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By: William Craig, Consumer Horticulture Agent

Typically, most of us think that the winter months are the least busy in the garden. In some ways, that is true, but this time of the year is also an excellent opportunity for planning on what to plant and improving your gardening skills. Here are some easy steps to take to help with the planning process.

Step 1: Determine what plants you will plant and learn about the plant requirements such as lighting and USDA hardiness zones. Bladen County’s USDA hardiness zone is 8a. The USDA hardiness zone is a guide that helps gardeners and landscapers alike determine what plants can survive for that area. Plants such as petunias, marigolds, and liriope do well in zone 8a.

Step 2: Determine the location. Most vegetable and fruit crops require 6 or more hours of sunlight.

Step 3: Determine your soil’s nutrient levels and pH level. This can be done by a soil test done by the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The N.C. Cooperative Extension Service – Bladen County Center has the soil boxes available and will send them free of shipping charge to Raleigh. Samples are $4 per until March 31st. From April 1st through the last week in November, kits are free. When you take soil samples, you will want to collect between 3 to 6 inches in depth of soil. You also want to clear out any debris in the sample, such as roots and leaf litter. Be sure to follow the directions. Also, avoid fertilizing if there is not any actively growing vegetation present.

Step 4: Look for issues in your landscape or garden, such as compaction and drainage issues. Compaction is when the soil is dense, thus causing the roots not to grow properly. These issues can be improved manually by installing drains or tilling before planting or aeration. Following these steps can increase success and a greater chance of obtaining your goal of having a beautiful garden or landscape such as a healthier lawn, healthier trees, and a better environment. For more information, go to https://plants.usda.gov/hardiness.html or https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/. For questions or assistance, contact William Craig at the Bladen County office at (910) 862-4591 or email wkcraig@ncsu.edu.

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