There’s great satisfaction when you harvest fresh garden produce right out of your own backyard garden. A
successful garden harvest depends on many important steps, from the garden site itself to proper care of the plants. Here are a few tips as you get ready for this gardening season.
Site Selection. Vegetables need sun and lots of it. The more direct sun, the better the yield. Leafy vegetables, like lettuce and cabbage, and root crops such as carrots and turnips, can take some shade. But beans, okra, tomatoes, peppers, melons, cucumbers, squash and other fruiting vegetables need at least 8 to 10 hours of direct sun for healthy plants and maximum yield.
If you have less than optimum sunlight, don’t let that stop you. Just find the sunniest spot in your yard for your garden. If the sunniest spot is your patio or driveway, then try container gardening.
Soil Preparation. The best garden soils are rich in nutrients and highly organic. Even if you have been working a spot for years, constantly adding compost and other organic matter, your soil can still benefit from the addition of more organic matter. Just prior to planting you can add rotted barnyard manure and finished compost. Creating raised beds will let the soil warm up faster, getting your plants off to a quicker start.
Soils in East Texas are typically low in some nutrients, particularly nitrogen, potassium, and sometimes calcium and magnesium. Soil tests for phosphorus usually indicate adequate, or even high, levels of this element, which can be detrimental at high levels. Phosphorus is important for seedling and transplant establishment, and can be supplied to individual transplants or the seed row by banding, or with a starter solution for transplants.
Soil pH is a critical factor often overlooked by many gardeners. Most vegetables grow best with a pH of 6.0 to 6.5. Some crops, like beans and beets, just won’t do well at all in acid soil below pH 6.5. Poor growth and disappointing yields result from acidic soils. Our East Texas soils can be strongly acidic, but can be easily corrected by the addition of lime to raise the pH to an acceptable level. How much lime is required depends on both your soil type and the actual pH of your soil.
Soil Test. For the best results in taking care of soil fertility, take the guesswork out of the picture and have your soil tested by a reputable soil testing lab. Every county AgriLife Extension office has the information needed to submit a soil sample to the Texas AgriLife Extension Soil Testing Lab in College Station. You can also download the form from the Soil Testing Lab’s web site (for home gardens, use the “Urban Submittal Form). The report from your soil analysis will tell you exactly what and how much, if anything, you need to add. Be sure to take several random samples from your garden spot, thoroughly mixed together, for the test.
Two other very important factors in a successful garden are to plant the right varieties at the right time.
Variety Selection. For every type of vegetable there are dozens, even hundreds, of varieties to choose from. Seed catalogs entice with beautiful pictures and luscious descriptions. But, what produces bumper crops in New York or Oregon may not do well in East Texas. Find out what varieties are recommended for our specific area. Local farmers and long time gardeners are good sources of information for favorite and reliable varieties. And there is a new online “Vegetable Variety Selector” at AggieHorticulture.tamu.edu in the “Home/Vegetable Production” section.
Some important traits to look for in vegetable varieties include disease resistance, high yield and early maturity (as expressed in days to harvest). The less time a plant is in the garden from the time it is planted to harvest, the less you have to worry about disease and insect pests, watering and extreme summer heat prematurely ending harvest.
Planting Date. Timing is everything. Most crops should mature before the onslaught of very hot weather (except okra, southern peas and sweet potatoes which require warmer weather). So, most crops need to be planted as early as possible. Mid‑March is the “average” last freeze date for the Tyler area, so crops sensitive to frost like beans, corn and watermelons can usually be seeded just prior to and after that time frame. Tomatoes can be transplanted before that time if you are prepared to give them frost protection. A floating row cover or blanket draped over a cage will protect young transplants from a light frost, but won’t help much in a severe, late freeze.
Cool‑season vegetables like broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower should be transplanted soon. Other crops to be seeded now and into February include beets, carrots, Swiss chard, collards, lettuce, spinach, mustard, radish and turnips. These crops grow best during the milder weather of early spring. Also, try planting them again in late summer for a fall crop. It’s also time to get asparagus, onions and potatoes in the ground.
Not only is air temperature important, but it is also wise to wait until the soil has warmed to the upper 60’s or low 70’s before planting seed of warm‑season vegetables. Peppers do best if transplanted a few weeks later than tomatoes, after the soil has warmed up.
Here’s a link for suggested planting dates(both spring and fall) for the northeast Texas/Tyler area. Also, all local county AgriLife Extension offices are sources of information for local vegetable production. Home vegetable gardening publications are also available online at Aggie Horticulture