Planning the Perfect Garden

— Written By Laura Oliver
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Vegetable garden beds

Vegetable Garden Beds – Lucy Bradley

The cool weather has finally subsided and many of you may just be getting out and thinking about your summer garden. How you choose to organize your garden can have a huge impact on its ultimate success and productivity. The Extension Gardener Handbook has several tips to help ensure you have the most organized garden around. First, make a written plan for where your plants will go and how they will be spaced. Graph paper is ideal as it allows you to accurately draw the size of the garden bed and plants. Use a north arrow and make a note of the sun’s pattern throughout the day. Make a note of your water access and compost locations. A different color or shape should be used for each type of vegetable, and the plant should be shown at mature size so that there is adequate space. The planting dates for each crop should be reviewed. This will allow you to plan for succession throughout your growing season, meaning when one crop is done, another is ready to be planted in its place. This will allow you to get the most use out of your space and for your garden to produce the most product possible. When planting your garden arrange your plants from north to south to make the best use of sunlight. Group tall crops (corn, okra, sunflowers) and vines that will be trellised (peas, beans, squash) together on the north side of your garden to avoid them shading out your shorter plants, unless you plan to plant crops like lettuce which will require more shade in the summer. Pathways should be left so that each crop can be easily accessed from multiple sides.

When deciding what to plant, the easiest course of action is to plant what your family likes to eat, and what you have space for. In gardens with limited space you should choose crops that produce the most vegetables on a conservative amount of land, like leafy greens, root crops, pole beans, and tomatoes. If you have plenty of space you might consider squash, pumpkin, and corn. If you are adventurous, then try planting vegetables that are hard to find or expensive to buy locally like broccolini, kale sprouts, or shallots. The growing season is important to consider when making the decision about what to plant. What you plant is influenced by when you plant and when you plant should be influenced by what you are wanting to plant. Many warm season crops are ready to go in the ground this month, while cool season crops should be saved for the fall and early spring.

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Soil preparation is another critical component of garden success. To grow the healthiest vegetables, you will need soil that is fertile, well drained, easily crumbled, and very high in organic matter. For container gardening potting soil can be purchased or made using compost, pine bark, and vermiculite. Soil from your garden should not be used in containers as it will likely result in poor drainage and may introduce pathogens that will thrive in an enclosed environment. Soil testing should be conducted at least every 2 – 3 years to ensure the proper pH. The ideal range for most vegetables is 6.0 – 6.5. Soil sampling instructions and boxes can be picked up from the Extension office. Sampling conducted between April and November is free through NCDA. Soil sample reports can give a great amount of information about what adjustments can be made to correct pH and soil fertility,  including the application of lime and fertilizer.

For more information on vegetable gardening including soil sampling, when and how to fertilize, pest and disease identification, garden maintenance, and other horticulture concerns contact Laura Oliver, Martin County Extension Director, Horticulture & Livestock Program, at 789-4370 or

The information in this article was sourced from the North Carolina Extension Gardener Handbook, NC State Extension, 2018.