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Don’t plant those summer veggie crops yet

By Terry Kelley
University of Georgia

The narcissus are blooming. Trees are springing to life along the street. Pollen covers your car. And you’ve got garden fever. But don’t start poking those tender summer crops in the ground yet.

You should be thinking about springtime gardening. The weather has been spring-like in parts of Georgia already.

You may have some of the more hardy crops in the ground, such as cabbage, broccoli, lettuce, onions, beets and radishes. If you haven’t, now is the time to do so. But for tender crops, such as tomatoes, melons, squash, cucumbers, beans, okra and sweet corn, don’t get in a rush unless you’re prepared to plant again. Old Man Winter could still bring freezing temperatures that can kill tender crops.

Easter comes on March 27 this year. Most folks agree there is usually a cold snap between early March and Easter. Until March 25, there is a greater than 50 percent chance of frosty weather in south Georgia. As you move toward Macon and Atlanta, that date pushes into early April. It’s around April 10 in north Georgia.

However, there is nothing wrong with planning for the summer vegetable garden and getting some pre-planting work done. Now is a good time to order seed. If you don’t have a catalog, try the internet.

Burpee Seed Co. (burpee.com), Harris Seed Company (harrisseeds.com), Rupp Seed Company (ruppseeds.com) Park’s Gardens (parkseed.com) and Johnny’s Selected Seeds (johnnyseed.com) are all popular seed company Web sites.

You can try your local garden shop, too. Crops like tomatoes are best planted as young seedlings. Your garden center should have a nice selection. Buy only healthy looking plants. If they look wilted, have a bloom or look diseased, leave them at the store.

Vegetable varieties are always changing. Don’t hesitate to try something new. It could be better than the old heirloom variety you’ve grown for years. Plant anything new in a small quantity until you decide if you like it and if it is well adapted to your growing conditions.

If the winter cold has kept you out of the garden until now, start by clearing off your garden spot. Remove old debris from last season. Use a turning plow or tiller to bury old crop litter and work it into the soil.

For new gardens, pick a spot that has good sunlight, good soil drainage and a source of irrigation water. Sites closer to the house will always get more attention than those on the back forty.

Draw a map of your garden lay out. If space is limited, don’t plant crops that need a lot of room, such as melons.

Don’t over plant. Know how much you can eat, preserve and give away and make that your limit. Plant items that mature at the same time adjacent to one another so that when planting successive crops, you won’t have to squeeze between other crops still growing.

Take a soil sample now to check your fertility status and soil pH. If your pH is too low, add lime to raise the pH to 6.2-6.8. Lime early. It takes a few weeks to alter the pH.

Don’t let your garden spot grow up in weeds. Keep it mowed or tilled until you are ready to plant. After you initially till, you may get a flush of weed growth. Kill it with a burn-down herbicide before you plant to reduce later weed problems.

Despite Punxsutawney Phil’s forecast a few weeks back, it may be another couple of weeks before spring is here to stay. Hold back on those warm-season crops for now and use the time to plan for a great season ahead.

(Terry Kelley is a former University of Georgia Cooperative Extension horticulturist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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