Planning A Garden

By The Old House Web

"If you take the time to look at the land you're selecting for yourgarden, you'll save yourself from many problems after the crops areplanted," says Peter Ferretti, a vegetable specialist in Penn State Collegeof Agricultural Sciences.

Ferretti recommends following a few simple steps to get the best productionand the fewest number of problems from a home garden site.

Close to the house

  • Put the garden as near to the house as you can. "If it is far away, you are not going to be as diligent in maintaining or even picking the crops at the right time. It's best if you can see the garden easily from the house," Ferretti says.

Look for the high ground

  • Locate the highest point on your property and site the garden on the slope below the hill so that the tops of plants or trees are lower than the crest of the hill. This prevents wind injury and keeps crops from drying out.

Air drainage

  • "Air flows just like water, from a high point to a low point," Ferretti explains. Adequate airflow drains cool air away from the crops, and breezes will dry dew off of plants relatively quickly, which helps prevent plant diseases.

Water drainage

  • Gardeners can easily check drainage rates by digging a small hole and pouring a bucket of water into it. If the water has not percolated into the soil in 10 to 15 minutes, drainage is poor. "If a small section of the garden has poor drainage, mark off that space for building a natural pond or for crops in the mint or watercress families, which like marshy areas," Ferretti says.

Perennials need northern exposure

  • If you are planting perennial crops, siting them to the north ensures fewer episodes of freezing and thawing while also delaying growth during the spring frost period. "If the garden is in an area that gets hot and cold during the winter, the soil will heave," Ferretti says. "This will cause roots to rip and the plants to dry out."

Annuals need southern exposure

  • Gardens facing south will receive sun earlier and warm more rapidly, which is perfect for vegetables that require early planting or annual flowers such as impatiens and pansies.

Protection from wind

  • Many plants, particularly perennials, are sensitive to wind. Ferretti recommends installing a simple or decorative snow fence. "The slats in the fence will slow air flow," he says. "The fence also allows snow to drift higher onto the garden, which acts as a highly effective insulator."

Check tree species

  • Black walnut or butternut trees contain a chemical compound called juglone, which may cause nearby plants to wilt. Garden plants should not be placed within these trees' canopies or root zones.

Check for pH and fertility

  • Testing should be done if the land selected for the garden obviously has not been cultivated. Simple soil test kits are available -more- at cooperative extension offices and garden centers. "When you submit your test, tell the lab what type of crops you are planting," Ferretti says. "If they know the crops to be planted, they can give a very specific recommendation for fertilization."

Look for persistent or perennial weeds

  • Before cultivating the garden, look for persistent weeds such as purslane, quackgrass, thistles or galinsoga. "You still can plant there, but you have to address the major weed problems before planting," Ferretti says. Frequent shallow cultivation, covering with black plastic film or use of an appropriate herbicide will help keep weeds manageable.

No splendor in the grass

  • If the site was once turf, sod or meadow, there may be grass pests such as webworms or grubs beneath the surface. These pests will cause problems with many plants, says Ferretti. They can be controlled with an insecticide or with an organic treatment containing milky spore for the grubs, although milky spore must be used over several years.

Is there an adjacent lawn?

  • If there is turf grass near the site, make sure weed-and-feed products have not been applied recently. Any product containing the herbicide dicamba can leach through the soil to kill plant roots, particularly those of perennial flowers, trees and shrubs.

Keep land idle

  • A small amount of land should be left unplanted to help with crop rotation. All crops will attract insects, weeds and diseases that specifically affect them. By rotating crops into new soil areas, you can minimize these problems.

-- Information from the Penn State College AgriculturalInformation Services

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