Vegetable Gardening for Beginners

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The Basics of Planting and Growing a Vegetable Garden

February 22, 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? 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

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I doubt it's that harmful.

I doubt it's that harmful. Maybe it could change the pH of the soil. Are you plants getting less rain water or sun because they are too near the wall?

Hello, I m working on making

Hello,
I m working on making plan of training tribal ppl on kitchen garden which can help them to increase their nutrient intake with food diversity so can suggest any site or links which have videos for training these ppl on how to develop a kitchen garden.

WOW ! You have some nerve

WOW ! You have some nerve thinking that you need to train Native Americans on what ,when and how to grow on our Native land ! Thank you again for saving us from ourselves ! do you want us to sign a treaty for this information ?

Maybe the person isn't

Maybe the person isn't referring to native Americans.

I have a large area in my

I have a large area in my backyard that I rototilled up and planted vegetables that I knew my family woudl eat. The issue is that I think the vegetables I chose may not have been planted properly next to ones that would help them thrive. HOw do you know where and which plants to plant to one another to have the healtiest garden? I planted teh following but would love for someone to tell me what to plant to what for next year.
Tomatoes, Corn, Yellow Squash, Zuchhini, Green Beans, Orka, Green, Red Peppers, Jalapenio peppers strawberries and raspberries.
SOMEONE PLEASE HELP ME~!

Hello frustrated

The Editors's picture

Hello frustrated grower, 
When an entire garden doesn't thrive, the reasons are usually related to a) sunlight.  Most veggies need a LOT of sun—6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight and b)  soil preparation. Soil must be nutrient-rich most of us have to supplement with plenty of organic matter/compost, c) watering, of course!
However, you are correct in saying that some plants grow better next to each other.  It's called "Companion Planting" and we do practice it.  Here are two beginner articles on this top which you may find useful:
http://www.almanac.com/content...
http://www.almanac.com/content...
Finally, to plant the veggies you want, we would suggest you try out our online Garden Planner for free. You can do a search for gardens in your area and find gardens that match your interests, too.  See:
gardenplanner.almanac.com
We hope this gets you started!  Gardening is a never-ending learning process—for us, too!

Good for you for trying to

Good for you for trying to grow veggies. I so firmly believe that home-grown, organic produce is best for me and my family.

I have not been a totally successful gardener myself. I've looked at various ideas and ways to change my garden into something truly fruitful and productive. I recently stumbled upon this information, which I'm going to try as soon as the snow melts. It has some great reviews. Check it out:
https://www.youtube.com/edit?o...

To the frustrated

To the frustrated gardener:
green beans and corn grow well together because beans release nitrogen into the soil and corn is a high nitrogen feeder. Also if you plant pole beans, they will climb the corn! Corn and tomatoes don't like each other. Tomatoes and peppers are safe together but carrots will increase flavor in peppers.

Is it safe to use a weed

Is it safe to use a weed killer in my garden? The weeds are just terrible this year and I can't keep up with them. I pull them out and they're back in a few days.Some weed killers state they are safe in vegetable gardens. Are they really?

Weeds need to be raked when

The Editors's picture

Weeds need to be raked when young; at this point, pulling weeds can be very difficult indeed and perhaps not worthwhile. You can try pouring boiling water or vinegar on weeds if you're seeking a homemade recipes. Ask your local cooperative extension about safe herbicides in your state.
Deterring weeds is mostly about soil preparation--all before you even plant the garden. At this point, we would suggest that you use an organic mulch to smother the weeds. Apply 3 to 4 inches deep around the base of veggie plants (not on the base). Materials are manures, bark chips, leaves, and even newspapers (shredded or in layers). Water plants right at their base, not on the leaves nor mulch.

Hi, We started a raised bed

Hi,
We started a raised bed for the first time. I plant some eggplants, tomatoes, peppers, cilantro, spinach, corn, some beans. But I started all of them in mid may(may 15). We are in St.Louis now. Can I get the harvest within october or not?

And my other suggestion is I planted some ridge guard and bitter guard. The spacing for them is just similar to Pumpkins or not? I did same as the pumpkins. I want to make it better for the next spring.

Thanks.

Hi Padmini, You will find

The Editors's picture

Hi Padmini,
You will find that some of your vegetables will mature before others during the summer months and you may want to plant more for a second crop.
Ridge gourd (or luffa) can be planted in hills (3 seeds to a hill) about 6 feet apart. Use a trellis for the vines to grow up.

Ok, Thanks for the reply. I

Ok, Thanks for the reply.

I am so exited as this is my first vegetable garden. You are very helpful to the starters like me.

I have planted tomatoes and

I have planted tomatoes and green beans in pots. The tomatoe plants seem to begrowing very slow. I have used plant food. I water every morning and night. They get full sun.

Hi Tammy, Make sure the pots

The Editors's picture

Hi Tammy,
Make sure the pots are big enough for the tomatoes roots. Cool weather slows growth so hopefully with the warmer temperatures your plants will thrive.

Very helpful

Very helpful

I'm new to gardening and have

I'm new to gardening and have planted just three tomatoes, two peppers, six squash. Then I decided to plant some sprouted potatoes I had between the tomatoes. Now I read that tomatoes and potatoes shouldn't be planted together. Should I pull up the potatoes?

It is a risk for

The Editors's picture

It is a risk for disease/pests that attack both plants, but gardeners have done it before, as the plants require similar conditions. If the potatoes haven't started rooting, you might want to look for another spot, even a large container. But if they've developed roots/leaves, you might want to leave them. Make sure, though, that there is plenty of space between the potatoes and tomatoes; otherwise, you may disturb the tomato plant's roots when you harvest the potatoes underground.

Hello . I am wanting to start

Hello . I am wanting to start a raised garden. I have these seedling ready to go out but idk how to arrange them or what size gardeb I need ? 2 pumpkin plants , pack of corn seeds , pack of carrot seeds , lots of cucumber plants , lots of watermelon plants and some beans germenating indoors . can you please help me ? Ive tried on online planners to help me with creating a plan but nothing works on my cell :/

how can i start a vegetable

how can i start a vegetable plantation if my place is suffering from drought '//where should i get water to watered the plants? is there other plants that can survive without water

We know many folks have

The Editors's picture

We know many folks have drought conditions. The best solution is to dig in buckets of organic matter such as well-rotted manure. Better yet, garden in raised beds or plant in containers so that you can add your soil mixed with compost. Carrots, beetroot, parsnips and other root crops are probably the most drought tolerant. Avoid eafy vegetables and flowering vegetables. See more tips on a water-wise garden: http://www.almanac.com/content...

Very helpful post. I love the

Very helpful post.
I love the chart that helps determine when to plant certain seeds. Also, it never crossed my mind to consider the direction of the sun when deciding where to set up my veggie patch. Very handy tip with the Marigolds - I've got a couple of rabbits myself and they always seem to be hungry... Hopefully a couple of flowers will deter them!
Article is really well laid out and easy to follow. Many thanks for the tips!

This information has been

This information has been very helpful and your site is very simple and organised, which has really helped me to understand all your quality information. I am hoping to begin my first vegetable garden this week in my new house and your site has given me all the knowledge I feel I need to do so. However I do have a question, if I was to have a dog would I have to do anything different or should it be okay with the dog and vegetable patch?

Hi . wanting to start a

Hi . wanting to start a raised bed . I have cucumber plants (a lot! I didn't think every seed would make it but they did n I have like 25 plants ), watermelon plants ( same as cumcumbers ) , 2 big pumpkins plants , as well as green beans , yellow beans and carrots . im wanting to build raised beds . suggestions what size I should build? How I should set it up ? Should I make more then one ? Maybe a few different 4x4 beds to separate everything individually ? Ticks I thought the planning would be the easy part but it seems the growing them will be much easier then deciding where to put them :p

OK I'm going to start off by

OK I'm going to start off by saying I am BRAND NEW to this. We are a family of seven trying to eat healthy. I have RA so my husband made me a raised bed. I love it! It's 8 foot by 4 foot and about 12-14 inches deep, & about waist high off the ground. I know we need to plant very small amounts of things. Any suggestions on what to plant that won't take over the entire bed?

Congrats! Almost every

The Editors's picture

Congrats! Almost every vegetable can be grown in a raised bed so you just want to consider what you enjoy eating and perhaps start with some easy vegetables. See this article on which veggies are good for beginners: http://www.almanac.com/vegetab...
To plan your garden with the right spacing , try our online Garden Planner for free here: 
http://gardenplanner.almanac.com/
It will tell you the planting dates for your area, too. Good luck!

What's the difference between

What's the difference between a raised bed and an elevated bed (like a table w/ a trough) in terms of what you can grow and watering/maintenance?

A raised bed is placed

The Editors's picture

A raised bed is placed directly on the ground and holds moisture and warmth better than an elevated bed, plus it benefits from the action of worms and other soil fauna which help to keep the soil light and fertile. It can potentially also offer more root depth, depending on how high it is built and if you're growing directly onto the soil (rather than on a patio, say).
An elevated bed on stilts is great for people with limited mobility, and are often built to enable a wheelchair to get underneath for easy access. They will need more watering than a raised bed, and plants may need some protection in colder weather. Often you are limited to growing shallow-rooted crops but some raised beds are built in a V shape, so that deep-rooted vegetables such as carrots and parsnips can be grown in the centre while shallower-rooted ones can be grown round the edges. One other thing to consider is the height of the vegetables you want to grow--tall or climbing plants such as cucumbers and tomatoes may be out of reach!
 

Hi, thank you for the

Hi, 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. Therefore, we planted numerous seeds in small pots and kept out of the frost until after our last frost date for our area - however, it has now been approximately 1 month and we still have very few things that have started to sprout. I actually think I can count on 1 hand the number of seedlings that have sprouted from the possible 50 or more seedling pots we planted. I think we likely were not as diligent on maintaining the temperature and water for these in the earliest days - but I would like to know how much longer I should try to nurse these seeds before I decide to say its time to throw it away and start over - or with some already developed plants from a local nursery. We planted corn, tomatoes, carrots (planted some in an old spaghetti glass jar so our children could hopefully watch them grow & some in the seedling pots -- the ones in the jar are the only carrots that have sprouted), various beans and peas (have had a couple of purple hull peas and green peas sprout), cucumber, cantaloupe, watermelon, etc. and herbs such as: dill, lavender (have had a couple of these sprout), thyme (have had a couple of these sprout), oregano, rosemary, spearmint etc.
Any help/suggestions are GREATLY appreciated!!
We are not opposed to building a more formal green house inside our garage to start seeds in with grow lights - but figure that is probably something we would not need until later in the year... (??)
THANKS!!

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