By CarolAnne Taylor
Northern Neck Master Gardeners
Our gardens are resting, restoring. We are thinking spring. As soon as the season’s hustle and bustle is over, we begin poring through the newly arrived garden catalogues. Visions of perennial beds, flowering shrubs, and vegetable gardens dance in our heads. As the gardens rest, begin laying out your garden plans on paper. Books and magazines abound with information on plant height, growth requirements and landscape style. Sometimes you just have to have a plant, but try to have a spot in the garden in mind before you buy. As you plan for the next season’s bounty, focus on a few key principles.
Right Plant, Right Place: Assess your site. Consider the amount of sun and shade in the various areas of your landscape. Remember that the winter sun may not be a true representation of the sun, shadow, and shade during the growing season. Evaluate the type of soil and determine what requirements your chosen plant may need. Plan to group plants with similar watering requirements.
Plant Rotation in the Vegetable Garden: Master Gardener, Margie Beane, advises a two or three year rotation of tomatoes, peppers, squash, cruciferous vegetables, beans, and peas to discourage pests and diseases that prey upon these plants. Rotation enables the remaining evidence of these pests and diseases to die off during the absence of their chosen plant. Consider eliminating a specific crop, for example squash, for a year or two if you have had an infestation of squash bug or squash vine borer.
Soil Amendments: The ideal garden soil is deep, loose, well-drained and has high organic matter content. Few garden beds begin with soil that beautiful. A soil test kit, available from the Virginia Cooperative Extension office will guide you on the nutrients you may need to add to your soil. The analysis will advise you on your soil pH, which measures the degree of acidity or alkalinity, and the relative nutrient level of phosphorus and potassium in the soil. And, you can’t go wrong adding compost and ground leaves every year to build perfect soil.
Virginia Master Gardeners are volunteer educators who work within their community to encourage and promote environmentally sound horticulture practices through sustainable landscape management education and training. As an educational program of Virginia Cooperative Extension, VMG’s bring the resources of Virginia’s land-grant universities, Virginia Tech and Virginia State University, to the people of the commonwealth. Contact the Northern Neck Master Gardeners at 804-580-5694 or at www.nnmg.org if you have questions.