The warmer temperatures and extra time at home have prompted you to plant a garden.  Day-dreams of fresh, hand-picked veggies going straight from the garden to your dinner table are inching towards reality. But having a success vegetable garden takes some work and planning.  Here are some tips to help you hopefully reach your dreams of enjoying some homegrown goodness.

Protect your plants from wildlife. There are many wildlife creatures that would enjoy eating the products of your labor just as much as you.  To keep rabbits and other animals from destroying the garden, fencing and repellents can be beneficial.  Chicken wire placed around the garden at a height of 24 to 30 inches can deter rabbits and other smaller animals.  For larger critters, repellents work better.  Milorganite® has been shown to reduce deer browsing when broadcast over crops.

Reduce weed competition. Weeds compete for moisture and fertilizer, and must be controlled by cultivating, mulching or using herbicides.  Utilizing herbicides in the home garden in difficult and not generally recommended.  Cultivation using a sharp hoe or tiller can keep weeds from competing with growing vegetable plants.  When using a tiller, make sure that it is set to run shallowly. Deep cultivation often causes more moisture loss and can damage plant roots.

Provide adequate water. How much water your garden will need will be dependent on soil type, stage of growth of the plants and the amount of rainfall and temperature.  Most vegetable gardens require about 1 to 1 ½ inches of moisture per week.  Water often enough to keep the moisture level fairly even. 

Scout for problems.  Disease and insect problems and show up in garden overnight.  Routinely scouting your garden for changes and problems will help you address issues in a timely manner.  Proper and timely application of insecticides or fungicides could save your vegetable crop.  There are also management and cultural things that can help if you don’t want to use pesticides.  

Fertilize for healthy plants.  Side-dressing plants with the proper fertilizer provides needed nutrients for the growing season.  Proper side-dressing allows plant food to move gradually into the area around the roots and prevents “burning”.  Vegetable require different amounts of fertilizer. Medium feeders, which includes crops such as beans, beets, cantaloupes, cucumbers, eggplant, okra, onions, tomatoes, english peas, peppers, radish, squash, watermelon, and sweet potatoes, commonly require a 10-10-10 fertilizer at a rate of 20 pounds per 1,000 square feet. For heavy feeders such as broccoli, cabbage, greens (kale, mustard, turnip, collards), lettuce, irish potatoes, and sweet corn, increase the recommendation by 50%. For light feeders such as southern peas, reduce the recommendation in half. These recommendations should be broken into two to three applications at two- to three-week intervals.

Time to harvest. Harvest vegetables as soon as they are ripe. Leaving them on the vine too long will lead to disease and insect problems and will cause some crops to stop producing. Any surplus production should be canned or frozen as soon as possible after harvesting.

Enjoy! There are so many varied benefits to growing your own garden. Whether you are gardening to provide food for your family, save money, get a good workout, relieve stress or share some family time, ensure that your garden is success by following good management practices.  If you need help or advice about your garden, please contact the Madison County Extension Office at 706-795-2281 or