Many vegetables and herbs can be grown in our area, though some are easier than others. If you are a beginning gardener or are simply looking for a few easy crops, consider the following suggestions for your garden this year.
The easiest herbs
Herbs are easy to grow because they have few pest problems and are rarely bothered by deer. The key to a good herb garden is excellent drainage and lots of sun. Raised beds work well for herbs because they increase drainage and can be filled with a sandy soil mix. Mixing compost into the soil is beneficial, but fertilizers should be applied sparingly since high nutrient levels reduce flavor intensity.
Many herbs are perennial, meaning they live for several years and do not have to be replanted each season. Among the very easiest to grow are rosemary and chives. Rosemary grows into a large, evergreen shrub, often reaching 4 feet in height and width. Chives are much smaller plants with tubular, grass like leaves. Oregano and sage are also undemanding, but thyme is less tolerant of summer humidity and may need to be replanted every few years. Mint is very easy to grow, but also very invasive. It should be planted in a large pot where its rapidly spreading roots will stay contained. Now is a great time to plant perennial herbs in raised beds or large containers.
Basil, dill, parsley and cilantro are annual herbs. This means they live only one season and must be planted anew each year. Basil requires warm weather, while dill, parsley, and cilantro thrive in the cooler temperatures of fall and spring. Basil is very easy to grow from seed and should be planted outdoors in April, after threat of frost has passed. It does well in containers as long as they are regularly watered. Dill, parsley and cilantro can be planted outside in February or March to harvest in spring. Plants will not survive the heat of summer. A second planting in September will provide flavorful herbs for fall and winter.
Like herbs, vegetables need plenty of sun and good drainage to thrive, though they prefer richer soils and regular watering. Raised beds work well for vegetables and should be amended with compost and fertilized with a slow release fertilize such as Osmocote or an organic fertilizer. If you have limited space, most vegetables grow well in large containers filled with potting soil; just remember to water them daily in the summer.
Unlike herbs, most vegetables are annuals and must be planted each season as seed or young plants. Some crops prefer cool weather and grow best in fall and spring. Some of the easiest cool season crops for spring include loose leaf lettuce, broccoli, cabbage and Swiss chard, which can be planted outside now as young plants. Other vegetables cannot tolerate cold temperatures and should not be planted until after the threat of frost has passed.
Some of the easiest vegetables to grow are vigorous warm season producers like peppers, watermelons, squash and zucchini, which yield lots of fruits over a long season. Watermelons need plenty of room to grow and are often planted on mounds spaced 6 to 8 feet apart. Wait until late April to set them outside. Each vine will produce two to four melons, ripening around 90 days after planting. Squash, zucchini and cucumbers can be set out in early April but should be protected if a late frost is expected. These crops generally do very well the first part of summer but often succumb to disease and insect problems by mid July.
Peppers (both hot and sweet) and their relative eggplant are typically easy to grow and produce well into the fall. Tomatoes are more challenging, except cherry tomatoes, which yield hundreds of small, sweet fruits over the summer. These crops are best planted as young plants in mid April and even grow well in large containers.
Learn lots more about growing vegetables and herbs at a free class titled ‘Vegetable Gardening for Beginners’ taught by Pender Extension Horticulture Agent Charlotte Glen, on March 16 from 1:30 to 4 p.m. The class will be held at Wesleyan Chapel United Methodist Church, located on U.S. 17 across from Poplar Grove Plantation. The class is free, but registration is required. Call 910-259-1235 to register. Donations to support the WCUMC community garden will be accepted. Pender Extension Master Gardeners will have their ‘Garden by the Month’ calendar ($9) and gardener’s cookbook ($10) available for purchase.
Charlotte Glen is a Horticulture Agent with 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.