Home Gardening (B 577) University of Georgia Extension This publication explains everything you need to know about growing a successful home vegetable or herb garden, including location and planning, soil preparation, choosing what to plant and how to tend it, fertilizer, weed control, mulching and composting, watering, pollination, disease and insect control, harvesting, and freezing, canning and preserving. 2017-04-18 16:13:52.137 2006-06-02 14:26:08.0 Home Garden Series: Home Gardening | Publications | UGA Extension Skip to content

Home Gardening (B 577)

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Bob Westerfield, Extension Horticulturist

A well-tended, fruitful garden is a delight. It can supply you and your family with a variety of nutritious, healthful vegetables to be enjoyed fresh or preserved for later use. Gardening can also be a rewarding hobby, a project for 4-H members and a way to improve your physical fitness. Although it’s true that we can buy quality fresh, frozen or canned vegetables in supermarkets, many of us are turning to gardening to supplement our store-bought food.

Garden Location

Your garden’s site location is very important. When possible, locate the garden in full sunlight, near the house, on good soil and near a water supply.

Sunlight

Most vegetables need full sunlight for growth and development. Plant leaf crops such as broccoli, collards and spinach in areas likely to be in partial shade. Don’t plant any vegetable in complete shade. Large hedges, hedgerows and trees not only create too much shade, but they also compete with the garden for moisture and nutrients.

Trees and large shrubs shade the gardenTrees and large shrubs shade the garden and compete for moisture and nutrients.

Nearness to the House

Locate the garden near your house so you can observe it regularly. Being close to your garden will help you notice insect, disease and weed problems and let you take necessary control measures before they can cause serious damage. A convenient location will also allow you to spend short periods of spare time tending to garden chores or harvesting the fruit.

Soil

When looking for a garden site, keep in mind that the exact soil type is less important than factors such as high fertility, good internal drainage, ease of tilling, good moisture-holding capacity and deep topsoil. Try to avoid areas infested with johnsongrass, nutgrass and other troublesome weeds; areas with rock ledges; and areas underlain by a hardpan or hard shale. Soils can be amended with organic matter to improve the area.

Water

You will get only moderate results if you try to grow a garden without watering it as needed. Mulches and organic matter will improve the soil’s moisture-holding capacity and reduce evaporation loss; however, they will not guarantee an ample supply of moisture at all times. If possible, locate the garden near a good water supply so it can be watered as often as needed.

Making a Plan

Select the Crops

While you will want to select vegetables that provide a good supply of vitamins and minerals, be sure to plant vegetables your family likes. The size of your garden and the suitability of certain types of vegetables to your area will limit the crops you choose. Remember that planting large-growing crops such as corn or melons in a small garden will reduce the number of other vegetables you can plant.

If you plan to can or freeze surplus produce, be sure to choose varieties that process well. For information on canning or freezing vegetables, contact your county Extension office by calling 1-800-ASK-UGA1.

Make a Map

Sometime during the winter, make a map of the garden you want to grow. Gather seed catalogs and variety recommendations, then put the garden plan on paper. Include what kinds of vegetables you will plant, the distances between rows and between plants, the amount of fertilizer to use and the time of planting.

Plant perennial crops such as asparagus, strawberries or other small fruits to one side so they will not interfere with each season’s garden preparations. Plant fall-growing crops on the north side so they will not shade the other plants.

Arrange the rows according to the planting dates of various crops, so only a narrow strip needs to be prepared for the early plants. The rest of the garden may be prepared as needed. Try to arrange the rows in an east/west orientation to capture the most sunlight.

Keep all of your garden’s space fully occupied throughout the growing season. In parts of Georgia, it is possible to grow vegetables every month of the year. By intercropping (planting another kind of vegetable between the rows of an earlier-maturing kind), you can make better use of available space. Plant late crops (those normally transplanted after danger of frost has passed) between rows of early peas, lettuce, spinach and the like.

Successive plantings of in-season crops can be made so these vegetables will be available throughout the growing season.

List garden chores to do each month; with a garden map and a garden calendar, you’ll find it easier to carry out the various jobs on time. See University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Circular 943, “Vegetable Garden Calendar,” for more information.

Plan a Fall Garden

Make new plantings in July, August and September to enjoy fresh vegetables well into the fall months. Fall-grown vegetables are usually of very high quality. If you supply water as needed, use pesticides properly and fertilize according to label recommendations, you will be rewarded with tender vegetables in a season when few people are enjoying such delicacies.

Equipment

The equipment you will need largely depends on the size of your garden. If you have a small garden of a few hundred square feet, a hoe, an iron rake, a spading fork, a round-nose shovel and a pesticide applicator may be all you need. In larger gardens, you may need additional tools such as a wheel cultivator, a garden tractor or a tiller. Be sure all of your equipment, especially sprayers and dusters, is reliable and in good repair.

You will also need several stakes and string or rope to mark off rows. For irrigation, you need a garden hose and sprinkler, or better yet, drip tubing or soaker hoses, which are more efficient.

Keep a Record

For every vegetable you plant, write down the name of each variety, the seed source, the lot number (if available), the date planted and the date harvested. Also write down your evaluation of the crop. Keep records on any chemicals used, fertilizer analyses and anything of personal interest. All of these notes will help you plan next year’s garden a little more efficiently.

garden recordYour garden record might look something like this.

Seed and Plants

Plant Recommended Varieties

Numerous vegetable varieties are available, and new and better varieties are constantly being developed. Choosing the right variety for your individual situation can be confusing. Gardeners are encouraged to stick with proven recommended varieties for major plantings. Try new varieties on a small scale to determine their worth. They may or may not prove to be superior to the older varieties. Things to consider when selecting a variety include:

Adaptability

Some varieties do well in either north or south Georgia, but not both. Others may do well in both areas. The microclimate (“climate” of the plant’s immediate vicinity) may also affect the success of a particular variety.

Earliness

The number of days from planting to maturity can vary considerably from one variety to another. Successive plantings of the same variety, or several varieties, with different maturity dates can be planted at one time to extend the harvest season.

Maturity

Some varieties are determinate, which means they only produce one crop for harvesting. Other varieties are indeterminate, which means they can continue producing over a period of time if the plants are properly cared for and the fruit is harvested as it matures.

Productivity

Even with the same care, some varieties yield considerably more than others. Usually hybrids out-yield non-hybrids.

Quality

Varieties differ greatly in flavor, texture, keeping ability, and adaptability to canning and freezing. The final intended use may influence which variety you choose.

Disease resistance

Resistance to leaf- and soil-borne diseases as well as nematodes is available in some varieties. Resistance is an important consideration where these problems are known to exist or where proper prevention measures may not be taken. A current list of recommended varieties is available at your county Extension office (also see UGA Cooperative Extension Circular 963, “Vegetable Gardening in Georgia”).

Buy Wisely

Buy seed for your garden from a reputable dealer. Like other merchandise, seed quality may vary at different seedhouses. Make sure the kind, variety, percentage of germination and date of testing are marked on each package. Cheap or bargain seed may be a definite liability since they can cause a garden failure due to poor germination, impure seed or mixed varieties. The best seedsmen usually offer treated seed of good quality and label them as to the treatment given. Do not save your own seed unless they are of a desired variety that is no longer available. Do not save seed from hybrid plants.

Note: Buy certified plants for your garden. Always examine the roots for the presence of small knots or galls, which indicate root-knot nematodes. Discard all infected, weak or damaged plants.

Order Early

Plan your garden during the winter months and place your seed order early so there will be no delay in getting the seed you want. Many times, the newer, more popular varieties sell out completely and you may have to settle for alternative choices.

Grow Plants at Home

Growing your own plants helps ensure healthy, disease-free plants of the desired variety when you need them, but it is often difficult to get a good stand of delicate plants from seed. You can increase earliness, economize on space and lengthen the growing season of many crops by setting out plants instead of sowing the seed directly in the garden. Seed sown indoors in boxes, in hotbeds or in coldframes will produce very good plants early in the season. If the seed are sown in a small container, the seedlings can be transplanted to peat pots, plant bands or other suitable containers and grown in these until transplanted in the garden. Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, early cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and early head lettuce are best started this way.

The seedbed and potting soil should be sterilized to protect against harmful soil-borne insects and disease-causing organisms. Treat small lots of soil can by placing moist soil in a shallow pan and baking it for 1 hour in an oven at 210º F to 215º F. You can also place soil in a canning retort and steam-sterilize it for 1 hour at 15 pounds pressure.

Seed can be germinated and seedlings started in a box, pan or flowerpot filled with planting medium and placed in a window. Vermiculite, sphagnum moss, peat moss, sand or soil are commonly used to make the medium. Commercially prepared peat pellets or cubes are also available.

If your plants grow too tall and spindly, they are not receiving enough light and you should place them in a spot where more light is available or transplant them to give each plant more room and more light exposure.

Soil Testing and Liming Recommendations

Soil testing is an important practice for the home gardener. Soil test results indicate the amounts of residual fertilizers in your soil and the amounts of fertilizers you should add to obtain good plant growth. A soil test also determines the pH of your soil, which is the basis for liming recommendations. For more information about soil testing, see UGA Cooperative Extension Circular 896, “Soil Testing for Home Lawns, Gardens and Wildlife Food Plots.”

Most vegetables grow best in a slightly acid soil, with a pH around 6.0 to 6.5. Vegetables grow very poorly in more acid soil with a pH of 4.5 to 5.5. Dolomitic lime is recommended to neutralize acidity because this form of lime also supplies magnesium and calcium, two plant nutrients that are often deficient in Georgia soils. For best results, apply lime three to six months before planting the crop. A good time to apply lime is in the fall before soil preparation.

Soil Preparation and Improvement

Begin in the Fall

Fall preparations will ensure proper soil conditions for early spring planting. Chop residual litter and turn the soil in the fall, burying the litter in the bottom of the furrow, which helps control diseases and speed up decomposition. Prepare beds or ridge the rows in the fall for cool-season or early spring crops to be planted in January, February or March so the tops of the beds or ridges will dry off for early plantings.

Add Organic Matter

Add organic matter to the soil when possible. It improves soil tilth, conserves soil moisture and helps root development. Organic matter in garden soils decomposes rapidly because of continued cultivation and high temperatures. Making compost is an ideal way to restore this organic matter. Good compost can be made from straw, hay, leaves, manure, sawdust and weeds. See your county Extension agent for information on home composting. Manure, leaves and other materials can also be added directly to the garden and worked into the soil during fall garden plot preparation.

cover crops

Cover Crops

If your garden is large enough, plant part of it with a soil improvement crop such as crimson clover, rye, wheat or vetch each winter. Crimson clover seed may be sown over a part of the garden as the summer vegetables are harvested. The crimson clover seed may be mixed with turnip seed; it will not interfere with the turnips and will make good spring growth after the turnips are used.

If a heavy growth of a cover crop is turned under prior to planting in the spring, it is best apply some form of nitrogen such as nitrate of soda, ammonium nitrate or ammonium sulfate.

Know Your Fertilizers

Fertilizers are sold by their grade (e.g., 6-12-12 or 5-10-15). These numbers refer to the percent of nitrogen, phosphorus and potash, respectively. For example, in 100 pounds of 6-12-12, there are 6 pounds of nitrogen (N), 12 pounds of available phosphorus (P2O5) and 12 pounds of soluble potash (K2O), totaling 30 pounds of plant nutrients. The other 70 pounds consist of other nutrients, fillers and, sometimes, conditioners.

three grades of fertilizerThe three grades of fertilizer that work well for most garden crops.

Use a 10-10-10, 6-12-12 or 5-10-15 grade in your garden rather than a specific analysis fertilizer for each vegetable. These three grades give excellent results with most garden crops. Use additional nitrogen as sidedressing for beans, corn, cabbage, collards, turnip greens, cucumbers, squash, lettuce, okra, pepper, eggplant and tomatoes. For peppers and tomatoes, apply the first sidedressing after the first fruits set and repeat at four- to six-week intervals. The amount to use varies with the crop grown and soil fertility.

Vegetables fall into three categories based on their fertilizer requirements. If your garden is large, group crops according to their fertilizer needs to make applications of specific rates easier.

Heavy Feeders
Cabbage Celery Irish potato
Lettuce Onion Sweet potato
Tomato    
Medium Feeders
Artichoke Asparagus Beans, all
Beet Cantaloupe Carrot
Corn, sweet Cucumber Eggplant
Greens Herbs Okra
Peas, English Pepper Pumpkin
Radish Rhubarb Swiss chard
Watermelon    
Light Feeders
Southern peas    

The amount of fertilizer you apply to the various vegetables in your garden should be determined by soil test results. Having your garden soil tested enables you to obtain specific fertilizer and lime recommendations for your garden.

Fertilizer Application

Fertilizer may be applied several ways: (1) broadcast all of the fertilizer and work it into the soil prior to planting (this is inefficient for most gardeners); (2) broadcast one-half prior to planting and apply the remainder in 3-inch bands to either side of the row and slightly below the seed level; or (3) apply one-third to one-half of the fertilizer in 3-inch bands (as in number 2) at planting and apply the remainder in two or three sidedressings at two- to three-week intervals after the plants are well established.

Banding a portion of the fertilizer helps get the plants off to a good start. However, applying too much fertilizer or placing it too near the seed or young plants may severely damage the root systems. Because of the small amount of fertilizer required for short rows and small plots, it is easy to apply too much if you do not weigh or measure the amount specified per row. A pint of commercial fertilizer weighs about 1 pound.

Fertilizer App

Sidedressing refers to the practice of placing fertilizer in the soil beside your plants to provide additional plant food, which is usually needed during the growing season. Proper sidedressing allows plant food to move gradually into the area around the roots and prevents “burning” of roots or other plant parts that could come into direct contact with the fertilizer.

To sidedress vegetables planted in drills, make a shallow furrow (1 to 2 inches deep and 2 to 3 inches wide) down both sides of the row about 4 to 5 inches away from the plants. Sprinkle fertilizer uniformly into this furrow — usually 200 to 300 pounds per acre are required (see fertilizer table below) -- and then cover the fertilizer by pulling an inch or two of soil into the furrow. For plants such as watermelons, cantaloupes, cucumbers and pumpkins, which are planted in widely-spaced hills, form a circular furrow 4 to 5 inches from the plants and follow the same general directions.

Approximate amount (in pints) of fertilizer per 100 feet
lbs/A* 12” Rows 18” Rows 24” Rows 30” Rows 36” Rows 42” Rows Per 100 sq. ft.
100 1/4 1/3 1/2 2/3 3/4 1 1/4
200 1/2 3/4 1 1 1/4 1 1/2 1 3/4 1/2
300 3/4 1 1/4 1 1/2 1 2/3 2 1/4 2 1/2 3/4
400 1 1 1/2 2 2 1/2 2 3/4 3 1/2 1
500 1 1/4 1 2/3 2 1/2 3 3 3/4 4 1/4 1 1/4
1000 2 1/2 3 3/4 5 6 7 1/2 8 1/2 2 1/2
2000 5 7 1/2 10 12 15 18 5
2500 7 1/2 11 1/4 15 18 22 1/2 27 7 1/2
*1 pint of the average mixed fertilizer will weigh about 1 pound.

Prepare Soil Early

If you did not plow or spade the garden soil in the fall, turn the ground in the spring as soon as it is dry enough to work. To see if the soil is dry enough, mold a handful of soil into a ball. If the ball is not sticky but crumbles readily when pressed with the thumb, the soil is in good condition to be worked.

Plow or spade the soil to a depth of 7 or 8 inches. Turn under as much organic residue such as manure, leaves, compost and old straw as possible. If you need to turn under a large amount of undecomposed organic matter, sprinkle some form of nitrogen such as ammonium nitrate over it before turning it under. This technique speeds up decomposition and provides nitrogen for both soil organisms and plants.

Harrow or rake spring-plowed or spaded soil soon after turning it to maintain good soil texture and prevent excessive drying. It may be necessary to harrow again just before planting to ensure good soil conditions. For small-seeded crops, a finely pulverized surface ensures easier planting, better germination and a more even tand.

Planting the Garden

Plant on Schedule

Planting a garden is more than a one-day job. Schedule each planting, then follow your schedule as closely as possible. Plant turnips, lettuce, cabbage, English peas, carrots, beets and Irish potatoes far ahead of the frost-free date. Plant tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and okra after all danger of frost has passed. See UGA Cooperative Extension Miscellaneous Publication 117, “First and Last Frost Dates in Georgia.” To prepare for summer and fall vegetables, continue planting as early-maturing crops are harvested. The planting chart below lists approximate planting dates.

spring mapAverage dates of the last 32-degree F temperature in the spring.

fall mapAverage dates of the first 32-degree F temperature in the fall.

Marking the Rows

Most gardeners find it helpful to use a heavy cord stretched the length of the row to aid in planting. By using four stakes and a piece of string or cord twice the length of the garden, the gardener can mark off two rows at once and save considerable time. Row width varies according to the types of vegetables planted. Check the chart below for recommended row widths, spacings and planting depths.

Most crops are best planted in drills, although some widely-spaced crops such as squash and melons may be easier to cultivate and care for if they are planted in hills. A drill is a single row of plants spaced more-or-less evenly. A hill is a cluster of plants, not a mound of soil.

To open a row to plant large-seeded crops such as beans, peas and sweet corn, use a small plow to make a furrow, or walk backward, stepping on the cord and dragging the corner of the hoe blade along the string. For small-seeded crops, the end of the hoe handle works fine, although some gardeners use a planter for this job. A number of small, push-type planters are available that do a good job of planting most vegetable seeds.

marking rows

Always firm (but do not pack) the soil around the seed with the flat blade of the hoe, the wheel of a garden plow or your foot. When planting in very dry soil, it is a good idea to water the area to ensure germination. If drought conditions continue, more water may be needed in a few days.

Always sow seed a little thicker than the plants will finally stand. This practice will allow for those seed that fail to sprout and for plants that may be killed when they are very young. Even with seed that have a high percentage of germination, there will be some that won’t sprout. Blackbirds, crows, cutworms and diseases can also cause a poor stand. When the plants are well-established, thin out extra ones so they will not be crowded. Do the thinning early, before the plants get too tall and spindly.

Use a layer of straw mulch ½ to 1 inch thick on top of beds planted to very small seed. The mulch prevents packing of the soil around the seeds when they are watered and protects the young seedlings when they first emerge. A mulch is especially helpful during drought periods when repeated watering may be necessary to get good germination and seedling emergence.

Transplant Healthy Plants

Whether you buy your plants or grow them, many vegetables produce earlier and better crops from plants started in protected beds or boxes and then transplanted to the garden. Growing good, healthy plants is difficult, but it can be done with good seed, clean soil and careful attention to heat, light, moisture and ventilation. Set out only healthy, disease-free plants, and transplant them immediately after they are pulled from the plant bed. After planting, water them thoroughly to settle the soil around the roots and exclude air. After the water has penetrated the soil completely, cover the wet surface with dry soil.

Protect Plants

Use small pieces of brush or other available material to shade plants until they are well established.

To keep rabbits and other animals from destroying the garden, place chicken wire around the garden to a height of 24 to 30 inches. Repellents can also be effective at keeping larger critters such as deer out of the garden. See UGA Cooperative Extension Circular 889-2, “Using Milorganite® to Temporarily Repel White-Tailed Deer from Food Plots,” for more information.

If there is danger of frost after the plants are set, invert a basket or a specially prepared hotcap made of waxed paper over each plant. Hotcaps serve as miniature cold frames, and many kinds of seeds can be planted under them. After the plant is established and danger of frost has passed, cut open the hotcap. On warm, sunny days, cut holes in the sides of the hotcap to provide ventilation. See UGA Cooperative Extension Circular 872, “Winter Protection of Ornamental Plants” for more information.

Weed Control

Weeds compete for moisture and fertilizer, and must be controlled by cultivating, mulching or using herbicides. Using herbicides in the h

Status and Revision History
Published on Mar 1, 2002
Re-published on Feb 26, 2009
Re-published on Sep 16, 2009
Reviewed on Jan 14, 2013
Reviewed on Mar 28, 2017