Plan Vegetable Gardens before Planting
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Issue: March 2006

Plan Vegetable Gardens before Planting

For productive plants and quality vegetables, take time to plan the layout and design of home vegetable gardens before tilling the soil.

Choosing an appropriate site for planting depends on the number of family members consuming the produce, how much time the gardener has to care for plants and available yard space.

Well-drained, fertile sandy loam soil and good sun exposure are important for optimum growing conditions. A wall or hedge on the southwest corner of the garden will help protect it from wind damage in the spring. Avoid planting in shaded areas, and donŐt plant too close to shrubs and trees because the roots can compete with vegetables for water and nutrients. Also, plant near a water source for easy irrigation.

Test soil to determine fertility. Take samples at a depth of six to eight inches at several locations in the garden. Use soil analysis results as a baseline to determine how much and what kind of fertilizers to apply for optimum yields and quality vegetables.

Synthetic or organic fertilizer will meet most soil needs. The first number on the front of fertilizer bags stands for the percent of nitrogen it contains. Nitrogen is important for vegetative growth. Nitrogen readily dissolves in water and is usually applied in split applications-part before planting and part after plants emerge-to make sure plants receive a steady supply of nitrogen throughout the growing season.

The second number on the bag stands for percentage of phosphorus (P2O5). Apply phosphorus before planting and incorporate into soil so plant roots can absorb it. Phosphorus is important for root and fruit growth.

Potassium (K20), the third number on the bag, rounds out the nutrients that plants need in large quantities. Other minor elements can be added with compost, which should be applied before planting and incorporated into the soil. Compost increases the organic matter of soil and improves soil structure.

Vegetables are traditionally grown in long rows with elevated beds that help warm up the soil sooner in spring than if planted flat on the ground. Plants are usually irrigated by running water down the furrows between beds, but much of the water is wasted that way because it seeps to below plant roots. Use drip irrigation to concentrate moisture in the root zone and conserve water.

Vegetables can be planted from seeds or as transplants. Plant seeds at a depth of four times the diameter of the seed. Plant transplants in the late afternoon and water immediately.

Cover the ground between rows with mulch to reduce water evaporation and to discourage weeds from germinating. Black plastic mulches can help warm the soil, allowing plants to emerge and grow earlier in the season. Organic mulches can help cool the soil on hot summer days. Organic mulch also adds nutrients to soil.

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For more gardening information, visit New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service publications world wide web site at http://www.cahe.nmsu.edu/pubs/_h.

George W. Dickerson, Ph.D., is is a horticulturist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. New Mexico State University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer and educator.