February 21, 2018

Four gardening tips for southeastern North Carolina

Who’s ready for winter to end? That crisp, bracing air that provides a welcome relief from the balmy Carolina summer when it arrives mid-November has just about worn out its welcome by the end of February. So let’s look forward to spring, and one of our favorite springtime activities: planting that backyard garden! Whether you’ve been tilling the North Carolina soil for years or you’re sewing your very first seeds, these tips should come in handy.

Know your zone

The United States Department of Agriculture divides the country into zones based on soil hardiness to help growers determine what plants are most likely to thrive at each location. The zones take into account elevation changes, proximity to water and temperature data. Coastal North Carolina is in zone 8, which means we have a long growing season with hot summers: perfect conditions for growing a huge variety of veggies, fruits and flowers!

Know your soil

Most of the time, being five miles from the beach is a major perk. But while sand is perfect for sunbathing and castle-building, it’s not so great for growing things. If you’ve just moved here from inland or up north, you’ll notice our soil is a lot sandier than what you’re used to (try squeezing a handful; sandy soil will easily fall apart, while clay-based soil will compact). The good news? Sometimes all your sandy soil needs is a little extra organic matter, like compost. But it could also lack a few other nutrients (peppers are particularly sensitive to this, but try sticking a few matches in the ground near your plants—old wives’ tales suggest it’ll boost the phosphorous and sulfur content enough to increase your yield).

Plan before you plant

Plants are like people; it’s a lot trickier to relocate them once they’ve put down roots. So make sure you know how much space each one needs before you stick it in the ground. Certain plants, like dill and tomatoes, can get pretty tall, so they’ll eventually shield sunlight from parts of your garden. Also ensure you have the proper support for vine plants like cucumbers and squash, which grow better with a trellis or cage to climb. Have fun mixing fruits, veggies and even flowers, which not only look pretty but also increase yield potential by attracting helpful pollinators like bees.

And know your growing seasons

Lots of fruits and veggies thrive in North Carolina soil, but you’ll get the most out of your garden by knowing exactly when to plant and when to harvest. First into the ground are the leafy greens like kale, lettuce and spinach. If you’re growing them from transplants, stick them in around mid-March. Peas, carrots, broccoli, beets and cauliflower should also be planted around this time. A few weeks later, in April, you can plant your tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, basil, dill and parsley. Here’s a great guide for when to plant a variety of veggies and herbs and when you can start harvesting and eating them!