By: Hanna Smith

Once spring rolls around and the threat of cold weather has passed, gardening goes into high gear, and oh what fun it is! Are you wondering what to grow or when to plant a specific plant? N.C. Cooperative Extension has a great publication called Central NC Planting Calendar for Annuals, Vegetables, and Herbs, that will tell you planting dates, whether to plant seeds or transplants, and even give some other tips. Most warm season vegetables can be planted in the Piedmont area after the threat of frost has passed, which on average is around April 15th but there are plenty of cool weather vegetables that can go in the ground now.

While site and plant selection is important, there are other aspects of vegetable gardening that are also just as critical. One of these areas is soil preparation. Whether it’s a brand new garden or an existing one, an application of compost or decomposed leaves can do wonders to help break up clay soils. A 2-inch to 3-inch layer incorporated in should be enough to get you through the season. Also, when talking about soil preparation, fertilization is a large component of that. Soil testing is the only real way of know exactly how much fertilizer should be applied to a specific area and any N.C. Cooperative Extension Office has the free kits available. Manure can be a valuable addition to soils, but precautions should be taken before adding it to a vegetable garden. First, you want to make sure that you get it from a reputable source, because there can be some herbicide carryover that doesn’t get composted out, which can in turn affect your vegetables just like they would any broadleaf weed. Also, you only want to use decomposed manure. It should be aged at least 6 months in an open pile or after its composted. Most manures purchased from garden centers have been kiln dried so all the pathogens have already been removed.

For watering and weed management, the general rule of thumb is 1 inch of water per week including rain, so a rain gauge is important to keep track of precipitation. Make sure that when supplemental water is used that it is only applied to the ground around the plant and not on the leaves. The longer the leaves are wet the higher the chances of disease problems. Weeds will compete with plants for that water, so it’s critical that they are controlled. A steel hoe is a vegetable gardener’s best friend unless the weeds are directly around the base of the vegetable which you would then pull by hand. The best way to control weeds is to get them from the start by using mulch. Apply organic mulches 2 to 4 inches deep around plants and this will also helps conserve soil moisture and reduce the amount of watering required.

When working in the garden, personal hygiene should take precedence. Make sure to wear gloves and wash your hands well after working in the garden. When harvesting vegetables you can remove the outer leaves of leafy crops, and for all vegetables make sure to wash with a mild detergent to remove dirt and dust.

Always make sure to monitor for insects and diseases. A simple walk through every few days should be enough to catch something before it becomes a major problem. While there are many insects and diseases that plague vegetable gardens in the Piedmont, if they are discovered early enough steps can be taken to overcome them without a huge hit to production.