Vegetable Gardening for Beginners

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The Basics of Planting and Growing a Vegetable Garden

March 25, 2021
Girl in Tomato Garden
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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? How about enjoying the best vegetables and fruit you’ve ever eaten? If you’ve never tasted garden-fresh food, 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. Sunny spot: Most vegetables need 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight per day. There are a few veggies (mostly the leafy ones) that will tolerate some shade.
  2. Drains well and doesn’t stay wet: 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. Stable and not windy: 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.”
  4. Nutrient-rich soil. You soil feeds your plants. If you have thin, nutrient-poor soil, you’ll have poor, unhealthy plants. Mix in plenty of organic matter to help your plants gro. See how to prepare you soil for vegetable plants.

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.

Size of Garden

  1. If planting in the ground, a 10’ x 10’ garden (100 square feet) is a managable size. Pick 3 to 5 of your favorite vegetables and buy 3 to 5 plants of each one.
  2. If planting in a raised bed, a 4’ x 4’ or 4’ x 8’ is a good beginner size. See our Raised Garden Bed Guide which covers the benefits of raised beds, how to build a raised bed, and what type of soil to fill a raised bed with.
  3. If you want to go bigger, a 12’ x 24’ garden in the ground is probably the biggest a first-timer should go. For example, a garden that feeds a family of four could include: 3 hills of yellow squash; 1 mound of zucchini; 10 assorted peppers; 6 tomato plants; 12 okra plants; a 12-foot row of bush beans; 2 cucumbers on a cage; 2 eggplant; 6 basil; 1 rosemary, and a few low-growing herbs such as oregano, thyme, and marjoram.
  4. Whatever the size of your garden: Every four feet or so, make sure that you have paths that allow you to access your plants to weed and harvest. Just make sure that you can reach the center of the row or bed easily without stepping on the soil.

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. Not all vegetables are planted at the same time.  “Cool-season” vegetables such as lettuce and brocoil and peas grow in cooler weather of early spring (and fall). “Warm-season” such as tomatoes and peppers and cucumbers aren’t planted until the soil warms up in late spring and summer.
  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

Ecuador

Hi David. I am in Costa Rica. We have simularities of climate and geology when it comes to gardenin. One of those is volcanic soils lack iron.. If you can get iron filings that would take care of that problem.
Sorry I don't think blueberries will grow well. At least not below 4500 or more feet elevation. They need some cold weather but not necessarily freezing, but definitely below 45 F. On the other hand blackberries should grow well. Get the seeds from the fruit hopefully found in a grocery store.

Reversing seasons won't help. We are both too close the Equator ans other than rainy and dry season, temperatures and daytime don't change much. I have had many things fail. Sometimes planting seeds that remain dormant about two months, grow a short spurt and die. I am closing in on this problem by planting seeds every two weeks. I am certain there is something about the timing but not temperature, length of day nor even rain (after all, the garden hose resolves that problem)

I live at an altitude of 5100 feet in the same place the best and most expensive coffee grows. Tarrazu Costa Rica. I know manycoffee farmers and much of what I am doing is to get ather crops growing between and under the coffee trees. I think tall plants like sunflowers and perhaps Okra. I would also like to get Hops growing. Used in beer brewing and labor intensive. There is a world wide shortage of Hops. I would think Ecuador would be perfect again above 4500 foot elevation. At that altitude, I believe Ecuador would be much like Oregon and parts of Northern California. It snows and freezes but not much. I have seen citrus trees and palm trees growing as ar north as Eugene Oregon.

Sweet potatos

When is the right time to plant sweet potato's? Also Are they done from seed?

Sweet Potatoes

The Editors's picture

Check out our Planting Calendar to see when the best time to start sweet potatoes in your area is, then read our Sweet Potato Growing Guide for information on planting, growing, and harvesting sweet potatoes! Generally, they are started from “slips,” which are sprouts grown from mature sweet potatoes. These can be purchased at nurseries or grown at home from an existing sweet potato. See our Growing Guide for more info.

sweet potatoes

sweet potatoes

Joining club

I enjoyed how to build a trellis, everytime I click join is does not go to the site.

Best vegetables to grow together

We planted our first garden last year and it was a real learning experience for us. We would like to know what vegetables to plant together for watering purposes. We were told that some vegetables require more water and others less, so we wanted to plant those that used more water together to make it easier when watering. Our garden includes tomato, potato, squash, zucchini, okra, radish, onion, jalepeno, cucumber, corn, bell peppers and green beans. We appreciate any help you can give us.

Hatching and raising

Can you hatch eggs you buy at the store

Eggs

The Editors's picture

No, chicken eggs bought from the grocery store have not been fertilized and are therefore non-viable.

what do I need to prevent my

what do I need to prevent my tomatoes destroyed. The fruit whether matured or not matured become gradually brown and fall thereafter. I tried to spray it with insecticide but still not contained. what would be the cause of this problem and the remedy needed to contain this problem. Thank you and God bless.

brown, drying tomatoes

The Editors's picture

It sounds like blossom end rot, the result of unsuitable soil conditions. See this page for more details and pictures: https://www.almanac.com/pest/blossom-end-rot

But it could be something else, too. See the pictures here and notes on avoiding the problems: https://www.almanac.com/blog/gardening/garden-journal/tomato-diseases-an...

In any case, you would be wise to make sure that your soil will support tomatoes (or whatever you grow): not every plant grows everywhere/in every soil. See here for advice on soil preparation: https://www.almanac.com/content/preparing-soil-planting

We hope this helps!

 

Blossom end rot?

You diagnosed his problem as blossom end rot? Sounds like blight to me. It browns and curls leaves, they drop off and plant fails. It's not an insect, it's a fungus - very different cures, if any.

Brown leaves

My tomato plants were in the rain recently and got drenched. Now the leaves are turning brown. The leave underneath are green. Some tomatoes have grown large. Why brown leaves?

leaf damage

The Editors's picture

Check the photos on this page; if you find a match, you have found the problem: https://www.almanac.com/blog/gardening/garden-journal/tomato-diseases-an...

See advice in the article and search this web site for specific advice. For example, if your problem is early blight, see here https://www.almanac.com/blog/gardening-blog/avoid-blight-right-tomato

Take the time to read this page, too—all about growing tomatoes: https://www.almanac.com/plant/tomatoes

 

Brown leaves

My tomato plants were in the rain recently and got drenched. Now the leaves are turning brown. The leave underneath are green. Some tomatoes have grown large. Why brown leaves?

nice article

I just read the article although I'm not really a beginner gardener. I personally always advise people to start out in pots as this gives fewer problems and more control. Of course, it's always good to have a patch of soil that can be used to grow vegetables. I do love the explanation and the plants you mention in the list are the same as I would advise. Maybe another article on starting with square foot gardening would be nice as well. Or maybe you already made it. Really nice job. Keep up the good work.

Square Foot Gardening

The Editors's picture

Thank you for the nice comments! We do in fact have an article on square foot gardening, which is great for beginners!

Amazing List

Hi Excellent list you have going here!

My 1st Veggie Garden

I like the advice here. It also seems very sensible like starting small. I've got a good small back garden to begin with, but its a bit damp. Will this be a problem, and what is the best vegetable to start with for a damp garden? Thanks guys

damp garden

The Editors's picture

“Damp” can mean a lot of things. If the space is perpetually damp because it does not get any sun just about any time, vegetables will not thrive there. Most vegetables need at least 6, usually more hours of sun per day. If it’s damp because water does not drain from it, you’re probably out of luck again. If you have damp ground but sunlight, grow things in containers (all kinds of containers), with holes, which will enable you to control the moisture level. See here for all kinds of ideas on containers: https://www.almanac.com/content/container-gardening-vegetables and click through to individual vegetables above for more information.

damp

If you have some damp ground to work with, and would like to keep your garden there for a while, you could dig some ditches for the moisture to go into and heap that dirt in between them. I personally do this with my garden after I till it up. My rows are heaped from what I use as walkways and it keeps my plants from getting flooded. Also, willow trees suck up alot of water, but I don't know if they affect any plants like cedar trees do. Anyway, if there's a will there's a way to do it.....good luck.

Gardening

Being a gardener is not easy, especially when you are new to it. But you have showed some good gardening tips for daily life dose. there are other gardening tips that I have seen.

Great Tips!

Thank you for reminding me that planting marigolds around my veggies will deter the rabbits! I had completely forgotten about that!

Tomatoes

I rally would love to know how to grow them in the tilled ground

Growing tomatoes

The Editors's picture

Hi Heather, Tomatoes are certainly one of the garden delights that is most different and delicious versus grocery store types. See our guide on how to grow tomatoes. Just click here: www.almanac.com/plant/tomatoes

New

The information here is appreciated and very insightful. I'm relatively new to gardening and my daughter and I eat organic food. We plan to start a garden this year and the previous owners of our house maintained a garden for years. (The garlic still grows). My question is I don't know if he used organic practices or harmful chemical pesticides , if he utilized the ladder, would the soil contaminate our organic seeds and organic efforts? Thank you!

organic or not?

The Editors's picture

Thanks for your appreciation of this page, Jay! Our best idea is to have a soil test, and have it done by the folks at your local coop extension. Click here and select your state for the service nearest you: http://www.almanac.com/content/cooperative-extension-services Explain the situation and they will help you to prepare and submit a proper sample. Folks at the extension are master gardeners and extremely knowledgeable!

growing veggies in pots or plant boxes

Hi there! You have shared good information and I appreciate it. I really love gardening, but I only grow flowering plants in our small yard. They are all in pots as our yard is all pavement/concrete. I'd like to plant veggies in boxes. Is it possible? What do you suggest is the best and easiest to grow? I hope you can give me tips on caring for them as well. Thanks so much!

container veggies

The Editors's picture

Hello! It is definitely possible to plant vegetables in window boxes, refurbished wooden boxes, and other containers. You might like the following article that talks about this and offers vegetable suggestions: http://www.almanac.com/content/container-gardening-vegetables
Here’s a video that talks about planting leaf lettuces in containers: http://www.almanac.com/video/urban-gardening-growing-lettuce-salad-leave...
Although smaller vegetables like lettuce and radishes do well in window boxes and hanging baskets, I’ve even seen some of the determinate tomatoes grown in them (such as certain cherry tomatoes), although they may need staking, or they can droop over the edge. There are also miniature varieties of certain vegetables, such as the small globular carrot types, that are ideal for containers. Hope this helps!

 

School Garden!!

Hi there.

I am doing a project for my science class, and I need to know how big a school garden should be. This school is HUGE and would have a lot of children working in it. Is there a recommended size? Thank you.

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