Excitement builds as the time to plant vegetable crops approaches. You dream of enjoying fresh tomatoes, peppers, and squash, impressing your family and friends with homemade salsa and achieving your goal to eat healthier. Forget past failures and frustrations. Don’t give up the dream. You can improve your gardening success by following three rules: 1. Prepare soil to nourish your plants 2. Select the right time to plant 3. Choose varieties proven to grow well in North Texas Old farmer’s wisdom tells us that while good gardeners grow plants, great gardeners grow their soil. Having nourishing soil for a vegetable garden is challenging if you have only the poor top soil added to new construction or the heavy clay soils that make gardening difficult. The secret to improving your soil (and your harvest) is the addition of composted organic material—six to eight inches worked into existing soil. Alternatively, a gardener may choose to use a raised bed filled with rich soil.
Testing your soil—annually in the beginning and biannually after soil improvements—is highly recommended. Texas A&M offers low-cost soil analysis at their AgriLife Extension Service Soil, Water and Forage Testing Laboratory (http://soiltesting.tamu.edu/). Your soil analysis report provides recommendations on fertilizing and shows deficiencies in the minerals that feed vegetable plants. Whether you are planting seeds or transplants, your vegetables do best when the soil or ambient temperature favors growth. Cool-weather seeds including peas, spinach and greens like soil temperature in the mid70s, while warm-weather crops such as corn and melons germinate best when soil temperatures are around 90° to 95°. However, waiting for the soil to reach the ideal germination temperature is frustrating when you are itching to plant something.
So if you must plant before the ideal soil temperature is reached, sow seeds more heavily and expect a germination rate closer to 70% than 100%. Planting seedlings too early is very tempting when the nursery shelves are filled with healthy transplants. A best practice is to remember that warm-season vegetables grow best between 60° to 75° or 80° and continue to produce as the temperatures reach into the low 90s. Cool-season vegetables, such as lettuce and spinach, should be grown between 50° and 70° F. They will stop producing as temperatures reach the mid-to-upper 80s. If you must plant early, be prepared to offer plants protective covering when night temperatures dip below the low-to-mid 50s. If you spend cold winter days scanning seed catalogs and admiring the pictures of beautiful vegetables, you are not alone. Seeing someone’s bountiful harvest just makes your fingers itch to get into the soil and plant what is shown in the pictures.
Beware! Vegetable varieties that succeed in North Texas are often different from those shown in catalogs from Oregon or Maine. Texas A&M AgriLife provides guidance on selecting the best varieties using a North Texas Vegetable Variety Selector at http://aggie-horticulture.tamu. edu/publications/veg_variety/. So, grow your own vegetables. You can do it! If you have horticulture questions, please contact our Master Gardener Help Desk, master. email@example.com or 940.349.2892; it’s free of charge, and it’s our pleasure to assist you. Educational programs conducted by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension serve people of all ages regardless of socioeconomic level, race, color, sex, religion, disability or national origin.