Got That Gardening Itch?

— Written By and last updated by Tamara Carawan
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As sunshine and warm temperatures have made their way into our recent weather pattern, the “itch” to plant something in the garden is growing strong. Garden centers and suppliers are currently pushing out their newest plant offerings as spring is just a few weeks away. However, cool temperatures are still possible through March and homeowners should be aware of the risk of planting too early. Let me briefly discuss a few simple topics that can help you get your home garden off to the right startup close of watering a tomato transplantWarm weather crops like tomatoes and peppers need consistent warm temperatures above 60 degrees Fahrenheit to grow well. March is a little too early to see that consistency, but by mid-to-late April transplants should have a good chance of survival. If you plan to grow your own tomato transplants, now is the time to seed those crops. It takes about 6-8 weeks to produce a healthy tomato transplant, provided these plants have warm temperatures and ample sunlight. Since tomatoes are a staple of the home garden, I would recommend that gardeners choose at least one tomato variety that has resistance to Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus (Crista, Amelia, Mountain Majesty, Top Gun, etc.). It is almost inevitable that this virus will infect your crop during the growing season in Pamlico County, and natural resistance is the best form of control. Most heirloom and older standard varieties (Beefsteak, Bettor Boy, Cherokee Purple) carry no resistance to this disease, which often leads to failure of homegrown tomatoes. Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus is transmitted by an insect called thrips that suck on plant fluids, moving the disease from plant to plant. Attempts to prevent insect feeding through insecticide applications provides little control.

up close of Colorado beetles on potato plantsPotatoes are currently being planted this month in Pamlico County fields and grow best during the mild period between late winter and early summer. Varieties like Dark Red Norland and Kennebec are common varieties for the home garden that might do well in Pamlico County; however, potatoes are susceptible to several diseases and insect pests like Colorado potato beetles. If you plan to grow potatoes, ensure your plants have good drainage to avoid rot of tubers and monitor plants for signs of pests. Colorado potato beetles can be difficult to control with insecticide. Applications of products containing the active ingredient imidacloprid labeled for home vegetable gardens, can be applied to soil and tubers during planting to provide control. Additional foliar applications of insecticides containing spinosad will also help control this insect.

Cool season crops like cabbage, onions, peas, and broccoli should also be planted this month. Look for varieties of cabbage and broccoli that have tolerance to bolting (early flowering). These cool season crops are prone to bolting in the spring as temperatures fluctuate between 35 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit over several days, resulting in crop failure.

If you would like to learn more about growing vegetables, consider reviewing the NC State Extension gardening portal. Through this site you can find a planting calendar for Eastern NC, insect and disease facts for vegetables, and additional resources. If you have questions about gardening or need recommendations to control disease or pests, then please contact Daniel Simpson at the Pamlico County Extension office at 252-745-4121 or email