Most vegetable gardening efforts for 2020 are coming to an end. I know there is harvest still going on for some, but the majority of summer gardens are beginning to fade.

I do realize some may be planning a fall/winter garden, but again, for the majority of gardeners, when fall arrives, they are done till the next year. I do think this is a great time to begin planning for vegetable gardening 2021.

What do I mean? Having a game plan can be the key to gardening success. I have coached a lot of basketball and softball over the years so I will give a sports example. A coach will layout a detailed plan for their team. They have to decide who is going to be on the roster, when will practice be, what can we get accomplished in practice, what areas of the team do we need to improve on to be more successful the next season and what are the team goals are all things they consider.

You can relate similar points to your gardening effort. The goal of this column is to give you points to consider that may improve your vegetable gardening success in 2021. I will be sharing information from a UGA publication by Bob Westerfield, UGA Extension Horticulturist and David Linvill, UGA county agent.

Again, the goal is to get you thinking about what you did this growing season and if there are areas you need to improve before next year. It may be a thought process of what worked well and what did go as planned. You may find out a little change in plans may be what is needed.

For starters, where do you have your garden spot in the first place? A vegetable garden needs a space that will not only provide 8 to 10 hours of sunlight daily, but the area needs to be well-draining. Did I plant the garden in an area with a history of weed issues such as nutsedge? Is the garden close enough to a house where I can obtain a fresh water supply for irrigation needs? I know some people are limited on space for a garden, but the more ideal a spot for a garden, the better success you may have. Did you plant vegetable varieties recommended for our area and did you plant them in the right spot?

When I coached travel basketball, my players all had positions or roles on the team. Some players could play multiple positions, but I rarely had my point guard play inside nor did my post player have to set the offense like I would expect out of my best ball handlers. In gardening, we recommend planting the bulk of the garden with varieties recommended for the area. There are always new varieties on the market, but try them to a lesser extent to see how they work.

In actual planting, it is suggested to plant taller growing plants together on the north or west side of a garden so they will not shade out the lower growing vegetables. I will add that now would be a good time to draw out a map on where you planted everything in 2020 so you can take that in considering in crop rotation decisions. If you never use crop rotation in the garden, starting this practice may help in reducing some disease pressures.

How do you irrigate or do you irrigate at all? Many people will use sprinklers in a garden spot. Soaking the foliage of vegetable plants with water from sprinklers at the wrong time of day can lead to disease issues in the garden. It would be better if you use soaker hoses or irrigation tape. This is a better way to get water to the roots while keeping the foliage dry. You may can keep on the lookout for deals on soaker hoses and irrigation tape in the off season.

You will always need to be prepared to irrigate. When is the last time you collected samples to send soil to the UGA Soil Test Lab? For $9, you can get a nutrient status reading plus pH. In our area of the state, we tend to be lower in pH or more acidic. It could be your garden area needs lime to improve soil pH. A soil report will give you that recommendation. With lime being slowing moving in the soil profile, you may have to get that out in the fall.

In previous columns I did a two-part series on the benefits of cover crops in the home vegetable garden. The more successful athletes are the ones that workout in the off season. It is tough to be an excellent basketball player if you do not drill or play in the off season. A cover crop can be seen as building your soil out-of-season. You may see the benefits the next gardening season just like an athlete does when they put in the extra work.

Do not forget about your gardening tools. This time of year, is a good time to make sure your equipment such as tillers will be in working order for 2021. Do you need new or improved tools that help with weeding or soil digging efforts?

Finally, is the garden size too much for you to handle or do you need more production area? Gardening can be a healthy activity, but if the garden size is too much for you to manage, you may want to make plans to reduce the garden in 2021.

For more information, contact UGA Extension-Gordon County at 706-629-8685 or email Extension Agent Greg Bowman at gbowman@uga.edu.

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