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Plan for Garden Success

by Don Janssen, Extension Educator

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Gardens don't come with guarantees. You plant your seeds and take your chances.

You can take steps to increase the likelihood of success, however. Selecting a favorable garden site, choosing crops and varieties carefully, and planting at the proper time will avoid many potential problems.

A good garden site is sunny, well drained and fertile. It needs to be free of problem perennials, close to a source of water and conveniently located, so you can visit it frequently.

Most garden vegetables do best in full sun, so avoid areas shaded by buildings or landscape plants. Trees and shrubs will also compete with crops for water and nutrients.

Also avoid low-lying areas where water stands after a rain. Most plants grow poorly if their roots spend too much time in saturated soil. Low-lying areas also tend to be the last places to warm up in the spring and the first spots to be hit with frost in the fall. Because air movement in low spots tends to be poor, plants stay wet longer after a rain or irrigation, and diseases that require moisture on foliage to get established will have more opportunity to get a foothold. Plants stressed by poor growing conditions will be more susceptible to attack by disease, too.

When choosing crops and varieties, select those that are well adapted to local growing conditions, including the length of the growing season. Crops that won't tolerate frost or cold temperatures are the main concern. If the local growing season -- the number of days between the average date of the last frost in the spring and the first frost in the fall -- is too short, some varieties won't have time to grow and produce a crop before they're killed by frost.

Another important trait to look for is disease resistance. Selecting disease-resistant varieties is the most effective way to keep plants healthy. Some diseases, such as Verticillium and Fusarium wilt in tomatoes, carry over in the soil from year to year, and once plants are infected, there's no treatment. So prevention through built-in resistance is really the only protection.

Planting at the proper time greatly influences your chance of success. Plant in early spring crops that grow and produce best under cool temperatures -- such as peas, onions, radishes, lettuce, spinach and the cabbage family crops. You can plant them again in mid- to late summer for a fall harvest. Crops that need warm soil and air temperatures and won't tolerate frost or cold -- such as tomatoes, peppers, snap beans, squash and pumpkins -- have to wait until the danger of frost is past.

Proper spacing of seeds and plants, good nutrition based on a soil test and water during dry weather are other ingredients in garden success. Weed control is important -- weeds are probably the biggest after-planting problem that most gardeners face. Pest control may be another, as insects, birds and four-legged critters attempt to share the fruits of your labor. Frequent monitoring of the garden, proper identification of the problem and prompt action to prevent further damage are the keys here.

(This resource was added March 2004 and appeared in the Lincoln Journal Star Newspaper Sunday edition. For information on reproducing this article or using any photographs or graphics, read the Terms of Use statement)

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University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County is your on-line yard and garden educational resource. The information on this Web site is valid for residents of southeastern Nebraska. It may or may not apply in your area. If you live outside southeastern Nebraska, visit your local Extension office