University of Illinois Extension
Bruce Spangeberg

These articles are written to apply to the northeastern corner of Illinois. Problems and timing may not apply outside of this area.

Stateline Yard & Garden

Vegetable Garden Essentials

March 5, 1998

With numerous garden catalogs having arrived over the past weeks and seeds starting to appear in garden centers, thoughts are again directed toward the home vegetable garden. Success depends on a variety of factors, but includes more than just purchasing quality seeds. Today I'll review the essential elements for success when vegetable gardening.

Growing vegetables in a quality location is important. Adequate sunlight is key for successfully growing vegetables in the garden. Vegetables need sun to grow and produce! Gardens should be as far from shade as possible. Pruning trees will help to some degree, but you can only do so much. While some vegetables will tolerate shading to a certain extent, they will still produce much better in full sun.

Another essential for vegetables is good soil drainage. Unfortunately, many soils in our area are high in clay, which usually means poor drainage. Also, soils in urban areas tend to be compacted, which adds to drainage problems. Adding organic matter (peat, compost, etc.), installing drain tile, and growing vegetables on raised beds are potential solutions. Raised beds work well in the backyard.

Another important factor relating to the soil is pH. Soil pH is a measure of how acidic or alkaline (basic) a soil is. Vegetables prefer a slightly acid soil, with pH values between 5.5 and 6.8.

Most soils in northeastern Illinois tend to be alkaline (pH values above 7.0); but you can't tell without a soil test. Once you know you're garden soil pH, sulfur can be used to lower it and limestone can be used to raise it. Only apply these if you know the pH value of your soil. Don't add limestone on a routine basis (despite what some garden shows may say) without knowing the soil pH!

A fourth important factor in growing vegetables is an adequate water supply for the entire season. Without sufficient water, as we all learn quickly in drought periods, vegetables will not yield very well and quality will be poor. An adequate water supply needs to be close to the garden site. Mulching will help conserve soil moisture.

It's only March, but thinking ahead always pays off! Review your garden situation and plan to make any necessary changes to assure success in 1998!


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