When your neighbor's vegetable garden produces lush, green foliage with crisp young veggies, you may be tempted to attribute it to having good soil. The truth is, raising a garden overflowing with veggies takes hard work and it doesn't just happen because of the existing soil. Attention to planting, weeding and pest control is important, but so is fertilizing and watering the soil. To keep your vegetable garden producing, you need to keep the soil evenly moist and provide the nutrients your crops need to grow.
1 Test your garden soil in the fall and amend the soil according to the recommendations in the soil-test summary. Spread the recommended amount of fertilizer and other amendments, such as organic matter, or lime or sulfur, to adjust the pH of your garden soil, into the top 6 inches of soil. Most vegetables prefer at soil pH between 6.0 ad 7.0. Some vegetables, such as potatoes (Solanum tuberosum), require acidic soil and perform best with a pH between 4.8 and 5.5. The amount of fertilizer, lime or sulfur you need for your soil depends on its current condition. In the absence of a soil test, spread 10-10-10 fertilizer over the garden area at a rate of 1 to 2 pounds per 100 square feet and work it into the top 6 inches of soil.
2 Apply mulch under your vegetable seedlings to keep the soil moist. Warm-season crops, such as tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum L. ) and peppers (Capsicum annuum) prefer moist, warm soil and benefit from black plastic mulch or black landscape fabric applied after the soil has warmed, or two weeks before planting to warm the soil. Cool-season crops, such as peas (Pisum sativum) and onions (Allium cepa var. cepa), prefer organic mulch, such as dried grass clippings, applied to a depth of 2 to 3 inches while the soil is still cool.
3 Water your vegetable garden deeply once or twice a week to saturate the soil to the root level. Most vegetables prefer 1 inch of rain a week and benefit from supplemental watering when the weather is hot and dry Water your vegetable garden whenever you notice signs of wilting not attributed to disease or insect pest, or the soil feels dry 1 inch below the surface.
4 Apply water-soluble fertilizer, mixed at a rate of 1 tablespoon per gallon of water, every seven to 14 days if your plants lack vigor or show signs of stunted or delayed growth that is not attributed to competing weeds or disease. Yellowed leaves, purple veins and otherwise lack of lush, green growth and blooming or fruiting may indicate your garden vegetables need additional nutrients. These formulas can be applied as foliar feeders, allowing your vegetable plants to absorb nutrients through the leaves.
Items you will need
- Organic matter
- Fertilizer, 10-10-10
- Lime or sulfur, optional
- Water-soluble fertilizer
- Adjusting the pH of soil takes time. If you must apply lime or sulfur to your garden to raise or lower the pH, it is best done in the fall to allow the products time to work.
- It takes approximately 2 pounds of sulfur per 100 square feet to lower the pH of soil one level (such as from 7.5 to 6.5) in average loamy soil. It requires approximately 8 1/2 pounds of lime per 100 square feet to raise the soil pH one level in loamy soil. Both require more in clay soils and less in sandy soils.
- Handle lime with caution and wear protective clothing. It is caustic and can injure the skin and mucus membranes. Keep fertilizer and soil amendments in a safe place out of the reach of children or small pets.
- Cornell University Extension: Fertilizing Garden Soils
- Colorado State University Extension: Mulches for the Vegetable Garden
- University of Illinois Extension: Watering Techniques for Home Vegetable Gardens
- USDA Plant Database: Solanum lycopersicum L.
- Virginia Cooperative Extension: Fertilizing the Vegetable Garden
- Cornell University Extension: Vegetable Growing Guides
- Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images