A-Z Vegetable Gardening in Arkansas
For vegetable gardening help contact your local county agent.
- Choosing Vegetables for the Season
Many new cultivars are resistant to diseases and are heavy producers. If you have favorite cultivar that works well for you, continue to use it but you may wish to experiment with small plantings of new cultivars. Home Gardening Series fact sheets on individual vegetables will list cultivar recommendations. In addition, new seed catalogs and web sites will list many cultivars. If a cultivar is designated to be an All-American Selection (AAS) it has been tested and found to be widely adapted.
Some vegetables require a cool growing season and must be planted early enough to mature before hot weather or late enough to mature in the cooler fall months. Others require warmer or even hot weather and longer periods to reach maturity.
- Planting Dates for Fall Vegetable Production
- Planting Dates for Spring and Summer Vegetable Production
Decide what vegetables you wish to plant. If your space is limited, plant only vegetables that are liked by your family, but keep nutrition in mind. You might find it helpful to draw a garden diagram to find out if you have enough space to grow needed quantities. Don't forget repeat plantings. Some vegetables may be planted each month. This will greatly decrease the amount of space needed and keep the garden full for its most efficient use.
Many gardeners tend to stop after they have harvested their spring-planted crop. This is a serious mistake. Many crops that are normally planted in the spring grow as well or better in the fall. While insects and diseases are sometimes more of a problem in early fall, yields and quality are often better than in the spring.
Choose a variety well adapted to Arkansas. Environment may cause certain ones to perform poorly. Recommended varieties for Arkansas can be found in the Home Gardening Series fact sheets. Other good varieties are available and should be used where past performance is proven.
- Site Selection
Many factors should be considered when selecting the garden site. The size of the garden is determined by the available space, the number of members in the family and how the vegetables will be used.
Sunlight is essential to plant growth. Vegetables should receive a minimum of six hours of direct sunlight during the day. Tomatoes, corn, peppers, cucumbers, root crops and melons need full sunlight. Some of the leafy vegetables like cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower will tolerate more shade.
The roots of trees, large shrubs and hedges compete with vegetables for nutrients and moisture. Additional plant food and extra water help compensate for this competition but will not relieve shade problems.
Surface drainage of excessive rains is desirable. Using slightly sloping areas helps, and areas that are more sloped may be used if managed properly. Contour the rows to the shape of the slope (plant around the hill). You can construct terraces or raised beds if the slope is too steep.
Identify garden problems and plan to solve them before the next planting season.
Make your plans during the winter months.
The newest gardener can avoid the most common garden problems by following basic recommendations.
- Raised Bed Gardens
A raised bed is a convenient way to garden where soil is limited and there is poor drainage. The raised bed can be turned into a covered cold frame to extend the growing season.
Beds can be constructed for physically impaired gardeners who cannot bend over, or are in a wheel chair. Extension's AgrAbility program offers a number of resources for the home gardener with disabilities.
Raised beds are made from any material that can be stacked at least 12 inches high and is non-toxic. Landscape timbers, used railroad ties, and lumber are commonly used materials. Concrete blocks, bricks and stones are also used.
Build a frame that can hold a depth of at least 12 inches of soil. Do not make the beds any wider than you can reach the middle of the bed.
Locate your raised bed on top of an area with drainage.
Raise it up a Notch with Raised Garden Beds Endless Gardening Volume 1, 2012 Gardening Without Pain; Don’t Let the Dirt Hurt: Stretches for Gardening; Raise It Up a Notch with Raised Beds; Community Gardening; Fruit & Vegetable Harvest Calendar Arkansas AgrAbility brochure
- Container Gardens
Containers allow the gardener to grow plants anywhere there is sunshine.
The perfect container for tomatoes, peppers, okra, and basil is the 5 gallon bucket. Drill holes in the bottom of the bucket for drainage. Add 1 cubic foot of a soil-less potting mix. Amend the soil as needed with lime, Epsom salt, and fertilizer.
Use a tomato cage to keep the plants elevated.
- Ideas for Small Gardens
Wide-row planting is simply broadcasting seeds in bands anywhere from 10 in. to 3 or more feet wide instead of a single band on each row. With the wide row system, more space is producing vegetables and less space is used for cultivation between the rows.
Another way to use space for more intensive production is interplanting or companion cropping. Plant tomatoes, peppers, eggplant or okra between rows of early cool-weather crops. The early crops will mature and be out of the way before the later crops would be crowded.
Using Small Plants
Use vegetables that require less space than others. The following vegetables make small plants and can be closely planted in the row: radishes, turnips, lettuces, beets, spinach, chard, arugula, cilantro, mustard, Pak choi (also called bok choy or Chinese cabbage), scallions, and onions.
- Soil Testing
A soil test can make the difference between success and failure in the garden. Soil testing is a free service provided by the Cooperative Extension Service and the Soil Testing Laboratory.
Soil tests are desirable to determine the pH level and the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and calcium in the garden’s soil. They are helpful if the samples are taken properly and the recommendations followed. Your county Extension office has instructions and containers for submitting the samples.
The pH of the soil can be adjusted to make sure that soil nutrients are available. Most native soils in Arkansas are acidic and need to be amended with lime to raise the soil pH.
The vegetable garden should be slightly acidic with a pH level ranging from 5.8 to 6.8. Lime takes 6 to 8 weeks to alter soil pH and should be applied in the fall or late winter. Agricultural lime has a mix of particle sizes and will provide long term control of soil pH. Pelletized or lawn lime has very fine particles and reacts over a much shorter period of time but needs to be reapplied annually. Reduce the recommended rate if using pelletized lime.
Liming the soil makes nutrients available to the plants especially calcium. Gypsum can be added to increase calcium if the soil pH does not need to be raised by lime.
FSA-2121 Test Your Soil for Plant Food and Lime Needs FSA-2118 Understanding the Numbers on Your Soil Test Report Collecting a Soil Sample
with Julie Treat, Horticulture Program Technician, UACES
- Soil Preparation
Arkansas soils range from coarse sands to heavy clays. Each presents a special situation to the gardener. The type of soil is an important consideration if there is a choice.
Sandy loam or loam soils are well adapted to vegetable production. Although sandy soils are quite workable, they do not hold water or fertilizer nutrients as well as clay soils. Adding large amounts of organic matter such as organic compost and manures will greatly improve the nutrient and water holding ability of these soils.
Vegetables may be grown on heavier soils if they are well-drained. Heavier soils have clay particles which are smaller than sand and become quite hard. They are usually productive if managed properly.Amendments such as sand, finely ground bark, gypsum, vermiculite or perlite, composted organic matter and organic mulching can be added to clay soil to improve soil conditions and provide more air spaces for roots.
Small garden plots can be prepared for planting by using a spade, shovel or spading fork to turn the soil. Turn the soil to a depth of 6 to 7 inches. Use a small tractor or garden tiller for larger gardens.
Do not spade, till, plow or cultivate soil when it is too wet. Pick up a handful of soil and squeeze it. If the dirt sticks together and will not crumble after squeezing, wait until it is drier.
All litter or trash on the soil surface should be completely covered or worked into the soil when the ground is turned. Excessive trash in the upper soil level interferes with final seedbed preparation and later cultivations. This is a good time to add compost and soil amendments such as agricultural lime.
Establish a smooth, level surface by raking or harrowing as soon as possible after turning. This helps compact the soil, breaks up clods and leaves a smooth surface for seeding. Soil left in rough condition for several days after turning may dry out and form hard clods, making it much more difficult to prepare a good seedbed. Small seeds germinate poorly in loose soil with clods, and growth of the seedlings may be slow and weak.
- Amending with Compost
Compost enhances the physical properties of the soil and improves the soil's tilth. Some benefits of compost include:
• Increases the soil's water and nutrient holding capacity.
• Aerates the soil.
• Aids in keeping roots warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
Find more information at the Yard & Garden | Vegetables | Compost webpage.
Apply composted organic matter and organic mulching materials freely each year since organic matter content is difficult to maintain. Use as much as 2,000 lbs. of rotted compost for each 1,000 square feet of area (approximately six inches or more).
Organic matter that is not well composted can be very harmful since the rotting materials will compete for nutrients with the growing plants.
Avoid applications of saw dust. Saw dust ties up nitrogen, reduces soil aeration, and can make plants more susceptible to diseases.
FSA-6031 Compost Units Series: Wooden-Pallet and Wire-Mesh Compost Bins FSA-6036 Understanding the Composting Process Compost Happens
with Washington County Master Gardeners
Do I need fertilizer in my garden?
Most garden soils in Arkansas need to be supplied with plant food. A garden soil may be too acidic for normal plant growth. A pH level ranging from 5.8 to 6.8 would be satisfactory for most vegetable crops. A soil test will show whether or not lime may be needed to correct soil acidity. A soil test will also determine the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and calcium in the garden soil. Your county Extension agent will have information on this procedure. After the soil test is made, the county Extension agent will recommend the amount and kind of fertilizer that your garden soil needs.
Nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium are generally the food elements most needed in garden soils. Calcium may be needed as a plant food and to correct pH or acidity levels. Minor elements are usually sufficient for normal growth, although boron, magnesium and manganese may be below normal levels in some soils.
What can I use for fertilizer?
Commercial fertilizer, animal manures, chicken litter, compost or decomposed organic matter can be used to provide plant nutrients for growing crops.
Commercial fertilizer may contain only nitrogen, phosphorus or potassium, or all three in various combinations. If a soil test is not available, use a mixed fertilizer such as 12-12-12 (12% nitrogen, 12% phosphorus and 12% potassium) or 12-20-20. Additional nitrogen may be needed and can be supplied by applying nitrate of soda, ammonium nitrate, or urea.
Some commercial fertilizers, in addition to nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, may contain small amounts of various minor elements.
Where a soil test has not been made, apply 6-8 lbs. of a mixed fertilizer per 100 feet of row or 300 square feet. For most crops, additional nitrogen as side or top dressing may be made one or more times, using 1 lb. of ammonium nitrate or 2 lbs. of nitrate of soda per 100 feet of row.
Damaging vegetable plants by using excessive amounts of fertilizer is possible. Such damage can occur from the seedling stage to full plant development.
Apply mixed fertilizer broadcast or under the row. Under the row applications may be done by opening a furrow 3-4 in. deep, placing the fertilizer in the bottom of the furrow, mixing it with the soil, and then leveling or filling in the furrow. Or, the fertilizer could be placed in bands at one or both sides of the row. Apply mixed fertilizer ten days to two weeks before planting seed or setting plants.
Make broadcast fertilizer applications on the garden soil after spading or plowing, then work into the soil as the ground is raked and leveled.
Understanding Fertilizers to Protect Water Quality
with John Pennington, Washington County Extension Agent
- Cover Crops: The Green Manure
Feed the garden by using cover crops also known as "green manure." Cover crops are a valuable tool for improving the garden soil by returning large amounts of biomass to the soil and adding needed nutrients.
Warm season cover crops include buckwheat, southern peas, and sudan grass. These can be planted between spring and fall crops. Mow these crops down and till them into the soil before they go to seed or you may see them return when you plant your vegetables.
Cool season cover crops are more varied:
• Grasses - oats, wheat, and rye - grow quickly and produce large amounts of biomass.
• Legumes - winter peas, and vetch - can return significant amounts of nitrogen to the soil.
• Crucifers - turnips and forage radishes - improve the soil and help prevent soil erosion. The added benefit of turnips is that you get roots and greens to eat until they are tilled back into the soil.
- Before you begin...
Plant perennial crops such as asparagus and strawberries over to the side of the garden since they will remain in the same area for many years.
Put all tall growing crops together where they don't shade out low growing crops.
Follow quick growing, early spring crops with warm season crops during the late spring and summer.
FSA-6024 Plant Propagation for Home Gardeners
The use of transplants shortens the period to harvest and allows the gardener to complete a crop before it gets too hot or cold.
• In the spring we often go from too cold to too hot for plants such as tomatoes. Transplants will grow in soil that is too cool for seed to germinate.
• In the fall we may use transplants because of delays caused by summer crops not being mature when cool season crops need to be planted.
Choose quality transplants with good root volume.
Starter solution helps plants grow quickly by providing nutrients to the plant quickly. Make a solution by mixing one tablespoon of a soluble fertilizer such as 10-20-10, in one gallon of water. Pour 1 cup of this solution around each plant as you set it out.
You can grow your own transplants by starting seed three to eight weeks prior to planting in the garden. Green beans and cucumbers are ready to plant in three weeks, while tomatoes and peppers take six to eight weeks to grow a transplant.
Some vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower should be transplanted as small plants rather than planted as seed.
Always remove plastic, or paper pots from transplants and crack peat pots to allow roots to grow easily and unrestricted into the soil.
- Direct Seeding
In general, small seed like those of lettuce, mustard, radish or turnip should be planted about 1/4 - 1/2 in. deep.
Large seed such as beans, squash, pumpkin and corn can be planted deeper 1 to 1 1/2 in deep.
Spacing of vegetables will be different with various cultivation methods. Tractors need wide rows. Rows in small gardens may be placed close together since weeding may be done by hand. To assure a good stand, it is often better to plant seed thickly and thin later. However, seed is normally expensive and should not be wasted. Plan carefully and buy only seed that is needed. If seed is left over, put it into a dry container and refrigerate for use later. Gardeners may be successful in using one-year-old seed, but old seed loses strength. Germination tests will not indicate seed strength, which is sometimes called "vigor."
Use of good seed is very important. Buy only from dealers who have a reputation for handling good seed. Saving vegetable seeds grown in Arkansas is not a good practice. Many vegetable diseases are transmitted through seed and planting diseased seed often results in severe losses.
- Saving Seeds
Saving seeds is a way to preserve unique cultivars of vegetables from one year to another. Save seed from non-hybrid cultivars to maintain genetic purity. Self pollinated vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, beans, peas, and lettuces are the easiest plants to save seed from because they do not require isolation from other plants.
- Trellises & Cages
Elevating the plants off the ground helps to improve air circulation around the plant and control plant diseases. This also makes a much more efficient use of space in the small garden.
Tomatoes and peppers are usually grown with cages or stakes to keep them elevated.
Poles, fencing panels, and towers are used for elevating cucumbers, gourds , squash, small melons, and pole beans.
- Succession Planting
Some vegetables have a short harvest season. If only one planting is make, these vegetables will be available for a limited time.
Two or three plantings of these crops may be made a week or 10 days apart. This gives a much longer harvesting period.
Some of the crops that have a short harvest period are radishes, leaf lettuce, spinach, bush snap beans, green onions and sweet corn.
Water is a must for the garden to produce good quantities and quality vegetables.
When irrigating your garden thoroughly, wet the soil at least once a week unless there is sufficient rainfall to moisten the soil around the roots. One inch of water will usually moisten the soil to a depth of 5-6 in. Light sprinkling of water every day only wets soil surface and encourages shallow root development, which is undesirable.
For more watering tips go to the Environment & Nature | Water | Irrigation webpage.
A mulch is anything that acts as a barrier between the plant and the soil.
Mulch can be anything from plastic film or landscape fabric, to newspaper or craft paper.
Mulches help control loss of moisture from the soil, weeds and plant diseases.
It is often necessary to thin a stand for individual plants to develop satisfactorily. This is especially so of the fine seed crops where a surplus of seed should be planted to obtain a stand.
Lettuce, onions, and beets should be thinned to allow the remaining plants to grow and properly develop.
- Insect Control
Insect control in the vegetable garden requires an integrated effort using, cultural, mechanical and chemical methods of insect control. This is often referred to as IPM.
By knowing the biology of both the host and the pest insect problems can be avoided or reduced. Sometimes just picking off the eggs or the larvae will control the insects.
FSA-7510 Insect Pest Management in the Home Vegetable Garden Garden Pesticide
with Dr. Jim Robbins, Horticulture Specialist
Integrated Pest Management for Protecting Water Quality
with John Pennington, Washington County Extension Agent
- Disease Control
Gardeners use a number of tools to control both biological and physiological plant diseases. Like insect control, this is also IPM.
Cultural methods should always be the first line of defense against diseases. Genetic resistance, crop rotation, use of mulches , use of cages, and minimizing the time free water is on the plant will help to avoid or control diseases.
Controlling plant diseases during the growing cycle, harvesting at the proper stage, and using the proper storage conditions will allow the gardener to enjoy certain vegetables for many weeks after they are harvested.
FSA-6114 Submitting Plant Samples for Disease Diagnosis FSA-7562 Alternative Plant Disease Management Practices for the Home Garden MP154 Arkansas Plant Disease Control Products Guide – 2014 | Tomato Diseases - Home Garden MP154 Arkansas Plant Disease Control Products Guide – 2014 | Vegetable Diseases - Home Garden Plant Health Clinic - serves Arkansas growers, homeowners and nurserymen who have plant disease problems or other plant health issues. Tomato & Vegetable Diseases Image Library - Plant Health Clinic
- Weed Control
Weeds compete with vegetable plants for water, sunlight and plant nutrients. Destroy them so that the vegetables develop properly. Weed control in the vegetable garden requires a coordinated effort using, cultural, mechanical and chemical methods.
• Cover crops and crop rotation will help to prevent the build up of a weed seed population.
• Mulches are an effective way to prevent the growth of most weeds, except nutsedge.
• Cold, hard, steel the garden hoe is still one of the most effective ways to control weeds.
• Generally, practice shallow cultivation. After a vegetable plant has obtained good size, many of its roots are in the upper two inches of soil. Deep cultivation injures roots and decreases growth and yield.
Vegetable Guides & Fact Sheets
Fact sheets are a summary of the wide range of information available. You may need to consult other materials for detailed information. The fact sheets should provide enough know-how to get from seed to harvest.
|FSA-6001||Home Gardening Series: Guide to Vegetable Culture Fact Sheets|
|MP422||Year-Round Home Garden Planting Chart|
|Arkansas Grown Fruit & Vegetable Harvest Calendar|