Though most of Atlanta falls inside of zone 7b of the USDA hardiness zone map, North Atlanta crosses into zone 7A. This means that winters could be as much as 5 degrees cooler on average, and summers at much as 5 degrees warmer. This variation can affect the performance of certain plants in the garden. The key to determining how well your vegetable garden will perform is to figure which zone your garden falls into.
Contact the University of Georgia Climate Research Lab for a listing of daily high and low temperatures for your area. Other good resources for daily high and low temperatures in your area over a period of years include The National Weather Service, the National Climactic Data Center or your local University of Georgia County Extension Service. An agent at the county extension service might already be familiar with your area and microclimate and can make recommendations for which vegetables are suited to your microclimate.
Select a garden location that is in full sunlight with well-drained soil. Avoid depressions, valleys or the bottoms of hillsides where water collects. Standing water will promote root rot in vegetables.
Collect a soil sample from up to 10 locations around your garden by digging up 1 quart of soil from each location with a soil augur. Each sampling hole should be 2 inches wide by 12 inches deep. Mix all of the soil samples and allow them to dry. Take the soil to your local University of Georgia County Extension Service. An agent with the county extension service will provide you with paperwork and collect a fee for submitting your soil to the University of Georgia Agricultural and Environmental Services Laboratories. Your test results should return to you within three weeks. The soil analysis test will indicate your soil structure and pH level and will recommend soil amendments to add to your soil to improve it. North Atlanta soil is typically a heavy clay piedmont with a lower pH.
Break up your soil with a rototiller to a depth of 12 inches. Spread a 4-inch layer of soil amendments that were recommended by the soil analysis over your soil. Mix these amendments with your rototiller. Typical amendments for North Atlanta include organic soil amendments such as compost, peat moss and manure that will improve drainage, aerate the heavy clay soil and return nutrients such as nitrogen that might have leached out. You can also add gypsum to break up the soil and lime to raise the pH.
Purchase seeds and transplants for vegetables that are hardy to zone 7A. Winter temperatures in zone 7A could drop as low as 0 degrees. Summer temperatures can climb as high as 89 degrees.
Plant seeds or transplants into the soil after your last yearly frost date in spring. Create furrows or drill holes for seeds in the soil. Plant your seeds spaced as closely as recommended by the information on the back of your seed packet. Each seed should be planted at the recommended depth. Transplants will have similar information printed on a tag that is on the plant’s pot or sunk into the plant’s soil. Open a planting pocket for the root ball of the transplant with a shovel and place the plant’s root ball into the planting pocket. Fill in around the root ball with soil.
Check the plants daily and water when the soil becomes dry. The soil should remain as damp as a wrung-out sponge.
Cultivate around your plants to remove weeds that can compete for water and nutrients. Space your plants far enough apart to till the ground between rows and remove weeds. Then mulch directly around plants to choke out weeds among the roots of plants.
Harvest the vegetables as soon as they become ripe to encourage continual fruiting.