopefully the seeds we’ve saved over from last year or ordered new from our favorite catalog have arrived and are nestled in their packets waiting in the fridge. Have you marked them with their planting dates? The last spring frost date for Sanford is April 19, give or take a 12-day standard deviation.

The first step is prep. Take those seed packets out of the fridge, grab a calendar and an ink pen. Read the planting information on the packet back for the number of weeks to plant before or after (depends on the plant) the last spring frost and count it out on the calendar. If your seed information includes soil temperature sowing guidance, that takes dominance over the calendar date since seeds can’t read but do respond to thermal changes. Write your window of opportunity right on the packet, then group the seeds with the same planting time together with a rubber band. If you are like me, you’ll need a reminder right on your calendar too before you put the seeds back in the cool, dry dark of the refrigerator.

Next, take a look at your tools. Are they dirt and rust free? Are they sharp (shovels too)? Are they well oiled, even the wooden handles too? If they need work, do it now while you have the time. If they need replacing, replace them so they’ll be ready when you are.

After that, check your soil amendments. If you are “making soil” this winter with a compost pile, consider turning your pile. Every pile needs a recurring inflow of oxygen once in a while. Turning allows the mix of air, moisture, and heat to continue the decomposition process. A cold pile breaks down very slowly, like a fire going out. Have you had your soil tested within the last three years? If the answer is yes, then good for you! You are ahead of the curve. If not, from December 1 through March 31 it’s peak season for the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ soil testing lab, and peak season testing fees apply. Soil sampling information kits are still available at your local Cooperative Extension office.

If managing your lawn is part of your garden planning, investigate which pre-emergent herbicide for summer annual weeds is right for your situation. They are usually used for crabgrass and goosegrass control but also control other grass and broadleaf weeds that start from seed (so keep pre-emergent products away from your seed-sown garden). It is always very important to read and follow the product label to get the best results and avoid problems. It is especially so with pre-emergent herbicides. Soil temperatures, application timing, application coverage, irrigation application, and single versus split applications are crucial to success. In most areas in NC, this occurs in mid- to late-March.

How you begin has everything to do with how you end up, so start your research soon to develop your garden plan, locate your supplies and be prepared to act when the time is right. For more information on the frost dates for your area, seed planting calendars, and pre-emergent herbicide information take a look at the following sites:

Average Last Spring Frost Dates for Selected North Carolina Locations

Central North Carolina Planting Calendar for Annual Vegetables, Fruits, and Herbs