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Site Selection and Planning is Essential for a Successful Vegetable Garden

By Rick Thomason
University of Tennessee
Johnson County Extension Director

A good garden site is essential for high vegetable yields. Poor sites not only produce low yields, but may also be extremely difficult to grow a garden on at all. Choose a garden site with deep, medium-textured, well-drained, nearly level soil. Fine-textured, clay soils stay wet late into the spring, are difficult to work and tend to crust badly. Sandy soils dry out very quickly and require frequent nutrient applications. Excessive slopes tend to erode. A slight slope, however, is desirable to prevent cool air from collecting and forming a frost pocket.

Most garden vegetables require six hours of sunlight or more per day to produce well. The more the garden is shaded, the slower the vegetables will grow and the lower their yields will be. Trees and large shrubs not only shade gardens, but also use nutrients and water needed for proper vegetable growth.

A site near the house makes it more convenient to care for the garden and to harvest vegetables. In addition, water is available for transplanting and irrigation. Children or animals in the garden can be observed, and the garden may be protected from these and other potential problems.

A garden plan will save time, space and money. Yields will be increased, as will the length of the harvest season. Begin by making a scale drawing of your available garden area on graph paper. Divide the drawing into cool-season and warm-season vegetable planting areas.

Cool-season vegetables are those such as lettuce, onions, cabbage, radishes and English peas. They require cool weather to grow and mature properly and can withstand some frost. Cool-season vegetables are planted in the early spring and again in the fall.

Warm-season vegetables require warm weather to grow properly and are planted after the soil has warmed up. Note that frost will kill warm-season vegetables. Examples of warm-season vegetables include beans, okra, squash, cucumbers and tomatoes.
The cool-season section of the garden will be planted early and harvested in time to be replanted. Alternate the cool and warm-season areas of the garden each year to reduce plant pest problems.

Decide which vegetables to grow and the amount of each vegetable you want. The following publication on “Growing Vegetables in Home Gardens” can be found at this website: https://extension.tennessee.edu/publications/Documents/PB901.pdf. Tables 1-3 (pages 5 through

7) can assist you in estimating the row lengths required to obtain the desired amounts of each vegetable.
As you make plans for your garden, sketch and label the rows of each vegetable on your plan to scale, using the row spacings suggested in Tables 1-3. Be sure to arrange the rows so tall vegetables won’t shade shorter ones. Make a note of the planting dates, varieties and amount of seeds required on your plan so a periodic glance will show what needs to be done.

Proper planning and site selection will help assure a successful gardening experience. For more information on vegetable gardening, check with your local Extension office located at 212 College Street in Mountain City or call 727-8161.