Vegetable Gardening for Beginners

The Basics of Planting and Growing a Vegetable Garden

April 19, 2020
Girl in Tomato Garden
Travnikov/Shutterstock

Ready to jump into gardening? It can be daunting at first, but gardening is an incredibly rewarding hobby to get into. Our Vegetable Gardening Guide for Beginners will help you to plan and grow your tastiest vegetables ever. Find out how much food you need to grow to feed a family, 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 sub-par location can result in sub-par 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 that will tolerate some shade.
  2. Plant in moist, well-drained soil. If you have poorly drained soil (water pools), plant veggies in a raised bed. If you have rocky soil, till and remove the rocks. 
  3. Plant in a stable environment. Avoid places that receive strong winds 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 proud.

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 zucchini taking up residence in your attic, plan your garden with care. Start small, and only grow what you know you’ll eat.

Here are some tips for a good-size beginner vegetable garden that can feed a family of four for one summer, with a little leftover for canning and freezing (or giving away to jealous neighbors).

  1. 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.
  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 makek 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!

The vegetables suggested below are common, productive plants that are relatively easy to grow. It would be wise to contact your state’s Cooperative Extension Service to find out what plants grow best in your area.

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

  1. Tomatoes
  2. Zucchini squash
  3. Peppers
  4. Cabbage
  5. Bush beans
  6. Lettuce
  7. Beets
  8. Carrots
  9. Chard
  10. Radishes
  11. (Bonus) Marigolds to discourage pests and add some color!

Some guidelines to choosing vegetables:

  1. Choose what you (and your family) like to eat. If no one likes Brussels sprouts, don’t plant them!
  2. Be realistic about how many vegetables your family will eat. Be careful not to overplant. (Of course, you could always give your veggies away.)
  3. Consider the availability of veggies at your grocery store. Maybe you want to grow tomatillo, instead of cabbage or carrots which are available. Also, certain veggies are so far superior when home-grown, it’s almost a shame not to consider (we’re thinking of garden lettuce and tomatoes!). Also, home-grown herbs are far less expensive than grocery store herbs.
  4. Summer vacation? Remember that tomatos and zucchinis are growing in the middle of summer. If you’re gone part of the summer, you need someone to look after the drops or they will suffer. Or, you could just plant cool-season crops such as lettuce and kale and root veggies.
  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. If you plan ahead, buying straight from the nursery seedsmen is cheaper and higher-quality. See a list of of mail-order seed catalogs here

Radishes

Where and When to Plant?

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

  • Where each vegetable will go?
  • When each vegetable needs to be planted.

Here are a few guidelines to arranging your vegetables:

  1. There are “cool-season” veggies that grow in spring (eq, lettuce, spinach, root veggies) and “warm-season” veggies that aren’t planted until the soil warms up (eq, 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 or 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 “perennial” crops such as asparagus, rhubarb, and some herbs, provide permenant 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, have a longer period of time. These “days to maturity” are on the seed packet. Vegetables that may yield more than one crop per season include beans, beets, carrots, cabbage, kohlrabi, lettuce, radishes, rutabagas, spinach, and turnips
  5. Stagger plantings. You don’t want plant all your lettuce seeds at the same time or all that lettuce needs to be harvested 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! 

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, 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 properly re-position your plants to avoid pests and disease.

With new gardeners in mind, we offer a free 7-day trial, so 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! 

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Reader Comments

Leave a Comment

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.

recover-seeds

I was so happy as for beginner veg.planting -eggplant as it grew,and
reward of multiple harwest .I think it was dark maroon colour-variety quite big
size ..on the sad note everithing come to end - died but some dried eggplant
still remain the rest dried out..
q: how can seeds be extracted - its tiny.tiny black seeds
how to replant,germination.atc..any help appreciated

q:

saving seeds

The Editors's picture

Nice done for a beginner!  You can save the seeds of an eggplant.  Once it’s overripe and withered (sounds like now!), slice open the eggplant and then separate the flesh from the seeds. Put the seeds in a bowl of water and wash the pulp away. Strain the seeds, pat them dry,  and spread them out on a tray to dry not more than two seeds thick.  Let them dry 2 to 4 weeks. When they are completely dry, you can store in a bag in a cool place free from insects and critters.

Looking for a person to plant a vegetable garden at my house

Time poor, us there anyone available to start grow a vegy garden for me. Thanks

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