Garden Site Selection

Shawn Banks: Extension Blog Contributor
Johnston County Extension Agent/Educator
North Carolina State University
shawn_banks@ncsu.edu

As an extension agent one question I often get asked by new gardeners is, “Where do I put a vegetable garden in my yard?” That leads to a lot more questions, but let’s answer the where question first. There are four basic considerations when selecting a garden site.

narrow strip of garden vegetables in a backyard area

The first thing to consider is the need for direct or full sunlight. Most vegetables need a minimum of six to eight hours in order to produce a crop. However, the more sunlight they get the more bounteous the harvest will be. If there isn’t a spot in the yard that receives full sun all day, then the question becomes, is it better to have shade in the morning or in the evening? Morning sun will dry the dew from the leaves, reducing the chance of fungal diseases infecting the leaves.

person watering vegetable garden with a hoseSpeaking of dew, the next consideration is water. How close is the water source to the vegetable garden. Many vegetables need to have consistent moisture. That means a water source should be easy to access to keep the soil moist throughout the growing season. The further the water is from the garden, the less likely it is that the garden will get watered on a regular basis. Have you ever wondered why the tomatoes crack, or the radishes split? One of the most common reasons is that the soil was very dry and then it rained a lot and the plant was trying to store as much water as possible, causing the cracks and splits

Raised beds with vegetables growing in themAnother consideration is airflow. Many foliar diseases are caused by fungal pathogens. Most fungi need water standing on the leaf for eight or more hours before they can infect the leaf. Good airflow will dry the leaves out before the fungi can infect the plant. A hedge, a solid fence, or even a house may obstruct airflow. Another way to obstruct airflow is to plant too close together, but that is a discussion for another time.

A trellis in the back of a raised bed supports peasLastly comes the phrase “out of sight, out of mind”. This is very true for a vegetable garden. When selecting where to place the garden, consider ease of access. Many people find that when the garden is way in the backyard, they don’t tend it often enough. The soil dries out. The weeds take over. The crops don’t get harvested in a timely manner. In short, the garden doesn’t succeed. Select a garden site that is close enough that you will see it and want to tend to it.

These four site characteristics are the most important when selecting the location for a vegetable garden. Remember, a vegetable garden site needs a minimum of eight hours of direct sunlight, consistent moisture, good airflow, and easy access. A site with all four of these characteristics will ultimately produce more, have fewer problems with fungal diseases, and be better taken care of because it is visited more frequently and loved.

Keep in mind that if you don’t have anywhere in your yard that works, many options, such as container gardens, can help you have a productive garden anywhere.

Garden Site Selection pdf

Prepping Your Garden for The Next Growing Season

William H. McCaleb, Blog Contributor
Program Assistant for Agriculture and Natural Resources, Halifax County, VA. and Master Gardener

For gardeners in the eastern U.S., last year was a better than normal gardening season. Better than normal yield, better than normal precipitation, and in our case in Virginia cooler than normal which yielded excellent spring cool season crops as well as early summer crops.

But all good things must come to an end; that being the result of several heavy frosts.   With that said, I am looking forward to next year’s challenges and what I want to grow for our family. Oh, for the taste of one more summer ripened tomato, but for now, that is a dream and it is time to reflect on what grew well in the garden as well as what didn’t do so well.  Hopefully you have kept a garden journal to help you in this task. I find that writing down details of what is planted, the orientation, spacing, fertilization/liming rates and frequency, weekly rainfall amounts, production amounts, etc. is helpful as you start planning for the next season.

Like me, you should start thinking about what you want to grow in 2015. Take time to reflect on your 2014 garden production, care, and location. Also, evaluate what went right and what went wrong with the plants and varieties you planted and harvested. This will start you off in the right frame of mind in preparing for the next growing season. Good planning and preparation for next year gives you the tools to have an even better gardening season. A successful vegetable gardener is a happy well fed gardener!

I know, you too are already missing those fresh tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, squash, okra, and other great home grown vegetables we treated ourselves to this year, but the next season is ‘just around the corner’ so to speak. After all the days are getting a little longer. Spring can’t be far away!

If you just happen to live in an area that hasn’t had frost yet, take your prompt from your plants: when annuals and seasonal vegetables turn brown and begin to die back, it is time to clean up your garden.

Clean up the Garden
Your best action is to remove any spent or failing plant materials. Experienced gardeners know that many of the bacteria, fungi, and other disease-causing organisms that caused those diseases. Pathogens that are sources of those diseased plants this past season can survive over the winter in dead leaves, stems, roots, and dropped fruits that get left in the garden. Much like a piece of bread that is kept too long and looks like it has penicillin growing on it, garden debris also will carry the pathogens that can come alive with those same problems when the temperatures begin to rise in the spring. Prevention of diseases and insect infestation now, will keep you from a repeat of problems in next year’s garden.

A good leaf rake, given enough ‘elbow grease’, works well in getting the bulk of dead plant material out of your garden. If you experienced early or late blight or other tomato related diseases this past growing season, you want to make sure you reduce, to the best of your ability, the risk of repeating that problem again next year. Yes, there are many new varieties of vegetables available today that are ‘resistant’ to some of these diseases, but ‘resistant’ does not mean they are immune to them. You don’t want to take the chance of returning pathogens, so do a good job, cleaning and ‘sanitizing’ your garden now. Make sure, when removing the plant debris, that you totally destroy that debris so that no pathogens are left behind.

To Compost or Not!
Can you compost this dead plant material and use it next spring? Information that you find from Extension offices across the U.S. will recommend that you do not. The reason being is that most people do passive composting i.e. put it in a pile, and then using what compost develops, put the compost back in the garden for the next season. It is best to burn the plant material; this will destroy the pathogens and weed seeds as well and return some carbon back into the ground when you spread it out. Please check local/state laws prior to burning. Many states and/or localities have burn bans especially this time of the year. Another method, if your local law allows it you can bag the material and send it to the landfill. Each year there are more localities that ban yard waste from their landfills. If you are not sure, check with your locality to learn more about your local waste and recycling laws.

If you do decide to go with active composting; composting at a temperature 140°F, or higher, will destroy many of the disease organisms as well as many weed seeds. You will need a temperature probe to monitor compost temperatures.   It’s really not hard to source a compost thermometer either through the internet or local retail outlets such as garden centers or nursery supply stores. If in doubt about your compost pile reaching these high temperatures, it is best to side with caution and discard the material by properly bagging it or by burning based on your local ordinances.

Preventing Overwintering Pathogens
Some of our most notorious insects of the garden such as Mexican bean beetle, squash vine borers, European corn borer, cabbage loopers, can also overwinter in garden debris. Larvae will use debris as a safe harbor. Flea beetles and spider mites, as well, can find food and winter shelter in spent plant material and weeds.

After you have finished cleaning up the debris from your garden, it is time to turn over the soil to both aerate and break up any remaining debris into smaller pieces that will be turned under. A good rototiller will help make this job easier. Once buried, any plant material left will decompose more rapidly.

For some pests and pathogens, turning over the soil after removing spent plant materials is recommended as the main line of defense against overpopulation next year. Consider this information from “Home and Horticultural Pests: Squash Bugs and Squash Vine Borers,” from Kansas State University,

“A vigorous autumn… rototilling can physically destroy cocoons and larvae (of the squash vine borer). Brought to the surface, cocoons and larvae are more susceptible to predation by birds and exposed to cold winter elements, leading to their demise. Deep plowing physically destroys cocoons and larvae burying them deep beneath the soil surface so pupated moths become entombed underground.”

Steps to a Healthier Garden
If you haven’t done a soil test in three years or more, it is time to retest and determine the needs of your garden soils based on what you will be growing in the next season. Soil test kits and instructions are available from your local Extension Office. Also, in planning next year’s garden, rotation of your crops is a must do item. This simple action will help keep disease issues down.  If your soil test(s) recommend liming, you can go ahead and put down lime this time of year, allowing it to start adjusting the pH. If the ground is frozen already, wait until spring. As you add lime, you can also help build soil structure by incorporating compost or shredded leaves. These soil additives will also add beneficial micro-nutrients and beneficial organisms. If you want to further build the soil, you may want to consider putting in a cover crop that will not only hold soil, but when tilled in early spring, will further build a healthier garden soil. A legume such as white or red clover would be something to consider. Check with your local Extension Office for best cover crop recommendations for your area.

Prepping Your Garden for the Next Growing Season (pdf)

 References:

http://pubs.ext.vt.edu/426/426-334/426-334.html
http://www.ksre.ksu.edu/bookstore/pubs/mf2508.pdf

image sisters
“Three Sister’s Garden-Fall Clean-up “Southern Virginia Botanical Gardens” Photo by W. McCaleb 10/28/14 Corn, Beans, and Squash was grown here as the native Cherokee have done for centuries. Cleaned up and ready for spring 2015!

 

 

 

Neon for your garden

Was wandering through Target on Monday for the first time in months.

Helloooo!? The 80’s called and wants its neon crap back.

Didn’t care for it then and certainly don’t care for it now. Though there is the increased safety factor of being highly visible at all times, whether in sunglasses or underwear.

But never mind my lack of style.

It made me think about a few plants that, if the light is right, certainly display that glowing, saturated color, found in the “Astro-Brite” pack of copy paper usually reserved for yard sales and such.

Close to dusk, the Kniphofia uvaria ‘Echo Mango’ in our garden stands out from 100 yards away.  Bred and selected by Richard Saul of Atlanta’s ItSaul Plants Inc., it is one tough perennial, taking heat and humidity with aplomb.

My experience has been one big early summer flush of blooms, with some significant reblooming until frost.  Best in full sun, it’s also drought tolerant and cold hardy to USDA Zone 5. It doesn’t get whopping huge like some other Kniphofia do – stays a nice manageble size, topping out at 3′ to 4′ tall.  ‘Echo Mango’ (or any other Red Hot Poker) adds a terrific bit of vertical interest to an otherwise mound-y mixed border.  Best with fellow warm colors. Pink, not so much.


‘Echo Mango’ = glowsticks!
Achillea ‘Paprika’ doesn’t go so well with it.  Mental note to relocate it in fall.


You can almost hear the sound of space lasers…
Eeee-yoooooo-eeeee-yoooooo…or maybe that’s just me.

 

 

High-end WOW (Why oh why)

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to speak to the Portland Garden Club and see some absolutely gorgeous private gardens.  But alas…even in the midst of such botanical riches I still managed to find something to make me shudder.

Now I have nothing against garden remodels – or boxwood hedges (though I generally find them unimaginative).  But here’s a good example of shrub salvaging gone horribly wrong:


Deadwood boxwood

And again

It will take a long time for these boxwoods to fill in.  If you’re going to spend the kind of money that’s going into this remodel, why get chintzy with the hedge plants?

Maybe green spray paint is in order?

Podcast #8 – Water Works

We’ve finally gotten our summer here in the Pacific NW and it’s been pretty hot for a few weeks. The plants weren’t really prepared for this, so we’ve had to irrigate quite a bit to keep all that lush foliage happy. So the topic of this podcast is Water Works – focusing on how water moves in the soil and through plants.

One of the more interesting tidbits I found this week is a recent USDA study on growing more potatoes with less water. Sound impossible? Listen to find out the one single, simple thing that increased water use efficiency by 12% and reduced fertilizer runoff as well.

I also debunk the common myth about using drainage material in container plants. Research from 100 years ago demonstrated that water won’t cross textural barriers – so putting gravel in the bottom of the pot will actually create a bathtub effect rather than helping drainage.

The interview this week is with my garden – primarily the sunny south-facing side. I thought I’d take you on a tour to see what’s happened in the last 11 years. The photos below will help you visualize the interview.


The front yard in 2003. We’ve started taking out the turf and moving around trees and shrubs.

The front yard in 2003 from another angle. We’ve removed the second driveway and covered the area in wood chips. By the garage you can see two of the roses I dug up from the shady back yard and moved to the sunny front.

The new front yard, with fencing, more plants, a pond, and no turf.

The rhody-hydrangea corner in front of the arbor vitae hedge

The new street garden, with a new retaining wall to hold back the soil that used to wash into the street.  Everything not covered in plants is covered with wood chips.

This is the last podcast of the first “season” of The Informed Gardener. We’re going to take off for about a month before starting the next series. If you’ve got ideas about future topics, you can email me or post a comment here. In the meantime, you can listen to archived podcasts found on this blog; just click on “podcasts” on the right-hand menu.

Podcast #6 – Garden Hocus Pocus

Forgive my tardy posting – I spent yesterday traveling from Indianapolis back to Seattle.  I was in Indianapolis for the Garden Writers Association annual meeting and gave a talk on “evidence based garden information.”  It was encouraging to see how many garden writers DO want reliable sources of good gardening science.  And I got to meet Joseph Tychonievich, a frequent commenter on this blog and a PhD student at Michigan State.

Anyway, on to this week’s podcast. The theme is “Garden Hocus Pocus” which just opens the door for so many topics!  I settled on opening with the ancient Greek Doctrine of Signatures and how it’s being used today.  Then I discuss the function of plant alkaloids a bit, since they have historical use in magic and witchcraft.  And the myth of the week is quite similar to the talk I gave at GWA – specifically, how to separate the science from the snake oil.

My interview this week is with plantsman Riz Reyes, who works at the UW Center for Urban Horticulture and collects plants and has a landscaping business and blogs….and he’s not even 30 yet!  My daughter Charlotte came along and took some great photos of Riz’s garden.  (Thanks, Riz, for identifying all the plants here!)


Riz with Cardiocrinum giganteum var. yunnanense at Kew Gardens


Dahlia ‘Weston Spanish Dancer’


Left to Right: Lilium ‘Miss Lucy’, Petasites x hybridus, and Ulmus glabra ‘Camperdownii’


Lilium ‘Magic Star’


Dahlia ‘Bishop of York’


Linda interviewing Riz out of the rain

Please let me know what you think of the podcast; you can email me directly or post a comment on the blog. Suggestions for future podcasts are most welcome!

Podcast #5 – Selling Sustainability

Everyone (including me) hates how the word “sustainability” has been overused and misused. Yet there are some good concepts associated with the word that can help gardeners make rational decisions about products and practices. This week’s podcast deconstructs sustainability into specific actions that gardeners can easily follow:

  • Discovering and nurturing the natural processes that keep your gardens and landscapes healthy and functional
  • Choosing plants and products wisely to conserve natural resources
  • Creating gardens and landscapes that don’t require constant inputs of packaged fertilizers and pesticides

The podcast illustrates each of these points.  First, there’s a research article that demonstrates the benefits of polyculture in growing vegetables.  Next, there’s a critical look at a website presenting a “Sustainable Garden Starter Kit: 10 Must-Have Products for the New Green Grower.” Lastly I dispel the myth of “instant landscaping”, which is code for “long term disaster.”

The interview this week is on building your own garden pond. Dr. Jim Scott (PhD in horticulture), turns his talents to the plumbing, electrical work, and aesthetic disguises needed to build a really great garden water feature. Lucky for me, he also happens to be my spouse!


Jim and Linda try to figure out how many years it took to do a week long project

Decks…

…cleverly disguise pump system…

…and filter system

Seasonal guests

Permanent residents (the little orange guys in water)

Please let me know what you think of the podcast; you can email me directly or post a comment on the blog. Suggestions for future podcasts are most welcome!