Ready to jump into gardening? It can be daunting at first, but gardening is an incredibly rewarding hobby to get into. Our Vegetable Gardening for Beginners Guide will help you to plan and grow your tastiest vegetables ever. Find out how much food you need to grow to feed a family, the top 10 vegetables for a beginner, and more tips.
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!
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.”
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.
- Make your garden 11 rows wide, with each row 10 feet long. The rows should run north and south to take full advantage of the sun.
- 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.)
The vegetables suggested below are common and productive plants that are relatively easy to grow and will give you a range of gardening experience. Before settling on what you want to grow, it would 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.)
- Zucchini squash
- Green beans
- Chard, Spinach, or Kale
- (Bonus) Marigolds—a flower that discourages pests, attracts pollinators, and adds some color!
Some guidelines for choosing vegetables:
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
Get Free Help From the Almanac
Beginners, we’d suggest trying out our online garden planning tool. We’ve done a LOT of the research for you. For example, you can draw your garden plan on the computer and drop in your preferred vegetables, and the tool figures out the proper spacing for each type of crop! This way, you don’t waste seed or crowd your plants. Also, the Garden Planner automatically pulls in the frost dates for your specific location!
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 re-position 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/
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!