A fresh new season is bursting into the gray, reminding us it is time for transplanting and sowing our 2022 Zone 8a garden. North Texas has one of the longest growing seasons – nearly 230 days between our last predicted frost date of March 23 and our first predicted frost date of November 8th. However, to use these days wisely, we have to plan accordingly. This means planning for our few cool days, our wild spring wind, and rotating in plants that can endure our extreme summer heat.
What to include your 2022 garden plan:
A garden plan can be as fun and frivolous as a seed list or a calendar of planting dates. It can also be as serious as a spreadsheet. Market gardening takes on the extreme as they articulate exact ideal planting dates, harvest lengths and crop rotation. This maximizes production and keeps the ground full of plants at all times. A home garden can use these techniques, or at least apply similar logic. Understanding good spacing in your garden will allow for plants to thrive at their most mature state, and ensure you gather as much fruit as possible. Timing is critical for seedling health, weather protection and production. I have spent years in early March cringing over the space required for my seedlings that have taken over my patio. The daily watering, the uppotting, the hardening off… It is all enough to plan each step of the way! Initially, we did not factor protective measures for our garden. Thankfully, it is something we can work on as we go. We have worked on growing additional windbreak in the form of trees, digging a birm for flooding areas and having the right materials on hand for frost protection.
Importance of Spacing in the Garden
Consider these factors when planning how to design your garden for the growing season.
- Garden Bed Design: The design of your rows or beds will need to account for the number of plants you plan to plant, along with the spacing between plants and rows. My husband has also given me gentle reminders to account for spacing between beds to allow for mowers and wheelbarrows. Our row direction and bed placement was ultimately determined by our water source location, protection from wind by our barn and direction of water flow during hard rain.
- Row spacing: Rows have been standardized at 30 inches to accommodate products such as row cover, and tools such as seeders or spacers. You may want wider rows for crops like tomatoes, or narrower rows for vining crops like butternut squash that will spill out of beds. Walkways should be wide enough for you to kneel or squat; around 10” depending on the individual.
- Plant Spacing: Plant spacing should be specified on your seed packets, or purchased label. The spacing of plants accounts for the size of the potential mature plant. This allows for full maturity and ample fruit production. A head of lettuce will need less space between plants compared to pumpkins. For us, this helps us limit the number of tomato plants we plant, and make sure there is space for all short season plants.
Importance of Timing in the Garden
Consider these factors when planning your planting schedule for the growing season.
- Cool weather crops: Each growing zone has limitations to when seeds can be started and transplanted, typically due to temperature. In Zone 8a, we do have days with cool evenings and moderate days that allow for some typical spring crops like nasturtiums, peas and lettuces. However, most of these plants require planting before the soil is warm enough to germinate them.
- Growing in succession: Our long growing season allows for two plantings of heat loving vegetables like tomatoes and peppers. To seize both opportunities, heat loving veggies must be started from seed in February. Then, you will be prepared for an end of March planting, and June harvest. We design our layout to accommodate for our cool weather plants to be replaced by heat tolerant successors in May. Planning includes their harvest length, and articulates what should be planted in their place and when to start those seeds.
- Soil health: Soil is ultimately maintained when the ground is occupied at all times! Root systems or mulch retain moisture, prevent erosion and keep minerals from leaching between planting seasons. If an area won’t be planted for longer than 2 months, it is best to mulch the area. This can be with leaves, hay, woodchip or compost.
Importance of Protective Means
Consider these factors when planning how to protect your garden for the growing season.
- Location: Sage wisdom tells a first time grower to watch their land for an entire year before planting. This allows you to witness flooding areas, amounts of sun or shade, pests, and environmental factors (ie. pesticides, neighbors etc.). You location will need to accommodate for adequate sunlight and a continual water source for your crops. We broke ground early, not knowing our neighbor’s yard was slightly elevated. Our first spring rain resulted in our entire garden laying under a foot of water.
- Wind break: Spring winds blow away winter and bring in the warmer temperatures. But they are also responsible for breaking stems on young plants newly transplanted. Our garden can avoid most southern winds due to a wind break from our barn. However, we have found that most storms come from a westernly direction. Growing bushes, trees or building a fence to protect our bending plants will be the wisest move to make.
- Frost protection: There is nothing more disappointing than raising tomato seedlings for 3 months to lose them to an unexpected freeze… Both tomatoes and peppers are heat loving plants that cannot tolerate much time below 45 degrees. We invested in a large roll of thin 5 foot wide plastic to use as “caterpillar tunnels” for frosty nights. One foot rebar posts placed every three feet, connected by one inch pvc pipe arches, act as our plastic’s ribcage. We make sure all plants avoid touching the plastic and tack the plastic down with metal stakes. Plastic insulation like this can keep temperatures 5-10 degrees warmer inside the tunnel. We always make sure to remove the tunnels mid morning so the warming day doesn’t bake the plants inside.
A Note on Pests
Pest pressure: As a rule, it is a good idea to have some measures in hand for treating pests as soon as they are witnessed. Tender young plants need immediate response to prevent delayed growth. Having products like “Diatomaceous Earth” or “DT Thuricide” on hand help with inevitable pests. Yearly, we receive visits from caterpillars as they drop off live oak trees mid-spring, along with ant hills, pill bugs and aphids. It is always good to note home remedies, if products are cleared for organic growing and how they work with beneficial insects in your garden.
Make a Plan
Your garden design doesn’t have to be complex or overly detailed. But taking a few minutes to draw out your map, list the crops you plan to plant and note what measure you need to take for success is absolutely beneficial. Having a written copy of what you start with will also help with fall notes on garden performance, and making changes the following spring. Zone 8a has many opportunities for a long and successful harvest. Now is the time to prepare!
Gardening is a bit of a battle against spring, but a good plan can take the wind out of spring’s sails. What plants have you started this year? Feel free to share in the comments below!
To read more specifically about our garden plan for onions here in Zone 8a, check out our post “How to Grow Onions in Zone 8a”.