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

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My class is building a veggie

My class is building a veggie garden, could we plant trees in a garden???

It depends on the size of

The Editors's picture

It depends on the size of your garden. Generally, you want to plant a vegetable garden away from trees and shrubs so that they get 6 to 8 hours of sun and don't compete.

I've heard of using cement

I've heard of using cement fiber siding to build raised garden beds on you-tube. A brand called Hardie plank. Is this safe?

It's made out of cement , wood fiber, and silica sand.

I am planting a new garden in

I am planting a new garden in this location. I have a small ditch near my site. I have seen snakes in my yard in past years. I am afraid of them and don't want an encounter in my garden. Do you have any ideas so I can keep them away? I await your response, thank you.

ceder chips, are a natural

ceder chips, are a natural repellent to not only snakes, but all bugs,except pollinators.(such as bees, hornets, and such.)

I am an old at vegetables

I am an old at vegetables growing at my garden :) I even sell them, because I grow them i huge amount :) Not far away I discovered this thing- Sodo kultivatoriai :) It is amazing how it helps for me and saves my time. Try to do the same if you grow vegetables at your garden :))

ive been growing vegtables

ive been growing vegtables for quiet some time now and have been reasonably successful in what ive given a go much to that great soli we had been bleesed with. but since building a new home and no longer at the old address im now faced with what I consider my biggest challenge yet? rock hard almost cement like clay??? and lots of it ive read ways of breaking down clay with lime and other products but I would really prefer to stay away from any form of chemical to break down the clay. Now im in the mean time slowly progressing with my compost and as it is a fairly slow process in its self so my question is there any other ways you could possibly suggest to me so I can get the process started as I would really like to start my growing before the winter months start. any advice would be much appreciated. NattyB

The best amendments for clay

The Editors's picture

The best amendments for clay soil are coarse sand (builders’ sand) and coarse organic matter. There are lots of types of organic matter and it needs to be coarse. Try to find a source for aged manure (local farm) or compost (maybe your city has a compost site for leaves and garden debris).

Have you thought about raised

Have you thought about raised bed gardening, check out square foot gardening on google. I think it's a very excellent idea. But then again I'm just new to gardening myself :) hope I helped or maybe planted a seed in your mind about something new. Best of luck

I am thinking of starting a

I am thinking of starting a garden for the markets I was wondering if you have any tips or any advice for me ? Also I was wondering how would I plan on producing say 10 lbs of tomatoes each week till the seasons up is that even possible?

You can get a yield of 5

The Editors's picture

You can get a yield of 5 pound tomato per plant. Here is a good resource on growing tomatoes for market: http://extension.missouri.edu/...

I'm curious about growing

I'm curious about growing enough food in your garden to last a year and to feed a couple of people.

This story outlines how much you'd have to plant per person, but woould you need a really large plot to actually pull this sort of thing off? If for example, the only fruits and veggies you ate were the ones you grew, and you were feeding two adults, would you need something like an acre of land?

How much land

We plant 3 10X10 plots and have plenty for a family of 3 (plus lots to give away to neighbors)
We also raise 7-12 chickens per year which gives us plenty of eggs to eat and sell (to cover food costs when the garden has no greens).
We have a 4 bed home on 2/3 acre. Our chicken coop is also 10X10

i have stumbled across some

i have stumbled across some issues and im not entirely sure how i want to go about gardening. my soil might be toxic because of the mill in my area, and id have to do raised beds but im not entirely sure which plants are suitable for raised beds an whats not. and i dont want to plant something thats gunna not work. beginner gardener. starting to try to do something different this year. thank you.

Hi Emily, Thanks for your

The Editors's picture

Hi Emily, Thanks for your post. First, we are concerned about the toxic soil. We suggest that you call your county extension agent. They check for pH levels to see what kind of soil you have--and perhaps they can tell if the soil is contaminated. Here is a list of cooperative extension web sites for each state: http://www.almanac.com/content...
Second, most plants do well in raised beds. As you mention that you are a beginner, we think that you would like this video on How to Use Raised Beds in Your Garden. Click here: www.almanac.com/video/how-use-...
All the best with your beginner gardener, the OFA editors

If you are worried about

If you are worried about toxic soil, you could make a tote garden. There are diretions on how to do this on utube. It is simple, recycles materials, saves water, no weeds, and even helps keep the bugs out(at least the ones you dont want). Just be sure to get the right soil for the plants you want to grow. I find that red totes are great for tomatoes and peppers.

hello , this site is

hello ,
this site is beautifull and organized
at the same time is simple
so
i hope i can make best benefit out of it

I tried to rekindle an old

I tried to rekindle an old garden area that was no longer productive. I took two years adding and tilling in compost matter. On the third year, I tilled up and planted in this area. The plants thrived for the first couple weeks with my late afternoon watering. At the first good rain, the plants were overtaken immediately by weeds. For the remainder of the year, none of my plants could be seen due to the excellent weed growth. Is there any good way to rid such a garden of weeds that grow so rapidly without harming the vegetables?

Instead of worrying about

Instead of worrying about weeds or trying pull them all so that your plants will thrive, have you tried adding 3" to 4" of mulched leaves or dried lawn clipping lawn around them to smother weeds? You may want to water earlier in the day. I never suggest sprinkler water for a vegetable garden and watering just around you veggies will keep water from the 1,000's of years of weed seed in the soil. That will allow the plants to have the water they need during the warmest part of the day.

We just bought a new house.

We just bought a new house. It has an area near the house that I am turning into a garden. The problem is it is covered in weeds. Not very tall but some are viney. What is the best way to get rid of the weeds without poisoning my soil? I will remove a lot by hand but any easier ways and/or preventing them from coming back?

You might want to use mulch

You might want to use mulch to cover you soil around your plants after you have tiller and planted. There is honestly, no way to get rid of all of the weed seeds in your soil. You can, however, begin to build new weed free soil on top of your garden soil by adding mulch mulch and more mulch. As the years go by, you will notice that you have fewer and fewer weeds showing up in your garden.

I have a small roto-tiller

I have a small roto-tiller (Honda FG100, similar to a Mantis cultivator except uses reg gas). It's great for going between rows eats up weeds as easy as mowing the lawn. These tillers will do most of your tilling if your ground is good and only weight 30LBS and cuts a 12" path

I have a problem with

I have a problem with raccoons eating my corn. They can destroy a garden in one night.
What is the best method to keep raccoons out of the corn field?
I have an electric fence, however they still get in. If I use a trap, what is the best bate to use?

to help with the raccoon

to help with the raccoon problem, plant cucumbers around the exterior of your garden, their paws are too sensitive for the vines and they hate the smell of them. also you can put a well stinky shirt *work out in a tshirt and sweat a lot* and put it out there, they hate the smell of humans. put a spot light on it, most raccoon wont come out in the sun, they dont like the light. i have a raccoon at my place, i did the cucumbers, i had a lot of cucumbers LOL but none of my plants were bothered.

We are nature loveing people

We are nature loveing people we have wild animals that live on our land and I feed them , I got a big bag of dog food (we dont have a dog) and I put out a large bowl every night when i feed the chickens and the coons eat that and leave the garden alone and as for the rabbit's i just throw the seeds out by the fince and grow them a batch also I'm anti hunting so I have deer feeder's all ove my property and feed them during hunting season , we have three that come right up to the deck.

I am very very concerned

I am very very concerned about the suggestion of putting out dog food for the raccoons. My neighbors used to do that...until both of us had RAT problems. I can't begin to tell how horrific that was.

late june my husband tilled

late june my husband tilled an area where we had a small fire pit. he squared it to about a 5x6 area. I figured that I can plant my tomatoes and habaneros 18" apart and have room for all of them. all were started and growing well in a pot before moving them to the ground. I planted the tomatoes in the center and the peppers around the outside. this was a last minute project with no planning for the 'priming' the dirt (which is old used up farmland)The tomatoes are where the ash is left...not so much for the peppers. we've had a mild summer with a few hot days. I water when needed and nothing seems to be growing. the peppers are bushing but not growing, the tomatoes are producing but don't seem to be getting much taller either. this is my first time doing this and getting results from tomatoes what am I doing wrong. if it makes a difference everything was started from seeds, no nursery plants. it's mid july and i'm concerned I won't get much out of the plants before the end of the season...my expectations get the best of me.

As you say, this was a "last

The Editors's picture

As you say, this was a "last minute project"; sometimes these are inspired, sometimes they just make you tired.
You should have checked the pH of the soil before planting and, as you also say, primed the soil
While wood ash can be beneficial, too much can alter the nutrient values in the soil—and the nutrient values can vary depending on the type of wood.
It may be too late to amend the soil, but you can try. Get a pH test kit from a garden supply store and amend as indicated.
Next time, . . . well, we'll spare you that advice. You know what to do. Best wishes!
 
 

When you say there was ash

When you say there was ash there, it suggests to me that was the problem. Ash is very alkaline, causing problems for the plants. While ash may contain some nutrients (such as potassium and calcium), the burning of wood released the small amount of nitrogen present in the wood. The ash was potentially beneficial only if the soil was too acidic. And in that case, only a small amount of ash can be tolerated. Remember there's plants that can tolerate whatever soil you have. But ash is quite harmful to plants, especially in large amounts.

Safe Insecticides Hi there, I

Safe Insecticides

Hi there, I attempted to plant a vegetable patch for the first time this year. I have noticed that something is eating away at the leaves of my eggplant plants. Do you have any suggestions for a food safe, even natural, insecticide? Thank you.

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