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What You Need To Know When Planting Your Garden
When to plant:
Warm-weather plants should be planted in the summer after the last frost has passed. For more information about "When to Plant," click here.
The USDA has created a "zone" map that gives a special number to different "zones" or areas with similar growing conditions... where a plant will be happy and "hardy." This is called the "Plant Hardiness Zone map." Oftentimes you will see that a plant is suited for more than one zone with a list of each zone number that a plant will be most comfortable.
Once you know your own "zone," you can tell if a plant will be happy where you live. The USDA has updated their Plant Hardiness Zone map . Click here to see it.
Another way you can find out the frost-free dates in your area is by checking the NOAA website. (NOAA stands for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.) For the frost-free dates in California, click here. For the frost-free dates in other states, click here and double-click on your state in the drop down box.
Type of soil:
Garden soil is made up of some really important parts: many different types of minerals mixed together with organic matter (tiny living creatures, rotting plant and animal parts), air spaces and water. Plants need all of these things to be healthy.
In the garden, it's all about ingredients, texture, and chemistry. CLICK HERE to get the dirt on soil!
There is a very simple trick to figuring out how deeply to plant seeds. Here it is: Seeds should not be buried any deeper than the thickness of the seed.
So, most seeds won't be planted very deeply except for those really big seeds like peas and beans.
For very tiny seeds, place them on the surface of the soil and barely cover with soil or vermiculite.
Some seeds even need light to germinate—don't bury those at all. For those seeds (including lettuce and some flower seeds like calendula and petunia, simply place them on the surface of the soil and press them gently to ensure good contact with the soil.
Vegetables are sun lovers. Most vegetables require a lot of sunlight. The garden should receive at least 6 hours of direct sunlight each day. Eight to 10 hours each day is ideal..
A general rule of thumb is that leafy plants like lettuce and kale need less sun (say 6 hours) than fruiting plants like tomatoes. Leafy greens can handle less sun and crops that prefer cool weather, like spinich, will continue to grow in the fall when theare days have a shorter length of sunshine.
Fruiting plants like tomatoes plants may not NEED 8-10 hours to produce fruit, but the amount of sun may affect the quality of the fruit. For example, tomato plants that get more sunlight produce higher levels of vitamin C.
The garden needs at least 1 inch of water per week, more if the sun is very hot and dries the soil. (Mulching not only helps keep out weeds. It can help keep the soil temperature from rising too high in the summer.) Applying that inch of water once a week in one deep watering will encourage deeper rooting, which leads to stronger, healthier plants.
Young vegetable plants usually have shallow roots. They may have to be watered more often to ensure a enoough moisture. Check the soil with a trowel or spade to the depth of the expected root length. The entire root zone should be moistened before the plants show signs of wilting. BUT DON"T DROWN YOUR PLANTS! Roots need oxygen to breath, too!
Plants in containers need special attention and often have to be watered moreoften than plants growing in the ground. But don't water too little, too often. Shallow, frequent watering, on the other hand, will lead to shallow root systems and high water loss through evaporation.
The best time of day to water is early morning before the temperatures begin to rise. This gives the plants a good supply of water to face the heat of the day.
When to harvest:
Sorry. There are no precise guidelines as to when to harvest your vegetables. Every type is different and has their own requirements. Make sure you keep the pack instructions so you have a clue. There is a rule of thumb to guide you. Most vegetables are harvested just before full maturity, for maximum flavor and the most pleasant texture.
Here are a few tips:
Some people use fingernail method to tell if the squash is ready; if you can't mar the skin with your finger nail, the squash is ready to harvest. But cutting into the skin of a squash that is not ready to pick leaves an open cut for dirt and disease to enter, so it is not a good idea.
When you harvest the squash, leave a few inches of stem attached. This will lengthen the storage time.