April is the month to get your vegetable garden ready to grow summer herbs and vegetables including squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, and basil. Many varieties of summer vegetables, herbs and pollinator-friendly perennials will be available at the Pender Extension Master Gardener plant sale, April 11 and 12, at the Pender Extension office in Burgaw.
Prepare for success
Well prepared soil is the backbone of a healthy, productive vegetable garden. Before you plant, make sure to do a good job preparing your garden soil by spreading 2” to 4” of compost over the soil surface and then tilling it in 6” to 8” deep. Compost adds some nutrients to your soil but usually not enough to support a healthy vegetable crop. Applying an organic or slow release fertilizer now will ensure your vegetables have the nutrients they need to stay productive.
This is also a good time to apply lime if your soil pH is below 6.0. Many soils in southeastern coastal NC have high soil pH and should not be limed. To determine if your garden needs lime, pick up boxes and instructions for soil sampling from your local Extension office and submit soil samples to the NC Department of Agriculture’s soil testing lab in Raleigh.
What you can plant
Summer crops should be planted after the threat of frost has passed. The average last frost date for our area is around April1 at the coast and April 15 for inland areas. We cannot rule out a light frost later in April, so be prepared to protect newly planted tender vegetables by covering them with an old sheet or floating row cover if frost is predicted.
Some vegetables are typically planted in the garden as seed, while others do better when planted as young plants. Vegetables that are direct seeded include butter and lima beans, green beans, southern peas, corn, and peanuts. Southern peas, which include field peas, black eye peas and cow peas, along with peanuts, need warm soils to grow well and should not be planted outside until late April.
Tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant are usually planted in the garden as plants, because they take a long time to grow from seed. Many types of peppers do well in our area, including bell and banana peppers, as well as most types of hot peppers. Eggplants are another fairly easy crop, but tomatoes can be more challenging because of the many disease problems that affect them.
If you have found tomatoes difficult to grow in your garden because of diseases that cause them to wilt and die, your best option is to try growing them in large containers filled with potting soil. Of the many types of tomatoes that are grown, cherry tomatoes are the easiest and most productive, and are a great choice for beginning gardeners.
Cucumbers, squash, zucchini, cantaloupe and watermelons can be seeded directly into the garden or planted as young plants. When direct sown, these vegetables are often planted in hills, with 3 or 4 seed planted on mounds spaced 2’ to 4’ apart. Try planting squash and zucchini as early in the season as possible to avoid damage from squash vine borer, a destructive pest of squash and pumpkins that becomes active in early summer.
Attract pollinators and beneficials
When planting your vegetable garden this year be sure to include flowers to attract beneficial insects and pollinators. Pollinators such as honey bees are essential to good fruit set in many summer vegetable crops. Beneficial insects, including ladybugs, hoover flies, lace wings, and parasitic wasps are important predators of pest insects and can help control insect problems in your garden naturally. Flower varieties that are attractive to pollinators and beneficial insects include annuals such as sunflowers, cleome, zinnias, and cosmos, as well as perennials such as purple coneflower, black-eyed susans, gaillardia, yarrow, asters, and goldenrod.
Pender Extension Master Gardeners will be available to answer your lawn, garden and landscape questions during their spring plant sale, April 11, from noon until 6 p.m. and April 12 from 8:30 a.m. to noon at the Pender County Cooperative Extension Center, 801 S. Walker St., Burgaw. The sale will feature a wide range of vegetables, herbs and pollinator-friendly perennials that thrive in our area. To find out more, visit pender.ces.ncsu.edu or call 910-259-1235.
Charlotte D. Glen is the horticulture agent with the Pender County Cooperative Extension of NC State University, College of Agriculture & Life Sciences. She can be reached via e-mail at Charlotte_Glen@ncsu.edu.