Vegetable Gardening for Beginners

The Basics of Planting and Growing a Vegetable Garden

April 19, 2020
Girl in Tomato Garden
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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/

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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

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!!

Hi Sarah, It is sometimes

The Editors's picture

Hi Sarah,

It is sometimes tricky to start seeds indoors. You need warmth, plenty of light and the right amount of humidity. Go to our vegetable/herb pages and read about the specific veggies and herbs that you started from seed.
www.almanac.com/plants/type/ve...
www.almanac.com/plants/type/herb

A few of the vegetables that you started indoors are better seeded directly in the garden. Peas, beans and corn germinate quickly outdoors. Peas can be planted earlier than beans and corn. Carrots usually also do better if planted directly in the garden (they don't transplant very well).
Good luck!

Hello again what would be the

Hello again what would be the best soil for my garden? and is it safe for the garden to plant on early spring

For a vegetable garden, you

The Editors's picture

For a vegetable garden, you want rich, well-drained soil of loamy texture. Most soil needs the addition of some organic matter such as compost. To see if you have the right soil, you could do a soil test. Contact your local Cooperative Extension office for information on getting your soil pH tested. 

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