- Vegetables That Grow in Mississippi
- Everything You Need to Know About Planting Zones
- Difference Between Planting Zones
- 5 Reasons to Know Your Planting Zone
- 13 USDA Planting Zones
- How to Find Out Your Planting Zone
- What to Know About Your Planting Zone
- Selecting Plants for Your Planting Zone
- Hardiness Zones
- Growing Potatoes for Year-Round Harvest
- Mississippi Planting Zones – USDA Map of Mississippi Growing Zones
- Mississippi Growing Zones for Plants, Trees and Shrubs
Vegetables That Grow in Mississippi
Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images
Mississippi has a long growing season that is suitable for growing a wide variety of vegetables. The secret to successful vegetable gardening in Mississippi is amending the soil with lots of organic matter, such as compost, timely applications of fertilizer and planting the right varieties of vegetables at the right time. For example, some crops, such as cabbage, are grown during the cooler months, while others, such as tomatoes, produce when the weather warms in spring.
Cabbage is a cool-weather crop and is grown in early spring and fall in Mississippi. Starting your own seed is a good way to experiment with varieties such as early Jersey Wakefield, which produces tapered heads, or a red cabbage, such as the red meteor variety. Cabbage is a large plant, so it should be spaced 24 inches apart. Cabbage heads can be harvested anytime after they form, but the best time to harvest is when the heads feel solid when they are squeezed.
Okra is a popular vegetable for growing in the southern United States. It thrives in hot, humid weather. It can be directly seeded into the garden when all danger of frost has passed and the weather warms in April or May, depending on the location. Okra has broad leaves and produces long seed pods after each flower fades that are picked when they are tender. Okra pods are ready to harvest when they are young and tender and easily snap off the plant. Okra pods can be sliced and fried, pickled or used to thicken soups.
Tomatoes are an important addition to Mississippi vegetable gardens. Plant tomatoes in the spring after all danger of frost has passed. If transplants are not purchased, tomato plants must be started from seed indoors as early as February, so that the plants will be ready to set outside as soon as possible. Tomato plants have trouble producing fruit when daytime temperatures are consistently above 85 degrees. Some varieties recommended for Mississippi by the University of Mississippi extension service are Better Boy, Celebrity, Park’s Whopper and Super Fantastic. For cherry tomatoes, Sweet 100 is a recommended variety.
Onions are started from seed in the fall or purchased as transplants, or sets, in January. Onion sets should not be larger than a pencil when purchased or the plants will bolt, or flower, which reduces the storage life of the onion. Only short-day onion varieties are used in Mississippi. By the time enough daylight hours are available for long-day onion varieties to produce bulbs, the daytime temperatures are too warm for long-day onions to grow without heat stress. Short-day onion varieties recommended for Mississippi are Granex 33 and 1015Y.
What do shiitake mushrooms, muscadine grapes and bonsai trees have in common? All three are part of Mississippi’s growing specialty crop industry. While row crops like soybeans and cotton are the mainstay of agricultural production, state farmers continue to explore ways to create new markets and supplement their income. Specialty crops provide that opportunity. Buy the Bunch There are more than 40 fruits and vegetables grown in Mississippi, many of which are produced by farmers on small acreages and sold across the state at farmers markets. Sweet potatoes, turnips, okra, squash and onions are some of those vegetables. One of the fruits is muscadine grapes. These true native Southern fruits are popular with growers because of their taste, their natural adaptability and their resistance to pests. Plus, they grow well in the heat and humidity and need fewer chilling hours than better-known varieties, making them an ideal specialty crop for Mississippi. At the Mississippi State University Beaumont Horticulture Unit, farmers can tour a muscadine vineyard and learn how to grow these versatile grapes. In addition to the fresh grape crop, muscadines are a popular choice for making wine, juice and jellies. So farmers have value-added opportunities when growing this crop. Nearly 400 acres of muscadine grapes are grown on trellises across Mississippi, a number that is sure to increase with the growing popularity of the grape and its nutritional benefits. Harvesting Mushrooms Shiitake mushrooms are one of those specialty crops that require very little acreage. In fact, they require no “land” at all. That’s because shiitake mushrooms require nothing more than a humidity-controlled room and a growing medium. Wanda McNerney Millis, of the Mississippi Natural Products Association in Newhebron, explains how the rural farmers’ cooperative in south-central Mississippi promotes this crop and supports its growth. “We began this initiative in 2002 as a way to develop an alternative crop that could be grown year round,” says Millis. “At the co-op, we manufacture an artificial log out of sawdust and nutrients and inoculate it with shiitake spores. It incubates for 10 weeks in our facility. At the end of that time, farmers purchase the logs and take them to their own grow rooms to finish and harvest the mushrooms.” Sound simple? Not so, says Millis. “We have a lot of people who call us wanting to grow mushrooms and thinking that it will be a quick and easy way to supplement their income.” But, she says, it really is a seven-day-a-week job because during the three-week harvest cycle, all mushrooms must be checked every day so they are cut at the correct time. Although it is more labor intensive than some think, the fact that the co-op has invested in thespecialized facilities makes growing mushrooms much more feasible and less costly for Mississippi farmers. Millis says the co-op produces 700 pounds of shiitake mushrooms a week for contract growers. They also sell logs to a dozen small producers who market their mushrooms at local farmers markets and sell them for about $16 per pound. Going Bonsai Brussel Martin’s specialty crop business started in his own backyard 50 years ago. His father had traveled to California on business and returned home with several bonsai trees. “I had those trees for 10 years, and I still have the pot,” says Martin. That was the beginning of his passion for bonsai, which has turned into a booming business in Olive Branch. According to Martin, there is no other business in the United States quite like Brussel’s Bonsai. “We are 20 times bigger than anyone else, and at any time, we have 100,000 to 150,000 trees ready to sell.” He explains that many of those trees get their start somewhere else and are shipped to Brussel’s. “We have growers across the country who grow plants for us under our guidance and specifications. We’re like an assembly plant here, where we care for the plants and create the finished product.” That requires a staff that knows how to employ the labor-intensive bonsai technique of trimming, wiring and repotting. At Brussel’s, they create hardy bonsai, from maple trees, azaleas, junipers and other plants, as well as indoor bonsai, which are more typically tropical plants. It can take three to four years to develop a nice bonsai plant, but all that work pays off. “We have established a strong reputation for producing quality bonsai and have a thriving business with a bright future.” Brussel’s Bonsai also impacts the local economy, employing 35 full-time workers and keeping the local Fed Ex and UPS facilities busy shipping plants into Olive Branch and then out again across the country. Mississippi is a great home for the business, says Martin, because of the climate. “We have a long growing season, but we also have a winter. That natural cycle is necessary for our hardy bonsai that have to go through the seasons.”
Everything You Need to Know About Planting Zones
Do you ever wonder why some folks have a green thumb while others can’t get anything going in their gardens? Why is it that certain neighbors can produce magnificent vegetation while some can’t even keep a cactus alive?
If you’re interested in making the most of your beds, it’s not only about knowing how to care for your plants. Those with a natural talent for growing understand the key role their climate plays in planting and maintaining luscious rows of colorful shrubs and flowers.
If you’ve only been guessing about your climate until this point, it’s time to get the inside scoop on planting zones. Our guide will teach you what planting zones mean, the differences between them and how to use your zone information to grow a thriving garden that makes it through the winter. You’ll have your neighbors asking for your green-thumb secrets before you know it.
What Is a Planting Zone?
A planting zone — or hardiness zone — is a categorization the USDA uses to divide sections of the country based on weather pattern data. Recently, the USDA updated their Plant Hardiness Zone Map from 11 official planting zones to 13. Each is separated by a 10-degree Fahrenheit range. Gardeners across the nation use the USDA Plant Hardiness Zones to select plants based on their ability to survive.
Planting zones set the guidelines to help gardeners understand the conditions of where their gardens grow. Each plant type has its own designated hardiness zone, indicating that the plant is tolerant to the lowest temperatures in that area. Planting outside the zone may result in your plant being shocked by heat or cold. Therefore, understanding categorization can help you select and care for the best permanent landscaping trees, shrubs and perennials for your location.
Keep in mind that as climate conditions change, zones might change as well. Additionally, with new and advanced GIS technology, the USDA can improve its zone classification by zeroing in on the finer points. This further helps gardeners find the best plants for their exact location.
Difference Between Planting Zones
Separated by 10-degree differences, hardiness zones run from the lowest to highest possible cold conditions. Vegetation with the lowest numbers can withstand the chilliest weather, while higher numbers mean warmer climates are a better match. If a plant belongs to hardiness zones three to seven, this means it’s hardy enough to survive some cold, but not enough to endure extreme and prolonged icy periods. On the other hand, a three to seven zone plant needs a certain amount of cold and will likely perish in the desert heat.
If you’ve ever bought plants online or at a nursery, you’ll likely notice they’re tagged by hardiness zones. Zone numbers are further subdivided into “a” and “b.” Plants marked as “a” have average winter tolerance temperatures five degrees cooler than their zone “b” counterparts.
You might assume that the farther north an area is, the colder its average temperature will be, but that’s not always true. Seattle, for example, is at a latitude of 47 and a hardiness zone of eight, while Baltimore is farther south and boasts a zone of six or seven.
Besides the cold-tolerance level of plants, there are other local factors to account for when learning about your hardiness zone. Unique climate conditions in your area also affect which types of plants will do well. These factors include:
- Winds: Weather factors like winds from jet streams and coastal air movement can change growing conditions in specific areas. Winds dry out vegetation. Additionally, high winds can damage plants. If you reside in a windy microclimate, be sure to select stronger, low-lying shrubs or evergreens.
- Urban Heat: Metropolitan areas are generally warmer than rural areas, even if they belong to the same region. That’s because of the urban heat island effect — urban environments absorb and trap heat in their concrete jungles, maintaining higher year-round temperatures.
- Rainfall: The greater the rainfall, the moister the soil. That’s why it’s important to consider how much precipitation your area sees. Residents of the Pacific Northwest need to choose wet-tolerant plants or improve their soil drainage, whereas gardeners in dryer areas won’t be concerned about rainfall.
- Humidity: Even though California and Florida have parts of their respective states with the same hardiness zones, their relative humidity levels are vastly different. High humidity slows down a plant’s transpiration rate, so Floridian gardeners need to consider the humidity tolerance of their plant selection.
5 Reasons to Know Your Planting Zone
As a gardener, you know plants depend on all kinds of conditions to thrive, including soil quality, nutrients, water and sunlight levels. But weather conditions are just as crucial for many reasons.
Here are the top reasons why gardeners should get to know their planting zones:
- Know What You’re Buying
Just like a shoe store labels all shoes by size, nurseries label their plants by hardiness. So when you buy vegetation online or in a local nursery, looking for plants with the correct size makes more sense than blindly selecting sprouts and hoping they’ll survive. When you know your hardiness zone, you know exactly what to look for when stocking up on plants.
- Invest Your Money Wisely
Let’s face it — plants are an investment. Some trees and shrubs can be quite pricey, but if you nurture them correctly, they’ll last a lifetime. Just like any other financial asset, you also want to protect your plants. By choosing the plants that fit your hardiness zone, you’re preventing yourself from investing in new landscaping later.
- Provide Better Care for Your Plants
Your plants deserve the best shot at survival. As a plant parent, you want to make your environment as nurturing as possible for your leafy friends. By choosing the plants that are best suited for your climate conditions, you can make caring for your plants a lot easier. The more you see your plants thriving, the more pride you’ll feel in your garden and growing skills.
- Grow Versatile Plants
As you continue to learn more about plant species and their hardiness levels, you’ll learn that some types of plants are hardier than others. Many plants are versatile enough that they grow in a variety of planting zones. If you’ve heard that other gardeners have grown successfully outside of their traditional zone, then you may be inspired to give it a try. But first, you must have a good understanding of specific conditions to prepare for.
- Add Diversity to Your Garden
Once you know your hardiness zone and understand your local weather, you may be inspired to branch out. Once you understand what you’re working with, you may come across some species you’d never considered before, giving you an opportunity to be creative with your plantings while still ensuring you’re choosing suitable plants.
13 USDA Planting Zones
Today’s USDA planting zone map is interactive and searchable to help gardeners like you find the information you need. You can refine the nation by location to find your specific zone and start planting the right seeds.
If you were familiar with your area’s hardiness zone in the past, be advised that it may have changed. In 2012, The USDA redeveloped their hardiness zone map to reflect changing climates throughout the nation. Here are the 13 current planting zones and their specifics:
Zone 1 (-60 to -50): The coldest hardiness zone in America, planting zone 1 has an average low temperature of -60 degrees Fahrenheit. Zone 1a is -65 to -55 degrees, and zone 1b is -55 to -50. You’ll only find this number in northern and central Alaska. What can grow in this unforgiving cold? Picture beautiful rows of birch trees and aspens growing through a blanket of snow. Certain hardy rhododendrons also manage to make a go of it in hardiness zone one.
Zone 2 (-50 to -40): Zone 2 also hosts a bitterly cold growing environment. Again, the only parts of America that fall into this zone are northern and central points in Alaska. Certain coastal Alaskan areas also hold a hardiness zone of 2b, which is an average low of -45 to -40 degrees. Paper birches, American elms and Eastern larch trees are hardy candidates for zone 2’s stinging winters.
Zone 3 (-40 to -30): States that border Canada are familiar with zone 3 conditions. These include areas in northern Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Parts of upstate New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine also dip to 3b conditions, which are between -30 and -35. Trees like sugar maples and European white birches as well as certain species of dogwood, juniper, spruce and pine can all tolerate these frigid temperatures.
Zone 4 (-30 to -20): Farther south, states like Idaho, Wyoming and South Dakota have sections with zone 4 temperatures. Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota also range between zones 4a and 4b. Suitable plants include forsythias, Japanese barberry and common privet. Deciduous dawn redwoods also thrive in zone 4.
Zone 5 (-20 to -10): Colorado, Nebraska and Iowa are primary zone 5 representatives. Northern Illinois, Indiana, New York, Massachusetts and Northern Pennsylvania also experience zone 5b conditions. If you’re gardening in these parts of the country, opt for winners like Japanese maples, flowering dogwoods and Oregon-grape.
Zone 6 (-10 to zero): Zone 6 belts across the eastern border of Colorado and New Mexico, through Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia, southern Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey and Connecticut. You’ll also find zone 6 in inland Washington and Oregon as well as throughout Nevada, Utah and parts of California and Arizona. Common boxwoods, Atlas cedars, English Ivy and heavenly bamboo are excellent plants for zone 6.
Zone 7 (zero to 10): Zone 7 plants prosper in Arizona, New Mexico and Northern Texas as well as Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee and North Carolina. Big leaf maples, English holly and Monterey pines are good fits for zone 7. You can also try Kurume azaleas, which produce beautiful blooms.
Zone 8 (10 to 20): Coastal regions of Washington State, Oregon and Northern California are home to zone 8 hardiness conditions. This zone also spans central Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South and North Carolina. Planting contenders include the Mexican orange, the common olive and the strawberry tree. Zone 8b can also produce healthy pindo palms.
Zone 9 (20 to 30): California, Arizona, East Texas, Louisiana and Florida all have zone 9 weather conditions. Even southwestern Oregon can produce healthy zone 9 plants. Chinese hibiscus plants, orchid trees, fuchsias and eucalyptus species thrive in these areas.
Zone 10 (30 to 40): Zone 10 maintains a higher average year-round temperature, which includes areas like Central Florida, Arizona’s Mexico border and the southern tip of California. Try your hand here with friendly poinsettias, rubber plants and variety of palms and succulents.
Zone 11 (40 to 50): Los Angeles, San Diego and Miami are virtually the only areas of the continental United States that reach zone 11 conditions. Zone 11 residents can have fun with agaves, aloes and African lily plants. Just remember to select plants that are right for your local humidity level.
Zones 12 and 13 (50 to 60 and 60 to 70): USDA tropical zones 12 and 13 exist only on the Hawaiian Islands and Puerto Rico. Zone 13 plants include the exotic birds of paradise and Hawaiian hibiscus. Tropical fruit plants like mangos, avocados and coconut palms are also right at home here.
How to Find Out Your Planting Zone
Knowing the different plant hardiness zones is essential to the health of your gardening venture. It’s also interesting to learn how our nation’s vast range of climatic conditions can produce such a wide diversity of vegetation. That’s why you should learn your zone by visiting the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service Website to view the most up-to-date version of the planting zone map. Here’s how:
- Click on your state: The map itself is interactive, meaning you can hover over each state and click on the one you’d like to select. This will bring up your state’s individual page, a close-up that shows your hardiness location in color-coded detail.
- Select your state from the drop-down menu: You can also view your state map by selecting it from an alphabetical list provided. This will bring you to the same page as option one.
- Input your zip code: Finally, you can also search planting zones by zip code. Using the same map, enter your zip code in the search field. Once you click “Find,” your planting zone will display below the search bar. For example, we entered our nursery location’s zip code in the search. The map tells us we’re in planting zone 7a, which is zero to five degrees. Using your zip code can give you a more accurate result than eyeballing your location on your state’s map.
Viewing your state’s map shows you just how much diversity one state can have when it comes to climate. You might notice that even a neighboring city falls within a half zone higher or lower than yours. This separation is all part of the phenomenal influence that climate, weather and nature have on our vegetation.
What to Know About Your Planting Zone
Using the USDA interactive planting zone map, you’ve now pinpointed your number. Here are a few more things to know when researching your zone:
- Your Zone Based on Zip Code: After you input your zip code, it’s important to note whether your area is in the “a” or “b” zone. Even a five-degree difference can have an impact, so try to be as exact as possible. You might also want to look at the previous USDA Hardiness Zone Map before its 2012 update to get an understanding of how the climate in your location has changed over the past 20 years.
- Planting Outside Your Zone: Hardiness zones are guidelines, and you should treat them as such. You can still plant vegetation that falls outside of your hardiness zone as long as you’re prepared to take certain precautions. If you’re planting less hardy plants, be sure to wrap or cover them before your freeze date. You’ll also want to lay down an ample layer of mulch for additional freeze protection.
- Plants That Are Suitable for Your Zone: Keep in mind that although hardiness zoning isn’t a perfect solution, it’s an excellent tool to help you choose your plants wisely. Gardeners use planting zones to identify which plants will become part of their permanent landscape. For example, zones might help them designate shrubs and perennials for garden beds, plants for hedges and privacy screens and trees for your yard.
Selecting Plants for Your Planting Zone
With a deeper understanding of planting zones, you can know why some gardening attempts fail. Knowing your climate and weather factors is vital to maintaining healthy plant life year-round. Because trees, shrubs and perennials should be a worthwhile investment, keeping your zone in mind before you buy is a great way to save money from the start.
There are always ways to break the rules and still produce healthy plants that aren’t necessarily perfect for your planting zone. It’s just a matter of having the right knowledge and catering to the extra needs of your more sensitive plants.
Experts like Garden Goods Direct can help you choose the right perennials, shrubs and trees for your location. We’re your leading online garden supplier with a local garden center in Bowie, Maryland. Shop our supply and purchase plants for your hardiness zone online. Contact Garden Goods Direct today to speak to a gardening expert about your planting zone needs.
Our goal is to offer trees across the United States that are associated with key people and events in our nation’s history. Please take a minute to read about each of the trees currently in our collection. Then, choose one (or more!) of your favorites.
However, it’s important to choose the best tree for your location. Please consider the fact that all trees have characteristics that suit it for some landscape use. Each also has certain requirements critical to its survival in the yard. Some are more cold-hardy than others, so check their Zone rating for hardiness. Also, consider mature size before deciding on your planting site.
What are Hardiness Zones?
The Plant Hardiness Zones divide the United States and Canada into 11 areas based on a 10 degree Fahrenheit difference in the average annual minimum temperature. (The United States falls within Zones 2 through 10). For example, the lowest average temperature in Zone 2 is -50 to -40 degrees Fahrenheit, while the minimum average temperature in zone 10 is +30 to +40 degrees Fahrenheit. See more.
Suggested hardiness zones have been indicated for all trees and perennials available online from the Foundation. If a range of zones, for example, zones 4-9, is indicated, the tree or perennial is known to be hardy in zones 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9. Suitable hardiness means a plant can be expected to grow in the zone’s temperature extremes, as determined by the lowest average annual temperature.
Keep in mind that local variations such as moisture, soil, winds, and other conditions might affect the viability of individual plants.
Growing Potatoes for Year-Round Harvest
Potatoes are one of the easiest root vegetables to grow in the home garden, and you can grow a number of varieties that you probably won’t see in the grocery store. There are four steps to growing potatoes to get the best yield and production possible for your area.
Know Your Area’s Last Freeze Date
It’s best to start with knowing your area’s last expected freeze date. Potatoes prefer to be grown in cooler weather, so in most areas of the country that means spring planting – but it’s better to be sure. The earliest you should plant is three to four weeks before that date, particularly if you live in a warmer climate. Potatoes for home growing are not planted from seed; instead sections called seed potatoes are used. One week before planting, move your seed potatoes to a warmer light-filled spot (such as by a window). If you live in a warmer climate and plant too late, don’t expect a good yield; potato plants will not live when temperatures soar above 90 degrees.
Choose Your Potato
Choose your potato varieties depending upon how you want to cook them. Some varieties are particularly suited for baking, making french fries or hash browns, boiling, or storing. Some varieties are better for growing in warmer climates, and most are categorized as early-, mid- or late-season potatoes. If you have any special growing requirements or live in a warmer climate, it’s best to do some homework first.
Plant Your Potatoes
Choose a site in your garden with full sun (six to eight hours a day) and with loose, well-drained soil. To avoid certain potato diseases, this crop needs to be moved around in the garden. Identify three different sites in your garden for the “tater patch” in order to rotate potatoes over a three-year period. One to two days before planting, cut larger potatoes into smaller “seeds,” each piece 1½ to 2 in. square and with one to two eyes, or buds. Smaller seed potatoes can be planted whole. Allow the cut potatoes to callus over (develop a harder, thicker “skin”) for a day or two before planting. Dig a shallow trench 4 in. wide and 6 to 8 in. deep. Space the seed potatoes, cut side down, every 15 in. Cover with 3 to 4 in. of soil, and add an additional 3 in. of soil when sprouts show in two weeks.
Harvest and Store Potatoes
Potatoes of any size can be harvested after the plant flowers. If you harvest later in the season and intend to store your potatoes over the cooler months, wait until the soil and the temperatures have cooled off (typically mid-September in northern parts of the United States, and a bit later in warmer climates). Ten weeks before harvesting, cut or pull the vines, dig up the tubers, and allow them to dry for an hour or two on top of the soil. Store in a dark and humid environment, at 37 to 40 degrees, discarding any potatoes that are damaged or rotten.
Growing potatoes provides food for your family year-round and their fresh flavor will amaze you. Try adding them to your vegetable garden this year.
TSC Growing Potatoes Supplies:
Mississippi Planting Zones – USDA Map of Mississippi Growing Zones
Mississippi Growing Zones for Plants, Trees and Shrubs
Mississippi enjoys a rather temperate climate and according to the Mississippi USDA planting map, the state includes zones 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b and 9a. Many plants, trees and shrubs thrive in these zones and gardeners tend enjoy a longer growing season.
The 2012 USDA plant hardiness map takes into consideration average annual extreme winter low temperatures for the past 30 years. Some changes have been made to the map that also takes into account the general winter warming trend. The extreme winter low temperatures have risen over the past data collection period.
To find which growing zone you are in, you can enlarge the above map and find the area where you live. Although many plants enjoy warmer weather in zones 8 through 9, some flowers, trees and shrubs do require a period of colder weather in the winter in order to thrive. While the northern United States battles temperatures that are too low for some plants, those in the south cannot successfully grow certain plants because winter lows are too high.
While you can visit your local nursery where all the plants for sale should thrive in your particular growing zone, you may be interested in obtaining plants from others sources, such as online distributors. Fortunately, most online dealers will use USDA plant hardiness zone information. Just be sure that any plant you purchase is suitable for your Mississippi zone in order to keep your garden looking its best.
It’s hard to beat the fresh taste of homegrown vegetables on your dinner table, and the satisfaction of knowing you produced them yourself. While a successful vegetable garden is within reach of anyone, avoiding a few common pitfalls will help to ensure a bountiful harvest. The following lists are some common mistakes I often see that stump even the seasoned gardener on occasion.
1. Planting too early. It never fails that somewhere in mid-February a warm front comes through and everyone gets bit by the gardening bug. Right on cue, the Bonnie’s plant farm trucks start rolling into the local garden centers delivering a multitude of tender tomatoes, peppers and other summer vegetables. Because of the sudden warm weather, everyone feels like it must be time to plant. Air temperature, however, is a bad indicator of when to plant. Soil temperature is the key to knowing if a tomato or pepper will survive the cold, not the air temperature. Most summer crops prefer soil temperatures at least 55-60 F. Closer to 65 F if you are talking about sensitive crops like okra and super sweet corn. Planting too early when soil temperatures are too cool will cause plants to stunt or other disorders such as leaf roll or misshapen fruit. Check soil temperatures with a soil thermometer or through your local county extension office to know when it is safe to plant.
2. Planting when it is too wet. Planting when the soil is too wet is about as bad as planting when the soil is too cold. The soil should only be worked and planted in when there is a slight bit of moisture. Tilling or planting in soils that are too wet will cause poor seed germination and transplant survival. To know if the soils are the proper moisture to plant, grab a handful of soil from the garden and squeeze it tightly together in your fist. Take a finger and push it into the soil ball you just formed. If it breaks apart into multiple pieces, the soil is perfect for working. If your finger pushes into the ball and it doesn’t break apart, it’s too wet to work and may need a few more days to dry out.
3. Not controlling weeds. Weeds can be one of the biggest headaches for both the beginning and experienced gardener. It’s always easier to try and keep the weeds out then to get them out later. Weeds compete for nutrition and moisture, and take up valuable root space from our intended crop. Prevent them through the use of mulches that include pine straw, wheat straw, wood chips, newspaper or some type of landscape fabric. Weeds can also be kept at bay by the use of both pre- and post-emergent herbicides. Make sure you read the label on all chemicals to be sure you can use it on the vegetable type you are growing.
4. Improper fertilization. Nutrition is vitally important to all types of vegetables. Too much or too little nutrition can cause major problems in the garden. Too much fertilizer can cause excessive vegetative growth and few blooms or fruit. It can also lead to an increase in your weed population. Too little fertilizer will make plants stunted and unable to produce a good crop. Start with a soil sample through your county extension office to determine the nutritional needs as well as the pH of the soil. In general, most vegetables need fertilization at planting time and then not until they put out their first small fruit. Additional fertilizer may be needed on continuous producing items such as tomatoes, okra, peppers and others.
5. Improper watering. Water is the most essential component of a successful garden. Just like fertilizer, however, too little or too much can cause more harm than good. Most vegetables need between 1 to 2 inches of irrigation a week to thrive. Frequency depends on the soil type and the amount of supplemental rainfall we receive. It’s far healthier for the plants and much more efficient to irrigate with either soaker hoses or drip irrigation. Overhead watering does work, but can lead to foliar diseases and also wastes a lot of water wetting non-target areas.