Spring is here, and you’re raring to get your garden in. Well, hold on just a minute. Sowing seeds or planting seedlings at the wrong time will bring nothing but heartache.
“One of the biggest mistakes people make is to plant too early,” says Weston Miller, a horticulturist with Oregon State University’s Extension Service. “They get excited when it’s sunny for a few days, put plants in the ground and think they will grow. But the seeds either rot from damping off fungus or germinate very slowly. At the very least, they’ll be stressed for the rest of the season and never catch up.”
An inexpensive soil thermometer helps keep planting time in perspective.
“Fifty degrees is a good benchmark for cool-season crops,” Weston says. “And the soil should be 60 degrees or more for warm-weather plants like tomatoes, peppers and basil. In fact, for tomatoes it should ideally be 65 to 70.”
If you can’t resist the urge to plant warm-season vegetables, Weston recommends using some sort of protection from the chill such as a floating row cover, individual glass or plastic cloches or even milk jugs or soda bottles with the top cut out and turned upside down over plants.
“Gardening depends on the weather, which is unpredictable,” he says. “But it pays to wait.”
Tips for a Successful Vegetable Garden
Prepare the soil. Before planting, add a moderate amount of compost (¼ to 1 inch) and a balanced fertilizer according to package directions. Incorporate the materials into the top 8 to 12 inches with a digging fork or spade. Rake the bed before planting seeds or transplants.
For new garden beds, remove sod or weeds to expose soil. Liberally add 4 to 6 inches of compost, agricultural lime and a balanced fertilizer. Incorporate them into the top 8 to 12 inches with a digging fork or spade. Prepare the seeds or transplant bed with a rake. Next fall, add 5 to 10 pounds of lime per 100 square feet to beds.
In addition to adding complete fertilizer to the soil, use a soluble fertilizer such as fish emulsion for transplants, especially early in the season or if the plants are not thriving.
Use transplants when possible. Crops that do best when seeded directly into the garden include carrots, parsnips, beets, radish, turnips, mustard and arugula. Most other crops can and should be transplanted to make the gardening process easier, particularly for weed control.
Grow your own transplants or look for high-quality starts—not root bound, stunted or off-color—at a garden center for best results.
Control weeds early in the growth cycle of your veggies. Weed your veggie beds at least once a week for the first four weeks of the plants’ growth to get the edge on this ongoing challenge.
Monitor and control slugs and other pests. Keep an eye out for slugs. Find them under debris and in the folds of plants, and dispose of them by dropping into soapy water or cutting them in half with scissors. Look for aphids, imported cabbage butterfly larvae and other pesky critters on the underside of the leaves. Squash them!
For more information on vegetable gardening, check out https://catalog.extension.oregonstate.edu/em9027.