Extension Master Gardener Program

Welcome!

Whether you've been gardening for years or you're just starting out, the Extension Master Gardener program can help!

You can find a team of local Extension Master Gardeners (EMGs) in almost every county in Virginia who are eager to offer advice, education, and resources. Reach your local EMGs via your VCE office or by searching online or on Facebook.

If you're as passionate about gardening education as we are, we invite you to join us by becoming an Extension Master Gardener.

Resources for Vegetable and Fruit Gardening in Virginia

Introduction

There are a number of factors to consider when beginning a vegetable garden including: Where should you locate your garden and what crops can grow in a shady spot? How much and what crops do you want to plant? How will you water your crops? What kind of mulch will you use in your beds? Will you create raised beds?

Start by choosing a location for your new garden bed, for help see: Planning the home vegetable garden

Another major decision is whether to use raised beds, and if you will, how should you make them? See Container and raised bed gardening

For additional help see:

Buying seeds

Choosing and purchasing vegetable seeds is one of the most enjoyable gardening pastimes. Thumbing through colorful catalogs and dreaming of the season’s harvest is one way to make winter seem a little warmer. Seed purchased from a dependable seed company will provide a good start toward realizing that vision of bounty. Keep notes about the seeds you purchase - their germination qualities, vigor of plants, tendencies toward insects and disease, etc 

Working with a small space? You can grow vegetables in containers! Learn more in Vegetable gardening in containers.

Looking to get the most out of a small yard or garden plot? Learn about methods like vertical gardening and which crops to plant in Intensive Gardening Methods.

When you have planned your garden and selected an appropriate site and you’re ready to dig in and prepare your garden beds, consider the nutrient content of your soil, what kind of mulch you will use on your garden bed (yes, vegetable gardens can get mulch too!), and if you will choose to make your own compost for future gardens.

The ideal soil for a vegetable garden is deep, friable, and well-drained with a high organic matter content. Proper soil preparation provides the basis for good seed germination and the subsequent growth of garden crops. Careful use of various soil amendments can improve garden soil and provide the best possible starting ground for your crops. 

Mulching is a practice adaptable to nearly all home gardens. To mulch is simply to cover the soil around plants with a protective material, organic or inorganic. Using a mulch can help you and your garden in many ways. Mulches reduce weed growth by making conditions unfavorable for germination of weed seeds and by providing a physical barrier for emerging weeds. A good mulch layer can save many hours of laborious weeding. 

Compost is produced when organic matter, such as garden and lawn waste, is broken down by bacteria and fungi. When added to soil it improves soil structure; sandy soils will hold water better while clays will drain faster. Compost also promotes a biologically healthy soil by providing food for earthworms, soil insects, and beneficial microorganisms.

Staring at an expanse of lawn and wondering how to convert it to beds of vegetables or flowers is intimidating. Here are some tips from our friends in Maryland on removing grass to make way for garden beds. If you need help starting your garden, please reach out to your local Extension Master Gardeners!

When you’ve prepared your beds, it’s time to plant your vegetables outdoors! Determining exactly when to begin the process of hardening off transplants or to plant your seeds is a yearly question for gardeners. You can use our vegetable garden planting guide to determine what date to begin your plants depending on your USDA plant hardiness zone:

For a full guide to starting vegetables from seed, see: Plant Propagation from Seed

Did you know not all vegetables need to be transplanted outdoors? Many garden crops can be grown from seeds you plant directly in your garden. For example you can plant beans, kale, cucumbers, and squash directly in your garden. However, other plants like tomatoes and peppers should be transplanted outdoors after being started from seed indoors. For more information on which plants to start indoors and which to plant directly in your garden, look at the * denoting transplants in our Home vegetable garden planting guide.

Ready to move your tomato plants outdoors? Not so fast! Transplants should be hardened off--or gradually acclimated to outdoor weather--before they are planted directly in the garden. For more information on hardening, see “Hardening” in Plant Propagation from Seed.

A note on herbs: Most herbs can be grown successfully with a minimum of effort. Several are drought-tolerant, some are perennials, and many are resistant to insects and diseases. They are versatile plants, providing flavors for seasoning food and fragrances for room-freshening potpourri. For information on growing your own herbs:

Guides for specific vegetable crops: If you want to learn more about your favorite veggie, check out these detailed guides. 

Did you know many common vegetables are actually related, for example broccoli and cabbage, potatoes and peppers, or melons and squash?

Small space gardening: 

If you don’t have space for a vegetable garden or if your present site is too small, consider raising fresh, nutritious, homegrown vegetables in containers. A window sill, patio, balcony, or doorstep can provide sufficient space for a productive container garden. Problems with soil-borne diseases, nematodes, or poor soil can also be overcome by switching to container gardening.

Looking to get the most out of a small yard or garden plot? Learn about methods like vertical gardening and which crops to plant in Intensive Gardening Methods.

Something is wrong with your plant. What’s the cause? You can begin to determine the cause of the problem by taking on the role of Sherlock Holmes – be a keen observer and ask many questions. Diagnosing plant problems is often a difficult task. There can be many different causes for a given symptom, not all of them related to insects or diseases. The health of a plant may be affected by soil nutrition and texture, weather conditions, quantity of light, other environmental and cultural conditions, and animals, including humans. Complicating this scenario is the fact that any two of the above factors can interact to give rise to a problem. For example, a prolonged period of drought may weaken plants so that they are more susceptible to pests.

For an introduction to becoming a plant-problem sleuth, read Diagnosing Plant Problems. You may also find Integrated Pest Management for Vegetable Gardens helpful.

If you are unable to figure out the source of your plant’s problem, reach out to your local Extension Master Gardeners for help. Many EMG units provide “help desks” or call-in hotlines and can help you determine what might be causing your plant’s problem and what you should do. 

Some insects you are likely to encounter in your garden include:

Did you know that some insects are actually beneficial? In addition to pollinating certain crops, beneficial insects will eat bad insects. If you’re interested in learning more about beneficial insects and how you can attract them to your garden, read Improving Pest Management and Pollination with Farmscaping.  

Some diseases you are likely to encounter in your garden include:

We know that, to many people, the idea of “spraying” anything on their landscape is intimidating; however, when used properly “sprays” can have an important place in the home gardener’s toolbox. Here is some more information on pesticides: 

As a general rule, plant selection and production area in a home garden should be limited to what you can properly care for. It is better to have a small, well tended planting area rather than a large, neglected one. Small fruits offer certain advantages over fruit trees for home culture because small fruits require less space for the amount of fruit produced, and they bear fruit one or two years after planting. Success with small-fruit planting will depend on the attention given to all phases of production, including crop and variety selection, site selection, soil management, fertilization, pruning, and pest management. 

For information on growing your own small fruit, read Small fruits in the home garden

For information on growing fruit trees, read Tree fruit in the home garden

Contact

Questions about gardening should be directed to your local Virginia Cooperative Extension Office or to your local Extension Master Gardeners

Dave Close dclose@vt.edu

Kathleen Reed reedka@vt.edu

Devon Johnson dvj@vt.edu