Many Southern gardeners will be planting seeds in the garden this weekend. For best success, here are four things to keep in mind.
1. Correct season for growing the crop.
Seed packets for each crop usually include some general planting information. One item to look for is a planting date range. You can use the date range to make sure you plant the seeds in the right season. Check to make sure your seed packets say that it is okay to plant their seeds in the garden this month.
Planting in the right month means that the soil is warm enough for seeds to grow. In addition, the plants will have enough time to mature to make veggies for you to eat.
2. Planting depth for the seeds.
Check the planting depth for each kind of seed. The information should be on the seed packet somewhere; usually, it’s on the back. When seeds are planted too deep, they don’t always manage to push through the soil to get their seed-leaves into the sunlight. If they are too shallow, they may dry out and not grow.
3. Spacing information, when planting seeds in the garden
Plant spacing information often is on the back of a seed packet, too. The distance-between-plants provided is usually for larger gardens that are planted in rows. Many gardeners now work in smaller, raised-bed gardens, and they plant in a grid-pattern. This intensive planting calls for slightly larger plant distances.
When crops are in farm-style rows, the plants can be closer together within the row. There is plenty of room for them to spill out into the aisles between rows. In grid-pattern spacing, the aisles are collapsed, so plants are equally distant from all their neighboring plants. In other words — a plant that is 6-inches from the next plant within its row is also 6-inches from the nearest plant in the next row over.
Why should I plant seeds farther apart when using a grid pattern?
When a crop is one that has a big above-ground canopy (lots of branches and leaves), giving the plants a little more room is best. Even just an inch or two more can help. If the plants are very close together, the tops mash together in a crazy tangle, making it harder to harvest the crop.
Also, when leaves and branches from multiple plants tangle together, the leaves dry more slowly after a rain. The longer leaves stay damp, the more likely it is that a fungal spore (they blow in on the wind) will stick to a leaf, take hold, and grow. None of us wants to see our garden plants turn spotted, brown, and/or droopy. We can reduce the risk by making conditions better in the garden; one way to do that is to make sure air can flow easily among all the greenery.
Here is an example of adjusting plant distances for grid spacing using bush beans: Gardeners working in rows plant these just 3-4 inches apart. In my garden, I plant them 6 inches apart in a grid pattern, and still, when the plants are mature the greenery is pretty dense. Finding the beans can be a challenge. My sister in Louisiana plants her bush beans 9 inches apart in a grid pattern. Being further South can mean that the plants grow bigger.
4. Watering your new crops
After planting seeds in the garden, water them often enough that the soil does not dry out. If the seeds dry out before sending out good roots, your crop might not survive. However, the seeds also will not grow well in swampy conditions. Seeds that are kept too wet, for too long, can rot.
We are looking for a “happy medium” of damp soil. There should be enough moisture for the seeds to germinate (open up and send out roots and baby leaves), and the dampness should extend several inches underground.
For the little seedlings to establish good growth, you can water the soil until it is damp down to several inches. We want the roots to reach deeper into the soil, and keeping it moist several inches down will help this. Deeper roots are better protected from ground-surface heat and dryness. Deeper roots also have more soil to pull nutrients from, which can improve plant growth and productivity.
How can you know whether the soil below the surface is damp? After watering the garden, reach your hand down into the soil to feel. This is easier than it sounds. Just poke a trowel straight down into the dirt, then pull back on the handle slightly. This action opens up a wedge of space. Slide your hand down into that wedge of space, and feel the soil. If it is damp, you will know. It the soil is dry, you will know.
The place you poke the trowel into the soil should be far enough away from seeds, seedlings, and plants that it won’t disturb roots of your crops.
Not all crops will be planted as seeds
Gardeners will plant some crops as transplants. Tomatoes and peppers are two in particular that will produce more food if set into the garden as little plants. When set into the garden as plants, they reach maturity early enough to produce vegetables over a long season. Don’t forget to apply a starter fertilizer at planting time, if possible, to encourage root growth.
Hope you all have a great day in the garden!