Grab your shovel, it’s time to plant


janet-carsonWith season extenders, row covers and high tunnels, more and more gardeners are growing vegetables year-round in Arkansas. But if you are more of a traditional gardener, now is the month to begin your vegetable garden with the planting of cool-season vegetables. We can plant as soon as the soil is workable, as early as February, but most transplants and onion sets show up in nurseries and garden centers around the end of February through mid-March. So grab your shovel and start planting.


March is prime gardening season for carrots.

March is prime gardening season for everything from carrots and potatoes, to greens, cabbage, broccoli and spinach. Some vegetables are grown from seed, like lettuce, carrots, spinach, greens and snow peas, while others such as onions and garlic are grown from sets or small bulbs. Long-season growers such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and bok choy are sold as small plants called transplants. All vegetables need a minimum of six hours of sunlight, but the more the merrier. Full sun, and well-drained, rich soil is ideal for good production.

Before planting, clear the area of winter weeds and grass, till in some organic matter in the form of compost and spread a complete fertilizer over the site. Then begin to plant. In a traditional in-ground garden, we tend to plant things farther apart to allow us to walk through the garden to weed and harvest. If you are growing in raised beds, you can plant closer together, since you harvest from one side of the bed or the other — you never walk in a raised bed.

If you plant from seed, make sure you monitor the seedlings as they emerge, as we all have the tendency to be a bit heavy-handed. Thinning out seedlings that are planted too close together will improve the overall growth and the eventual harvest. Once your seedlings are up and your plants are planted, mulch the garden. There are a number of ways to mulch from shredded leaves, rice hulls, cottonseed hulls, shredded paper and straw. When mulching vegetables, we usually steer clear of pine straw and bark products as they take longer to break down, and we like the added organic matter to work in the soil as we harvest and replant.

Insects and diseases are typically low in the cool months of late winter and early spring, so we usually don’t have to be as diligent in watching the garden. However, do pay attention to late frosts. Hard freezes can do damage on newly emerged seedlings. A little extra layer of mulch or covering with flower pots or row covers can protect them for the duration of the cold.

Gardens don’t dry out as quickly in cool weather, but you will need to water a newly planted garden if we don’t get rainfall. Mulching can conserve moisture, as well as keep weeds down. Use a sharp hoe to keep weeds in check or simply hand-pull if you see them getting started.  They can compete with your vegetables for nutrients and water, not to mention sunlight, if the weeds grow taller than your seedlings.

Side dress with a light application of a complete fertilizer four to six weeks after planting. When fertilizing, it is always better to make frequent, light applications, versus one or two heavy applications. Fertilizer can burn your tender plants, so always err on the side of too little. You can always add more. When we plant in raised beds, the closer planting means more competition. We also tend to water more frequently, which can also leach out nutrition, so fertilize regularly, but lightly. If you can time your application to right before a rainfall, that can water it in.


It’s time to plant your cool-season vegetables.

Some vegetables can be harvested soon after planting — radishes and leaf lettuce can usually be picked within 30-45 days of seeding, while cabbage takes a bit longer. If you plant onion sets (small bulbs) or transplants (bundles) close together at planting, you can harvest the ones in between as green onions to leave room for the remaining ones to form larger bulbs.

Vegetable gardening is still gaining in popularity. Each year, sales of vegetable seeds and transplants continue to grow. If you are new to gardening or an old hand, get ready to plant. If you need more information on what to grow or how to grow it visit our extension website at and go to the yard and garden site. There is nothing better than going out into the yard and harvesting dinner!


Janet B. Carson is an extension horticulture specialist for the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service.