Vegetable Gardening for Beginners

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The Basics of Planting and Growing a Vegetable Garden

February 22, 2021
Girl in Tomato Garden
Travnikov/Shutterstock

In the Vegetable Gardening for Beginners Guide, we cover how to start a vegetable garden from scratch, which vegetables to grow, and when to plant what. This year, we’ve added a “starter” garden plan consisting of easy-to-grow vegetables, companion planting techniques, and some lovely flowers!

Vegetable Gardening for Beginners

Why garden, you ask? If you’ve never tasted garden-fresh vegetables (lots of people haven’t!), you will be amazed by the sweet, juicy flavors and vibrant textures. There’s absolutely nothing quite like fresh veggies, especially if you grow them yourself—which you can!

It may seem daunting at first, but gardening is a very rewarding hobby. On this page, we’ll highlight the basics of vegetable gardening and planning: how to pick the right site for your garden, how to create the right-size garden, and how to select which vegetables to grow. 

Pick the Right Location

Picking a good location for your garden is absolutely key. A subpar location can result in subpar veggies! Here are a few tips for choosing a good site:

  1. Plant in a sunny location. Most vegetables need at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day. There are a few veggies (mostly the leafy ones) that will tolerate some shade.
  2. Plant in moist, well-drained soil. If you have poorly drained soil where water pools, plant veggies in a raised bed or raised row for improved drainage. Wet soil means wet roots, which can turn into rotted roots. If you have rocky soil, till and remove the rocks, as they will interfere with root growth and make for weaker plants.
  3. Plant in a stable environment. Avoid places that receive strong winds that could knock over your young plants or keep pollinators from doing their job. Nor do you want to plant in a location that receives too much foot traffic or floods easily. Plant in a location that would make Goldilocks smile—somewhere that’s “just right.”

Lettuce varieties

Choosing a Plot Size: Start Small!

Remember: It’s better to be proud of a small garden than be frustrated by a big one!

One of the most common errors that beginners make is planting too much too soon—way more than anybody could ever eat or want! Unless you want to have zucchinis taking up residence in your attic, plan your garden with care. Start small, and only grow what you know you and your family will eat. Here are tips on designing your garden:

  1. For a beginner food garden that will feed a family of four for the summer, make your garden about 10 feet long and about 11 rows across. (The rows you sow is really determined by the type of seeds that you plant; for smaller seeds like carrot and radish, a couple of rows makes more sense.)
     
  2. Make sure that you have paths that allow you to access your plants to weed and harvest. The general rule is: Don’t allow more than four feet of plants without access to them. Just make sure that you can reach the center of the row or bed easily.

(Note: If this garden is too large for your needs, you do not have to plant all 11 rows, or you can simply make the rows shorter.)

cucumbers

Choosing Vegetables

As a beginner, start by choosing easy vegetables that are also productive. We’ve listed ten easy vegetable below. However, it would also be wise to contact your state’s Cooperative Extension Service to find out what plants grow best in your area. For example, if you live in an area with extremely hot weather, vegetables that prefer cooler temps may struggle. 

Top 10 Easy Vegetables
(Tip: Click on a veggie’s name to see its detailed Growing Guide.)

  1. Lettuce
  2. Green beans
  3. Radishes
  4. Tomatoes (bush variety or cherry are easiest)
  5. Zucchini
  6. Peppers
  7. Beets
  8. Carrots
  9. Chard, Spinach, or Kale
  10. Peas

Mix in flowers such as marigolds—which discourage pests, attracts pollinators, and adds some color!

Five tips for choosing vegetables:

  1. Choose what you (and your family) like to eat. If no one likes brussels sprouts, don’t bother planting them! But if your kids love green beans, put more effort towards growing a big crop of beans.
  2. Be realistic about how many vegetables your family will eat. Be careful not to overplant, as you will only stretch yourself thin by trying to take care of tons of plants! (Of course, you could always give excess veggies away to friends, family, or the local soup kitchen.)
  3. Consider the availability of veggies at your grocery store. Maybe you want to grow tomatillos, instead of cabbage or carrots, which are readily available. Also, certain veggies are so far superior when homegrown, it’s almost a shame not to consider them (we’re thinking of garden lettuce and tomatoes). Also, homegrown herbs are far less expensive than grocery store herbs.
  4. Be prepared to take care of your plants throughout the growing season. Going on a summer vacation? Remember that tomatoes and zucchinis are growing strongest in the middle of summer. If you’re gone part of the summer, you need someone to look after the crops or they will suffer. Or, you could just grow cool-season crops such as lettuce, kale, peas, and root veggies during the cooler months of late spring and early fall.
  5. Use high-quality seeds. Seed packets are less expensive than individual plants, but if seeds don’t germinate, your money—and time—are wasted. A few extra cents spent in spring for that year’s seeds will pay off in higher yields at harvesttime.

Radishes

Where and When to Plant

If you are simply growing two or three tomato plants, this process is easy. But if you plan to grow a full garden, you need to consider:

  • Where will each plant go?
  • When will each vegetable need to be planted?

Here are a few guidelines for arranging your vegetables:

  1. There are “cool-season” veggies that grow in spring (e.g., lettuce, spinach, root veggies) and “warm-season” veggies that aren’t planted until the soil warms up (e.g., tomatoes, peppers). Plant cool-season crops after spring frost and then plant warm-season crops in the same area later in the season.
  2. Plant tall veggies (such as pole beans on a trellis or sweet corn) on the north side of the garden so they don’t shade shorter plants. If you do get shade in a part of your garden, save that area for small, cool-season veggies. If shade is unavoidable in parts of your garden, save those areas for cool-season vegetables which appreciate shade as the weather heats up.
  3. Most veggies are annuals (planted each year). If you’re planning on growing “perennial” crops such as asparagus, rhubarb, and some herbs, provide permanent locations or beds.
  4. Consider that some crops mature quickly and have a very short harvest period (radishes, bush beans). Other plants, such as tomatoes, take longer to produce, but also produce for longer. These “days to maturity” are typically listed on the seed packet. 
  5. Stagger plantings. You don’t want to plant all your lettuce seeds at the same time, or all that lettuce will need to be harvested at around the same time! Stagger plantings by a few weeks to keep ‘em coming!

When to Plant What

Every region has a different planting time based mainly on their weather, and every vegetable has its temperature preferences, too. See the Almanac’s Best Planting Dates—a gardening calendar customized to your local frost dates. Just enter your zip code (or postal code in Canada)! 

For specific planting information, see our individual Grow Guides for over 100 popular vegetables, herbs, and fruit. For each crop, we provide specific information about how to plant, grow, and harvest, including watering and fertilizing and pest control!

A Starter Beginner Garden Plan

To help out beginners, we thought that it may be useful to see a garden design. Here is an example of a starter family garden using mainly of the common easy-to-grow vegetables listed above. It also features companion planting (the practice of placing plants that thrive together next to each other).

You’ll see that we have given the garden decent-sized paths and mixed in a few herbs and flowers, too. Frankly, if we had grown this garden in our very first year, we would be thrilled! In planning the garden this way, we have made it so much easier for you to succeed with it.

Click here to see the full plant list, number of plants, spacing, and spacing in rows.

garden-plan-beginner_0.jpg

Garden Planning Tool

The Old Farmer’s Almanac offers an excellent online garden planning tool which makes your garden planning fun and easy. With this tool, draw your garden plan on the computer and drop in your preferred vegetables, and it automatically calculates the proper spacing for each type of crop! This way, you don’t waste seed or crowd your plants. The Garden Planner automatically pulls in the frost dates for your specific location, identifies easy vegetables, and even identifies companion plants. Then you can print out your plan and the tool reminds you of your seeding and harvesting dates for every vegetable!

Plus, you’ll see many free garden plans for inspiration! Over time, you’ll see that this tool also provides “crop rotation” so that if you plan a second season, you can properly reposition your plants to avoid pests and disease.

With new gardeners in mind, we offer a FREE week to try the Garden Planner—ample time to plan your first garden. Check it out here: http://gardenplanner.almanac.com/

gp-plan_0_full_width.png
Photo: Almanac Garden Planner. Earth’s most popular tool for planning your garden. Try it free for 7 days.

Any questions or advice about starting your garden? Check out some of the comments below. Many of your questions may have been answered already by our Almanac community or you are welcome to add your own comment. Happy gardening! 

Reader Comments

Leave a Comment

In-ground dates on the planner

Hello! I love this learn to garden series, and the articles/videos posted by Almanac! The garden planner is lovely, but i'm hoping that you'll have an update to the 'in ground dates' feature. Right now I can only select in-ground dates of complete months. I would like to plan for succession planting and dates other than the first of the month (e.g./ 3/4 through May is a good planting time for many veggies in my area). Is this coming in the future? Thanks!

Fun article

Hi Catherine ! I absolutely loved this article on gardening. I love the art of gardening coz' it brings me so much peace. And it is wonderful that you share your precious wisdom with us. Thank you so much for the insightful article :)

Vegetable Gardening

Thank you for the blog. The blog is informative, I was planning for a long time to plant vegetables in my backyard but wondering how to start.

Gardening

Thank you for the wonderful information on this site! My husband and I have been trying to start our first vegetable and herb and some fruit garden this year. Your informations are very helpful to us.

Sunshine

I was looking at some figures earlier this year of daily hours of sunshine in the UK. In our main growing months, April, May, June, July, August, we got an average of just about 6 hours a day.
The weather stations recording these figures would be on the top of tall buildings or in wide open spaces and get every minute of available sunshine every day. Most home gardeners will have shadow to contend with as the sun moves behind buildings, trees and over the hill. I don't think we need 6 hours of sunshine each day to grow vegetables which is just as well because I don't think we get anything like that.

Gardening in England

The Editors's picture

One of our editors is from England. The number of sunlight hours by crop can vary but fruiting vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, aubergine, cucumbers, squash, etc) do indeed require 8 hours. This is why many British start and grow tomatoes and peppers in a greenhouse or they’ll never ripen colorfully. However, root vegetables can deal with six hours of sunlight per day and leafy cool-weather green vegetables can operate on 4 hours a day and partial sun. For a beginner, we advice 8 hours as a general rule as this allows all popular crops (such as tomatoes) to thrive.

Thanks for this article

Dear Catherine,
Greetings from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I thank you for a thoroughly enjoyable and succinct read. A nice captivating intro. Well thought out and it's evident that you're well experienced. This is important for the whole world as everyone's lives change with Covid-19. I can understand the comment by Linda from Germany as many city dwelling folk around the planet live in high-rise apartments. There are definitely resources for that but for me, as i read through your article, many memories of my Dads' garden in my childhood showed up. I remembered the feel of soil under my toes and in my small hands, the smell of top-soil mixing with water and different vegetable leaves. I remember the sunlight coming through the canopy and shining on me. Thank you for the lessons and the memories. Best wishes, Jason.

Very helpful article

Hello, I really enjoyed reading your article about vegetable gardening for beginners, I found it very helpful. Thank you, Richard

Beginner gardener

Hi I'm a beginner gardener, and this article was really very helpful! Thanks so much!

You Read My Mind!

I can't believe I'm just now reading this article! The minute that I realized (back in mid February) that coronavirus would slow down food production/distribution and of course make it harder for me to take daily trips to the grocery store for fresh goodies depending on my mood, I decided it was time to start a garden. We are starting a deck garden to keep plants away from critters until we decide whether or not I have a green thumb. I have been surfing the web and asking farmer friends for MONTHS about starting a garden, but I could never find exactly what I was looking for. "How far apart do I plant veggies? What can be grown in the same bed/like toddlers, does anyone have to be separated? How much space do I need? What kind of soil do I use? Are there certain veggies I should by as seedlings instead of seeds?" This one article answered more of my questions at once than all of my research so far.

Thank you

The Editors's picture

Brianna, We really appreciate your kind words and the time you took to comment—and shared with our tiny team here! The Almanac’s been around a long time so this page was created after hearing the most common questions from our readers! We’re so pleased that it helped you start a garden! That’s our goal here—to help everyone grow a little (or a lot!) of their own food! It’s smart that you are doing a lot of planning because some upfront planning is probably the most important step, especially when it comes to soil preparation and pest prevention. You can’t just throw seeds down and hope for the best. If you have more questions, let us know. We don’t get to every comment ourselves but we have a wonderful community of gardeners. Stay patient. Gardening is a never-ending learning cycle and we’re always learning ourselves! Also, you might appreciate our Garden Planner tool because it actually calculates those spacing questions for you and so much more. It’s free for 7 days, plenty of time to play around on your computer. https://gardenplanner.almanac.com/
Sincerely, The Old Farmer’s Almanac editors.

Planting on little hills or just flat ground.

My daughter in law planted a garden on my farm this year and was making heaped up rows to plant on. I’ve gardened most of my life until the last several years because of disabilities and have never seen this method used! We live in western Oklahoma and her ancestors are in Texas and Kansas. Can you tell me why the mounded soil?

Hilling plants in garden

The Editors's picture

Thanks for your question! We’re guessing here. But it sounds like a form of raised bed gardens without the wood or stone sides. Elevated soil warms more quickly in the spring than the surrounding garden soil. This is a practice for cooler or wetter climates. In drier areas, hilling is not a great idea though, as much needed water can drain away. When you hill, you don’t just mound up dirt. You bury healthy amount of compost and well rotted manure underneath the mound first, and then some shovels of garden soil until each hill is 3 to 6 inches tall. It works well for snow peas and can provide an earlier start for beans and corn and also potatoes.

Also, we use the term “hilling” for vining plants including squash, melons and cucumbers. However, the word “hill” is deceptive. It isn’t meant to be a raised mound as this would dry out quickly in many climates. It means that several seeds are grouped together in one spot and then thinned. Hills are used to space out the plants which vine and need room to spread.

Finally, there are some plants which require “hilling” as they grow; with potatoes, gardeners gently mound soil around the growing plant. 

mounded garden technique

The Editors's picture

Your daughter-in-law may also be implementing hugelkultur (who-gul-cul-tour), by some definitions an Old World technique of making mounds of logs and sticks (that will eventually decay) and covering with organic matter, including compost, aged manure, and the like. Then, and for years, planting in it. Learn more here: www.almanac.com/news/gardening/gardening-advice/what-hugelkultur-ultimate-raised-bed

Kitchen Garden

Very useful tips for beginners who wanted to pick up new hobbies during Corona lockout.

Helpful article

Hi Catherine, I really enjoyed reading your article and it is really helpful. I will surely follow the gardening tips and methods!
Thank you,
Richard

Thank you

The Editors's picture

Many thanks, Richard, for this very thoughtful note. I am thrilled to hear that your found the article useful. That just makes my day! Cheers, Catherine (Almanac editor)

Good

Thanks for these vegetable gardening tips. These tips are really very helpful to beginners as well as experienced.

Hard to garden here

I have tried just about everything every year to grow a variety of vegetables. I need a full on greenhouse. Every pot, or canvas growing bag absolutely must be contained from ground to top and tops closed off with chicken wire to prevent critters from destroying my plants. We have done just about everything humanly possible and they still get in.

helpful post

This is a very informative article for free. Thank you.

Home & Garden

Wow! great site for vegetable gardener. You have done great job. Thanks for the sharing such a great post.

Exotic

Pay to farmer now or pay to pharma latter

Poor Garden Results

Why, after working so hard to get my raised beds fertilized, ran drip system, mulched and weed all season my veggies didn't produce much. Zucchini's were few, tomato plants tall and lanky with few fruits, peppers stunted, and my seedless grapes (not in raised beds) came out with tough skins. What am I doing wrong?

big disappointment

The Editors's picture

Hi, Sandy, Oh, my, this is hard to hear. I am going to assume that the bed is in a place that get at least (but ideally more than) 6 hours of direct sun per day. Oddly enough, I was working on a project today about soil nutrients, which, despite what sounds like your ideal set up, could possibly have been missing. On this page (see link, next), N-P-K is addressed and it suggests that lack of potassium can lead to stunted growth: https://www.almanac.com/content/npk-ratio-what-do-numbers-fertilizer-mean

Continue reading about calcium, magnesium, and sulfur.

And then there is pH (acidity) to consider. Even with the proper soil, improper pH values can hinder plant growth. See here: https://www.almanac.com/content/preparing-soil-planting and then see the chart for all (common) plants here https://www.almanac.com/content/soil-ph-levels

We hope this does not deter you from trying again next year! Let us know if we can help in any other way—

Help bug eating cucumber plant

We have a cucumber plant that has been doing rather well but all of a sudden something ate it. Literally over night. I sprayed it yesterday with an organic pesticide and my daughter found several little black (almost microscopic) bigs still eating it today. How do I get rid of the bugs? What are they? How do I prevent?

Garden bugs

To get rid of undesirable garden bugs, try 20% vinager from a spray bottle. This is not the weaker type vinigar ound in the grocery. A good garden or chemical supply will have it.

Also you might want to put the area with Diatomaceous Earth. While it looks like powder and is safe to use around children and pests, to crawling insects it is like a phalanx of Spartan soldiers .

I find more natral things like this far better than chemicals.

Shade Vegetables

Along the south facing wall of my house I have planted dwarf citrus trees - they get lots of sun and are growing well. 6 feet from the house is a solid wood fence - the side of the fence facing the house is always in the shade, but warm due to reflected heat from the house. What do you recommend that I plant along the base of the wall, knowing that it will not get any direct sunlight?

Shade Vegetables

The Editors's picture

Most veggies need at least partial shade to produce a worthwhile crop. Your best bet would be to try leafy greens, like lettuce, arugula, spinach, or Swiss chard. If the area is completely shaded though, you may not have much luck with veggies. Perhaps a fern garden would be a nice addition?

I live in Ecuador, can this Garden Planner understand my area?

Good day all,
This Garden Planner sounds wonderful and would like to utilize it but moved down from a wonderful growing area in Roswell, GA to the high Andes Mountains with an arid elevation of 8,200. I learned that I needed to import Top Soil(compost) and remove the clay soil that I have in order to grow my heirloom tomatoes, sweet corn etc.I was wondering if this Garden Planner has any adjustments to allow me to adjust to a reverse growing season( plus I can't grow Blueberries, as there is no winter here :( )
It the Garden Planner doesn't does anyone know of a website that they can direct me to on growing in this type of climate?
Thank you for reading this.

garden planner is global

The Editors's picture

Yes, our garden planner works anywhere! The caveats to this is that we have detailed weather information/climate data for the US, Canada, all of Europe, Australia and South Africa. For other countries, once a user has set their location, we advise them to check and adjust their frost dates to make sure that the system’s calculated planting calendar will be as accurate as possible.

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