Successfully Expanding Your Garden

— Written By and last updated by Dawn Stone

The New Year is upon us and there are just a few months left before we are able to start planting our spring vegetable gardens. Here at the Extension office, we are just as excited as you are about the gardening potential that awaits us this spring. January is the time of year that we can begin planning for our upcoming garden by deciding what and where we would like to plant our future vegetable harvests. Like many of you, I am planning on extending my garden and planting new and exciting produce that I have been purchasing from other farmers in years past. In order to successfully expand your upcoming gardening plot, there are a few simple steps that you can follow to reduce you work load and make it so your plants are ready to go into the ground as soon as the time is right.

The first step in expanding any garden is to decide where or which direction to create the expansion. For those of you with limited space, the decision may be simple, but taking note of factors such as soil drainage and sun exposure will dictate how successful your expansion will be. Many of the commonly found vegetables that we enjoy every year require full sun exposure coupled with well-drained soil in order to perform at their maximum capabilities. Many plants will tolerate differences between recommended sun exposure and actual exposure, but plants will not tolerate soils that will not drain and become water logged every time a raindrop lands on them. It is important to remember that plant roots need oxygen to survive and waterlogged conditions will spell disaster for even the healthiest and hardiest of plants.

The next step is to take a soil test in order to assess the pH and fertilizer requirements of your future gardening space. Soil test boxes and forms are available at your local Cooperative Extension office and testing is just $4 per sample until April. Proper soil testing will allow you to know what nutrients are currently available to your garden as well as how to best increase those minerals that may be lacking. Knowing this information will allow you save money by avoiding unnecessary fertilizer applications and allow you to better judge whether a pH adjustment is necessary. Soil can be surprisingly variable, even within a small area, making soil sampling incredibly important when expanding a gardening plot.

The final step in expanding a gardening space is to increase the soils organic material and reduce the current vegetation that is growing in that area. There are several ways to accomplish this, but the most environmentally friendliest way is to use animal manure to cover the area and then seal it with a plastic tarp or ground cover. The manure will increase the organic material on the top of the soil while the tarp will begin to choke out the grass and weeds that are currently growing. Many people prefer to apply herbicides, but these chemicals are only effective during warm periods, making cold weather spray applications a waste of time and resources.

Now that you have analyzed your growing area, preformed your soil tests and covered your garden expansion, all you have to do now is to order your seeds and plants and wait till March for soil temperatures to warm. Once the spring has come, simply removing your ground covering and gently tilling the soil will be all the work required to ensure that your garden has all of the room it needs to provide you and your family with healthy and fresh vegetable for the coming season.

Here at the Randolph County Cooperative Extension, we strive to help and educate the public in whatever way we can. If you have any questions about gardening or crop production, please feel free to contact us at the Randolph County Cooperative Extension office by phone at (336) 318-6000 or in person at 112 W. Walker Ave. here in Asheboro.