Succession Planting in Your Vegetable Garden
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There is something innate about Spring that makes us think, “I must plant!” Whether it is the warmth of the sun, the inspiration of the greenery returning, or that need for a tomato sandwich by June 1, Southerners are especially antsy to get their summer garden in the ground ASAP. The office phone usually starts ringing a little more as the last frost date approaches. Yet, North Carolina gardeners are sometimes missing the best part about living in the South: the weather! And it is our weather that makes year-round vegetable gardening possible!
Have you ever noticed that North Carolina’s climate is “just right”? It gets cold in the winter, but not too cold. Maybe the summer doesn’t seem quite as nice in July and August, as it sometimes gets too hot; but, overall, it gets warm enough to grow tropical plants and our favorite vegetables within the growing season. The seasonality and the general moderation of the weather, coupled with our biogeography in Central North Carolina (for Lee County), we have a charmed growing location.
Planning is Critical!
All gardeners are guilty, at least at some point, of walking through the garden center and just picking out what looks good to them at the time. We look at our calendars for April 15 and check the weather to make sure it looks warm enough, and then just go. While this whimsy can be fun, it is inefficient for a year-round vegetable garden.
First, you have to be reasonable about the space you have in your garden and what you will actually eat. How many tomatoes and squash can you really fit? Do you have room for another crop? What do you want to grow? Do you have enough compost/mulch to keep the plantings going through the hottest part of the summer? Will you eat it or have to start leaving care packages with your neighbors because you planted too many of one crop?
Use the Central NC Planting Calendar
The second thing to work on is not getting hung up on the last frost date! This
“magic” number is a great time to start a summer vegetable garden, but it is not the only time to sow or plant a summer vegetable garden!
The NCSU Central NC Planting Calendar is a brilliant tool to help gardeners plan for a year-round harvest. The calendar breaks down each month into two halves, and lists the appropriate planting times for most of the common vegetables we can grow in North Carolina. Look closely, the only months NCSU recommends very little to plant are October, November, and December. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t anything to harvest during these months! Our favorite Brassicas can grow and thrive during these months, as long as you have some hard frost protection for the worst of the winter weather.
Some of the major dates to set in your mind are: February 15, April 15, May 1/15, and August 1. If you can set a goal to have something to plant around these dates, you could be harvesting almost year-round from your garden!
If you check the calendar, you’ll notice that tomatoes, for example, have a planting window of April 15 to August 15 (with a two week break in July for the hottest part of the summer). Did you know that you still have about 75-90 growing days after August 1? By starting to think of the summer vegetable season as TWO not one growing season, you can get a lot more out of your garden for a lot longer. Tired of a variety you planted back in April? Try something new in August (or June!)!
Best of luck in your vegetable garden this season!
NC State Central Planting Calendar
NC State Quick Vegetable Guide
North Carolina State Climate Office
Amanda Wilkins is the Horticulture Agent for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.