Issue: January 2001

January Time To Plan the Home Vegetable Garden

The bitter cold winds of January find most gardeners hovering around their mailboxes waiting for the latest vegetable seed catalogs and champing at the bit to plant their first seed. Before ordering seed or planting the first radish, however, it pays to do some planning.

Most experienced gardeners begin with a map drawn to scale of their vegetable gardens. Areas shaded by houses, fences or trees should be marked because most vegetables prefer full sun. Shaded areas can be planted to leaf lettuce, cabbage or other leafy vegetables. Areas under trees, however, should be avoided because of shallow tree roots that compete for water and nutrients.

Plant taller vegetables like sweet corn or okra on the north side of your garden to avoid shading shorter crops. Seek permanent to semi-permanent locations for perennials like asparagus, rhubarb, and strawberries.

For small gardens, plant root or salad crops that require less space, and choose new varieties of bush cucumbers, squash, pumpkins and melons, which use less room than their traditional vining cousins.

In general, you can save garden space by growing two crops in the same area or intercropping. For example, train pole beans on sweet corn stalks for support and grow pumpkins under the corn to shade out weeds. Also, use succession planting to grow one crop after another in the same space during the same growing season, such as planting radishes in the spring, followed by green beans in the summer and garlic in the fall. Growing cucumbers up a fence will also save space.

For aesthetics, grow colored leaf lettuce or pink-flowering chives in flowerbeds to create an edible landscape. And, take advantage of multiple-use crops. Thorny raspberries can be grown under a window, which will allow you to harvest edible berries and protect against intruders.

Select vegetable seed varieties that have natural disease resistance to reduce or eliminate fungicide use in your garden. In seed catalogs, tomato varieties with the letters VFN indicate resistance to Verticillium and Fusarium wilts as well as nematodes. You can also rotate the vegetables in your garden each year to reduce disease problems and strengthen garden fertility.

Legume crops like beans and peas inoculated with Rhizobium bacteria will produce their own nitrogen, eliminating need for a commercial nitrogen fertilizer. Rhizobium bacteria, which develop in nodules that form on the roots, convert elemental nitrogen in the air into a form the plants can use. Much of the nitrogen remains in the soil after harvesting these plants. Nitrogen-hungry crops like corn and lettuce planted in the same area the following year will thrive.

Order seed from a reputable seed company to ensure quality. Never save seed from hybrids planted the year before since it may not produce true to form progeny. Gardening friends or the Cooperative Extension Service can recommend varieties that perform well in your area, but ̉All-AmericanÓ varieties do well in most locations. Try several varieties and take notes on performance throughout the season to help you choose seeds the following year.

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For more gardening information, visit New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service publications world wide web site at

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.

Also Please join us on Southwest Yard & Garden, a weekly garden program made for gardeners in the Southwest on: KNME-TV Albuquerque at 9:30 p.m. Saturdays, KENW-TV Portales at 10 a.m. Saturdays, and KRWG-TV Las Cruces at 11:30 a.m. Saturdays (repeated at 1 p.m. Thursdays.)