Spring is finally here! The weather has gotten warm (although it's kind of chilly today), but it is not yet time to plant summer annuals or tender vegetables. The average last frost date in Asheboro is April 5. This is the average last frost date, so frost is still quite possible after that time. Wait until April 15 – 20 or later to plant tomatoes, snap and pole beans, sweet corn, watermelons, and pumpkins, and May 1 or later to plant peppers, eggplant, okra, southern peas, and lima beans. Wait until after the danger of frost is past to plant cold sensitive annuals, too.
Before planting vegetables or flowers, amend soil with 2 – 3" of organic material to improve drainage in clayey soils and water retention in sandy soils, and to add nutrients over time. If you are using a material like raw manure that has high levels of soluble salts (some composts fall into this category, as well), it should be added well before planting to give salts time to leech and to avoid stunting plants. To find out how much fertilizer and lime, if any, your flower or vegetable beds need, you can take a soil test. Soil test boxes are available at the Cooperative Extension office, at Southern States in Asheboro, and at Liberty Farm and Garden. Unless you are going to Raleigh, soon, mail your sample(s) to the address given on the box. There is no fee for the analysis. It takes several weeks to receive results, so test the soil now if you want results before planting sometime in May.
When selecting plants, be sure that they are appropriate to the amount of sun and shade in your planting site-most vegetables and many flowers need full sun (at least 5 – 6 hours of directly sun per day on a sunny day). It is best to transplant vegetables and flowers when it is cool or overcast. Water transplants before removing them from the container to help keep the root ball intact. If roots are circling the root ball, loosen them a bit before planting. Check the appropriate spacing for the plant, and dig holes just deep enough accommodate the root ball. A starter, or high-phosphorus, fertilizer can be applied when or right after planting. Phosphorous is important to root growth, which transplants need to get established, and the content of available phosphorus in fertilizer is indicated by the second number in a designation such as 10-10-10 or 10-52-17. If you do not have a commercial starter fertilizer, you can mix one to three tablespoons of 8-8-8 or 10-10-10 into a gallon of water and pour about one cup of this solution into the planting hole. Set the plant, firm the soil around the root ball, and water around the base of the plant. You can place 2 – 3" of mulch around the plants to conserve moisture and suppress weeds, but do not put more than ½" of mulch immediately next to the plants. Bark, straw, leaves, and other organic materials can be used as mulch.
Vegetables and annual flowers need about 1" of water per week, including rainfall, but this varies based on soil conditions, temperatures, how sunny and windy the planting site is, and the plant itself. If soil is dry at a depth of 1 – 2", or if plants droop and don't recover by the next morning, water. There a number of drought-tolerant annual and perennial flowering plants (see http://www.ncstate-plants.net/ or call me if you want a list). However, do not neglect watering plants that are considered drought-tolerant while they are getting established; plants are especially sensitive to water needs from the time they are planted until they become rooted in the soil.
Upcoming event! "Something Old, Something New: Great Plants for North Carolina Piedmont Gardens"-Dennis Werner, Director of the J.C. Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh, will be speaking on April 13, at 6:30 p.m. in the W. David Stedman Education Center (next to the North American entrance) at the North Carolina Zoo. The public is welcome.