Spring is here, and it’s the perfect time to start planning your vegetable garden.

As gardeners race out of the “garden gate,” consider the following tips for finishing the race with a successful garden this growing season:

Site selection

The best location is one that’s near the house, receives full sun all day, is free from large rocks and weeds, has good air circulation and is sheltered from strong winds. Remember, leafy vegetables need at least six hours of sunlight to develop properly, while fruiting vegetables such as tomatoes, squash, eggplant and peppers need 10 hours of full sun.


If possible, start with well-drained soil with the intention for annual additions of soil amendments, such as compost, aged manure, cover crops and organic mulches. Soil test your garden. The N.C. Department of Agriculture’s lab in Raleigh will do this service for free through November. Simply pick up the paperwork and boxes from the Sylva Extension Office.


Avoid planting crops from the same plant family in the same spot two years in a row. Consider the path of the sun, so tall crops do not shade shorter ones. Think about spacing so outer leaves on mature plants will just miss touching neighboring plants.

If you haven’t started already, there’s still time to set out some of the cool-season vegetables, such as arugula, beets, broccoli, carrots, celery, collard greens, leeks, mustard and spinach, along with potatoes and onions as intermediate vegetables.

When the danger of frost has passed (about Tuesday, May 15), transplant warm-season vegetables, such as tomatoes, peppers eggplants and any of the cucurbits.

Start small

There’s always a lot to learn. Experience success with a small garden, then gradually increase its size. Grow only what you like to eat as you’ll take better care of your garden with the right motivation.

When weather is wet or cold, allow about twice the germination time listed on the seed packet. If there is no sign of growth after this time, dig around a little to check for sprouted seeds. If you find no signs of life, the seed has probably rotted, and you will need to replant.

Crop varieties

Select with care. Look for crops bred to do well in short seasons with cold, wet springs and extremes of temperature and moisture. Also consider disease resistance, the variety’s growth habit and length of harvest season.

Water only when necessary, then water deeply and early in the day. Vegetables need about an inch of water a week. Conserve water by building soil organic matter and mulching crops to reduce soil moisture evaporation. When soil around plants is dry a couple of inches below the surface, soak the soil deeply, preferably with a drip or soaker hose.


Visit your garden every day. Check for signs of pests and diseases so you can take care of problems before they get out of hand. Of course, visit also for the sheer joy of it.

Make sure to correctly identify the cause of a problem before applying a treatment. Inappropriate use of pesticides is expensive; threatens the health of humans, pets and the environment; and may itself cause more damage than it remedies.


Maintain good sanitation by removing diseased leaves, fruits and vines, and, of course, controlling weeds. Common weeds that are edible include: pigweed, mustard, purslane, lambs quarter and dandelion greens. Harvesting these plants from your garden plot will benefit you doubly.

Christine Bredenkamp is NCSU horticulture extension agent for Jackson and Swain counties. For questions about gardening, contact her at 586-4009 or clbreden@ncsu.edu.