October 9, 2008

Getting Your Garden Ready for Vegetables

By Cindy Peacock, Horticulturist, Pinellas County Extension

Growing your own vegetables can be lots of fun and very rewarding. You can also save money at the grocery store.

To get started, look at the area around your home. Choose a full sun area or and area with at least 6 hours of sun. Your vegetable garden can be in containers, earth boxes, raised beds, or in the ground. Be sure to have it in a place you don’t mind going to. If it is too far away, you may not visit it as often as is necessary. Make sure there is water close by. Vegetable gardens need water.

Once you choose a place for your garden, the weeds or grass should be removed. Clearing the area will help control any weeds that can be a problem later when you’re growing vegetables. Hand pull, use glyphosate (herbicide) or put a tarp over the area for a week or so to kill the grass and weeds. Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup and other herbicides. It is absorbed by the green parts of the plant and moved to down to the roots causing the plant to die. Glyphosate herbicide does not stay in the soil therefore it will not affect your vegetables.

Use landscape timbers, brick or landscape blocks to hold the soil and compost in your plot. The garden should be raised up at least 6 inches from the ground. Add good top soil, soil mix, or good organic matter to your plot or containers. Good organic matter includes; compost, peat, manures (horse or cow), oak or maple leaves, grass clippings (no weed seeds) and mulch. Mix all of these amendments into the soil three weeks before you plant. Organic matter can help reduce the damage to vegetable plants by root knot nematodes.

Another good way to get your plot ready for planting and avoid nematodes is to solarize the plot using the sun. After you have added all your good organic matter to your plot and it looks like your ready to plant, wet the soil well and cover it with clear plastic sheeting. Seal the plastic around the edges and let it stay for 6 weeks. This will sterilize the soil by heating it and it will help to eliminate nematodes and other plant disease organisms. It is still hot and humid in September. After 6 weeks pull the plastic up and plant your seeds or starter plants right into the plot. Do not dig and disturb the plot. There is still time to do this if you choose. This will put your planting at a later date in October, but that is fine. Some of your vegetables need cooler weather to take off and grow. The very best time to sterilize your vegetable garden plot is during the summer heat.

Before you plant seeds and starter plants design your garden plot on paper. Keep a record of when and what you plant once your design is done. There are cool season vegetable and warm season vegetables. Some of them need more room to grow like; squashes and cucumbers. Some vegetables like beans and peas need a trellis to climb. Tomatoes will need a cage to grow into or you will need to tie them to a stake to keep the fruit and plant off the ground. Do some research so that you know how the vegetables grow so that you can accommodate them in your plot or container.

When planting seeds, a good rule of thumb is to plant the seed as deep as the seed is big. Planting seeds too deep may cause them not to sprout. Be sure to spread the seeds out in a row about 6 inches to a foot. Some vegetables that are best planted as seeds directly into the garden are carrots, radishes, beets, lettuce, beans and greens.

After planting your seeds and starter plants they must be watered everyday for about 15 to 20 minutes for 2 weeks and then as the plants come up you can cut back on the water to every other day. Seeds need to be moist to grow. Established vegetable plants need water 2 to 3 times a week. Of course if we get a good rain then we don’t have to water. It is recommended that you use potable water, rain barrel water or well water. Reclaimed water is not appropriate to use on vegetable plantings.

Fertilizer does not need to be applied until the plants are 4 to 6 inches high.
A good slow release fertilizer 6-6-6 or 8-8-8 is good to use.

You will experience some insects in your garden. Some of them are good insects and some of them are bad guys that can do some damage to your plants. It is important to identify them correctly before you get the sprays out. You may not have to use pesticides. Picking them off is very helpful. Be sure to identify the insects before you try to get rid of them. You can bring them into the Extension office or take a picture and e-mail us ( and we can identify them for you and give you the right advice.

You can access the Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide at: You can also watch a video, Vegetable Gardening Pinellas County Style at: - the video is on the right hand column.

Have fun and enjoy your vegetables. Home grown vegetables have the best taste.

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