Casey Hentges, host of the popular television program “Oklahoma Gardening,” said a well-planned, properly managed home garden can supply families with a bounty of flavorful, high-quality fresh vegetables from spring through fall.
“Before gardeners start putting seeds in the ground, preparation of the garden site is an important factor to consider to help ensure a successful crop,” Hentges said. “An area with a lot of sun exposure, as well as well-drained, fertile soil, is the best starting point. If the area doesn’t drain well, you may want to consider raised beds. Also, try to locate your garden near a water source, and when possible, away from trees and shrubs that may compete for sunlight, water and nutrients.”
Other tips that may help with successful gardening include sampling the soil and having it tested every three or four years; apply fertilizers in the recommended manner and amount; enhance your soil with organic materials such as compost whenever possible; use mulch to help conserve water, control weeds and reduce fruit rots; keep the garden free of weeds, insects and diseases; and rotate specific crop family locations each year to avoid insect and disease buildup.
“Gardeners also should be familiar with the characteristics of their soil. Modifying and improving the soil prior to planting is vital to ensure healthy crops,” she said. “Plant growth also relies on various fertilizer elements in the soil, many of which are easy to apply. A soil test is highly recommended and will help determine how much of which nutrients to apply.”
If the soil is sandy, gardeners should incorporate organic matter to help reduce rapid drying and improve nutrient availability. Organic matter also will help improve soil aeration and drainage in heavy clay soil.
Hentges said it is important for soil to readily absorb water and not form a crust upon drying. The soil also should drain sufficiently so that it does not become waterlogged. In addition, soils that produced a vegetable garden the previous year will be more easily managed than soil currently established with grasses and weeds.
“Porous soil contains more air, which is necessary for healthy root growth,” she said. “As the organic matter decomposes, the soil texture improves and nutrient availability should increase.”
There is a wide variety of cool season crops that can go in the ground in February and March; however, keep an eye on the long-range forecast because everyone knows Oklahoma weather is anything but predictable.
“Some good choices for cool season crops include broccoli, beets, cabbage, carrots, kohlrabi, leaf and head lettuce, onions, green peas, potatoes, radishes, rhubarb, spinach and turnips,” Hentges said. “Remember, the soil temperature at planting depth should be at least 40 degrees Fahrenheit, so parts of southern and south eastern Oklahoma may be able to get seeds in the ground as much as two weeks ahead of the northwest and Panhandle areas.”
For the best gardening results, make sure to read the directions on seed packets regarding spacing between each plant, as well as spacing between each row. Gardeners must make sure the seeds are planted at the proper depth to ensure productivity. Additional fertilizers may be beneficial to stimulate growth and production.
“Remember that the weather always plays a key role in planting times, but it’s a good idea to get your cool season crops in the ground soon,” Hentges said. “Start thinking ahead because it won’t be long until those warm season crops will need to go in the ground. This usually happens throughout April and May.”
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