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Spring Gardens Need Extra Water Before Planting
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Spring gardeners getting ready to put in their vegetable crop must include plenty of water in those plans.
Dr. David Nagel, vegetable specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said the state has a rain deficit of 5 to 6 inches. Soil that is growing vegetables loses about 1 inch a week, compared to 7/10 inch a week on fallow ground.
"We normally have a wet January and February and start this time of year with the soil holding as much water as it can," Nagel said. "This year, the whole state has been dry."
Nagel described a simple test that determines whether soil is too dry to plant. Take a handful of soil from planting depth and squeeze in the palm of the hand. Sandy soil should have sufficient moisture to maintain its shape once the hand is opened, even when the hand is gently rocked back and forth.
With silt loam or clay loam, the gardener should be able to gently press a finger into the clump without it falling apart. Clay soils should mold into the shape of the hand squeezing it.
"If you determine by these tests the soil is too dry, you need to pre-irrigate before planting," Nagel said.
Pre-irrigation also activates lime in the garden.
"Limestone requires moisture to react. If you have applied lime in the past couple of months, you need to irrigate just so your lime can react and adjust your soil pH," Nagel said. To pre-irrigate, soak the dry garden with 1 inch of water, which soaks to a depth of about 6 inches. Once seeds or plants are in the ground, the area requires 1 inch of rain or irrigation each week. Nagel said soaker hoses and drip tubing are the most efficient means of watering gardens.
Nagel said this year is a good year to try new seed varieties, noting that grape tomato seeds and gator green green beans are available to growers.
Insect pressure will be intense this year because of the mild winter. Thrips are already causing problems in some gardens.
"Plan to be diligent with your insect control measures," Nagel said.
While the weather has been poor for gardens so far this year, conditions should improve. Dr. Charles Wax, state climatologist and head of MSU's geosciences department, said the mild and dry weather of recent months is typical of La Nina conditions.
"Weather conditions that are causing it not to rain will be gone by late spring," Wax said. "We don't know if it will be replaced by something else that causes it not to rain."
However, the 90-day forecast for March through April doesn't look bad. Both temperatures and precipitation are expected to be just slightly above normal, Wax said. However, he advised that these long-range outlooks are very generalized.