Garden Planning: How to Plan a Vegetable Garden | Almanac.com

How to Plan Your Vegetable Garden in 2024

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A new growing season’s around the corner! Whether you’re hoping to start your first garden or tweak an existing one, taking the time to plan it out properly will pay tasty dividends later on. So, let’s get the creative juices flowing and work out what will go where so we’re ready for spring.

1. What to Plant Where

If you’re starting a garden for the first time, know that it’s important to consider which plants grow well together. And let’s not forget that different vegetables need sowing at different times, depending on your climate. For example, salad greens can be started quite early in spring, whereas the zucchini will need to be much later.  More on that shortly…

We are going to demonstrate the principles of garden planning with four raised beds. We will choose ALL common and reliable vegetables. Our beds are no wider than 4 feet for easy access. All beds need to be located in a sunny place as almost all vegetables need 6 to 8 hours of sun, but we’ll also talk about planting vegetables to provide shade for those who prefer less sun.

Learn more about where to put a vegetable garden.

Bed #1
The first bed is for beans and peas. Why? Because these are some of the most productive plants you can grow, so it’s well worth prioritizing them! 

Both beans and peas enjoy the sun. If you have more afternoon sun, put these climbers toward the back of the bed so they won’t overshadow shorter plants in front. Both beans and peas need supports such as a run of canes, supported with a ridge pole at the top.

Peas and beans will need regular picking to keep them coming, but between them will offer a fine supply of protein-packed pods. 

You may have some room between the rows of beans and peas; this would be a great place for a row of iron-rich spinach. If you have an especially hot climate, perhaps place the beans forward in the bed, then place your spinach behind the beans to benefit from the shade of your climbing peas and beans. Spinach is best grown during the cooler months of the year, avoiding midsummer.

Bed #2
If you’re a potato lover, let’s grow a bed of potatoes. There are different varieties of potatoes to try. Consider allocating one row for salad potatoes and then a second row for maincrop potatoes, which will mature later in the summer for storing in the cooler months of the year. 

Potatoes are generally trouble-free, so long as you keep them well watered during dry weather. But to help them along still further, plant a row of garlic between them here. Garlic is excellent at repelling aphids, including potato aphids and green peach aphids, which can both attack potatoes, so it makes sense to include them.   

See how planning gives you the time to carefully think out each and every crop combination to maximize the benefits between plants? This is what we call ‘companion planting.

Bed #3
There’s nothing like the tender taste of garden salad, so the third bed is dedicated to salads, with radish, lettuce, arugula, and a lovely row of beets.  

These crops all grow to about the same height, so there’s no worry about any of them shading each other out. Add a frothy row of sweet alyssum, a companion flower for vegetable gardens that is hugely attractive to pest predators, which will munch up aphids, something that lettuces can be prone to. Plus, this pretty flower blooms for months on end!

Bed #4
The final of our four beds features warm-season vegetables bursting with flavor, namely zucchini and tomatoes! Zucchini is prolific, similar to our green beans, as long as you keep picking to keep it going strong. And what garden wouldn’t be complete without some tomatoes? Choose a blight-resistant variety of tomatoes to avoid any problems.  

Again, some hard-working companion plants are included for good measure: parsley for its pest predator-attracting qualities and basil, which is a natural companion to tomatoes both in the garden and in the kitchen.   

There’s also room for a few chili pepper plants and some nasturtiums in here, too. Nasturtiums are fabulous companion flowers that sprawl here, there, and everywhere, helping to shade the soil while adding a splash of color. All parts of this flower are edible, and I love the flowers as a finishing flourish to a garden salad.

Watch Ben demonstrate how to plan this vegetable garden

2. Garden Planning Basics

Light Levels
All these vegetables, and particularly the last bed of heat-seekers, need plenty of light. Ideally, have your beds face the afternoon sun to get a good amount of direct sunshine at what is normally the warmest time of day. This is important, as sunlight is directly proportional to growth – more sunshine means faster results and healthier plants.

Prioritize the sunniest part of your garden for growing vegetables and fruits. You’ll get stronger growth and, as a rule, better-tasting produce, especially from fruiting crops like tomatoes. 

Of course, some crops will cope with a little shade, including many leafy greens. Here’s a handy table with crops ordered by sunshine requirements to help you position plants accordingly.

Shade can be your friend, too. If you suffer exceptionally hot summers, you may want to seek out an area that gets some shade during the hottest time of day or where you can grow taller crops to cast a little shade over lower-growers that might appreciate the cooler environment this gives – for example by using climbing beans to shade leafy greens. Even in cooler climates, some plants do better with a little shade. Crops like lettuce are prone to bolting if they dry out, so some light shade can keep the soil cooler and moist and help plants keep going for longer.

Read more about how to choose a location for your garden beds.

Shelter from prevailing winds will keep plants from getting buffeted about, but if you don’t have much shelter, you can always create some. Hedges make great windbreaks but will take a little time to grow large and dense enough to protect other plants. While they are established, you can create temporary windbreaks with screens or fast-growing taller vegetables like Jerusalem artichokes or sunchokes.

Shelter’s great, but try to avoid areas with lots of overhanging branches or searching tree roots that might cast shade or compete for precious resources down at ground level. If your garden is gradually getting shaded as surrounding trees grow, some light winter pruning may be needed just to push things back again and let more light in.

Soil Requirements
Soil is where everything starts. The best soil is free-draining yet able to hold onto enough moisture to keep plants happy between rain showers. Few of us have perfect soil, but whether yours is very sandy so dries out very quickly, or sticky clay that’s prone to winter waterlogging and baking hard in summer, the solution’s the same: add lots of lovely organic matter, such as compost or well-rotted manure to improve your soil over time. It can just be laid on the soil surface as a mulch – no need to dig it in – and the worms and other soil organisms will pull it down in the soil for you.

If your garden gets really wet during the cooler months of the year, grow in raised beds, which helps everything drain a bit better in wet winters. But, of course, raised beds are by no means essential – growing directly into the ground is just fine in most gardens.

Ensure your beds are on a level surface so that water doesn’t just immediately run off downhill. And fill beds with organic matter such as compost.

Plants need extra water, which is essential in dry weather, and watering will help seedlings and young plants establish so, if you can, locate your garden close to a water source or use a long extendable hose.

Treated mains water works, but saved rainwater is even better and should be actively prioritized, so design in some water collection barrels – and the more, the merrier! Harvest water from gutters attached to the house, from sheds, greenhouses – anywhere with a good surface area that can collect plenty of the wet stuff.

Gardens produce lots of organic materials over the course of the year: weeds, old crops, prunings… and almost all of this can be recycled back into the garden to feed future crops for free. So don’t forget space for composting. In a small garden, this might be just a simple lidded composter, while in larger spaces, a series of compost bays might be the solution. Whatever your situation, don’t let any of this good stuff leave your garden – compost it!

Storage is essential for keeping tools and equipment dry and secure. Try to keep everything as convenient as possible just to grab what is needed for each gardening session to save time. Even if you don’t have space for a shed, it’s worth making room for a simple garden store or perhaps a bench with built-in storage for your most-used tools and pots and other bits and bobs.

Ready to Plan Your Perfect Garden?

To replicate the plan for these four beds or just play around with it to suit your space, then head on over to our Almanac Garden Planner, where you can find this Beginner Garden plan template! You’ll also find a selection of other sample plans. 

If you don’t like some of the vegetables I’ve mentioned, no problem. Just swap them out for your favorites, and the Garden Planner will space them correctly and show how many you can fit in each area. Most importantly, it will then build a personalized Plant List showing exactly when to sow seeds and plant out, and it will even email you planting reminders to keep you on track. 

You can try out the Garden Planner completely free. There are no strings attached; there’s no need to put in any payment details in order to do so. We want everyone to enjoy the joy of gardening!

We hope you found this new guide helpful. Please let us know what you’re planning to grow this coming season in the comments below.

Once you’re ready to start planting, see our guide on when to start seeds indoors.

About The Author

Catherine Boeckmann

Catherine Boeckmann loves nature, stargazing, and gardening so it’s not surprising that she and The Old Farmer’s Almanac found each other. She leads digital content for the Almanac website, and is also a certified master gardener in the state of Indiana. Read More from Catherine Boeckmann

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