Savannah Valley District

Planning Your Spring and Summer Garden

Marion Barnes – Senior County Extension Agent – Clemson University

In the late 1800’s, a professor named Liberty Hyde Bailey from the Horticultural Department of Michigan State University stated, “A garden is half-made when it is well planned.” The best gardener is one who does the most gardening by the winter fire.”  We all know that it is past time to be sitting by a winter fire, but it is not too late to plan your spring and summer garden. When plans are made on paper you have an eraser; changes can be made easily. Gardening is not always as simple as planting a seed or transplant and watching it grow. The following are some key components for planning a successful spring and summer garden.

What type of garden?

Container, raised bed, or traditional in-ground row gardens are all possibilities. Many types of vegetables can be grown in containers deep enough to accommodate their root systems. Containers range in size from small flowerpots to half whiskey barrels. The larger the mature plant, the larger the container needs to be. Last year was my first attempt at container gardening, with an 8-foot cattle feed trough! It worked well but almost “broke the bank,” filling it with potting soil!

Vegetables that do well in containers include beans, beets, carrots, cucumbers, eggplants, lettuce, peas, peppers, and tomatoes. Container gardens require more frequent watering than traditional in-ground row gardens. A drip irrigation system with a timer can help do the watering for you.

Raised beds are popular with homeowners with limited space for a traditional garden but require construction materials. Do not use wooden or other materials that might leach preservatives into the soil. Soils in raised beds heat more quickly in the spring than traditional garden soil and stay warmer longer in the fall. Like container gardens, raised bed gardens also require frequent irrigation.

Traditional in-ground row gardens allow for the use of equipment such as tillers and small tractors for soil preparation, planting, cultivation, and other gardening chores. Larger areas also allow for crop rotation, aiding in weed and disease control and planting a larger selection of vegetables. Less start-up work and lower water requirements are also advantages of traditional in-ground row gardens.

Site Selection

Choose a site with fertile, well-drained soil in full sun and easy access to water. Avoid areas with trees or large shrubs that will compete with garden crops for sunlight, water, and nutrients. Most vegetables require 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight. Water is one of the most essential aspects of gardening. Most vegetables need at least one inch of water per week. Water the soil, not the plant since over-watering promotes disease and leaches nutrients from the root zone. 

Test the soil!

Always have a current soil test before planting a garden so that you can adjust the soil pH if necessary and add the proper amount of fertilizer to produce vigorous, healthy plants.  

What to plant?

Grow what you like to eat. If you have limited space, select vegetables that produce the greatest yield for the effort, such as pole beans, tomatoes, or southern peas. Also, choose vegetable varieties that are adapted to your soil type and climatic conditions. Extend your harvest season by planting successive crops that can be harvested over a longer period. Space out plantings of the same vegetable crop, such as beans or southern peas, every 2 to 4 weeks. 

Organize your garden!

If planting in rows, a north-to-south orientation makes for more efficient use of sunlight. When planting, group tall crops like sweet corn, okra, or trellised crops such as pole beans together so as not to shade out shorter crops. Don’t plant the same types of crops in the same location year after year. Monoculture will encourage weed and pest (nematode) buildup in your soil. A three to four-year crop rotation plan in your raised bed or garden area is advisable.


Don’t crowd your plants; give them room to grow and mature. Space seed according to seed packet or plant tag recommendations. Leave plenty of room for air movement between plants to prevent disease and allow for cultivation or hand weeding. Consider mulching your plants to conserve soil moisture and reduce weed pressure.

Garden care

Water new seeds or transplants daily until established if it does not rain. Water or irrigate mature plants as needed. The frequency will depend on rainfall, temperature, and soil texture. Fertilize according to your soil test recommendations. Avoid over-fertilization, it can lead to excessive plant growth but can cause lodging, reduced flowering, and decreased fruiting in some varieties.

Pest and disease management

Start by selecting insect and disease-resistant seeds and plants. Seed packet labels and plant tags carry codes that indicate varietal disease resistance. For example, VFN would indicate a variety resistance to verticillium wilt, fusarium wilt, and nematode resistance. When selecting transplants, look for ones that are healthy and free of insects and disease.

Scout your garden just like farmers do their crops.

Scout your plants on a regular basis, looking for insect damage or disease. Learn to distinguish between beneficial insects and the ones that cause you problems. Apply pesticides only when necessary and insect damage thresholds are reached. Read the pesticide label and choose the least toxic pest management option available. Be mindful of harvest restrictions and take precautions to protect pollinators. Always use the recommended personal protection equipment (PPE) when applying pesticides. Remember, the label is the law.   

Stay on top of things.

Visit your garden regularly. Little problems are always easier to solve than big problems. Take care of insect, disease, and weed problems when they are small and before they spread.

Hopefully, these gardening tips will help you produce a bountiful harvest in your garden this season. For more information on planning your spring and summer garden, check out the newly revised Clemson Home and Garden Information Factsheet HGIC 1256, Planning Your Garden at:

References: Information for this article was taken in part from Vegetable Gardening: A Beginners Guide, by

Shawn Banks and Lucy Bradley, NC State University

Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to people of all ages, regardless of race, color, gender, religion, national origin, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or family status and is an equal opportunity employer.