Vegetable Gardening for Beginners

The Basics of Planting and Growing a Vegetable Garden

December 17, 2019

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!

In this guide, 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. The more sunlight they receive, the greater the harvest, the bigger the veggies, and the better the taste. 
  2. Plant in good soil. Plants’ roots penetrate soft soil more easily, so you need nice loamy soil. Enriching your soil with compost provides needed nutrients. Proper drainage will ensure that water neither collects on top nor drains away too quickly.
  3. Plant in a stable environment. You don’t want to plant in a place that’s prone to flooding during heavy rains, or in a place that tends to dry out a lot. You also don’t want to plant somewhere where strong winds could knock over your young plants or keep pollinators from doing their job. 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.

A good-size beginner vegetable garden is about 16x10 feet (or smaller) and features crops that are easy to grow. A plot this size, based on the vegetables suggested further down this page, can feed a family of four for one summer, with a little leftover for canning and freezing (or giving away to jealous neighbors).

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.

Vegetables that may yield more than one crop per season include beans, beets, carrots, cabbage, kohlrabi, lettuce, radishes, rutabagas, spinach, and turnips

(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.)


How to Grow the Best Vegetables

In addition to choosing the right location, here are a few tips that will help you grow your best veggies yet:

  1. Space your crops properly. For example, corn needs a lot of space and can overshadow shorter vegetables. Plants set too close together compete for sunlight, water, and nutrition; are more susceptible to disease and pests; and fail to mature. Pay attention to the spacing guidance on seed packets and plant tabs.
  2. 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. See a list of of mail-order seed catalogs here.
  3. Water properly. Watering your plants the correct amount—neither too much nor too little—will give them the best chance at producing well-formed, mature vegetables. Learn more about watering vegetables.
  4. Plant and harvest at the right time, not too early or too late. Every vegetable has its own planting dates so be sure to check the seed packet. See the Almanac’s Best Planting Dates—a gardening calendar customized to your local frost dates.

Suggested Plants for a Beginner’s Vegetable Garden

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, and when the best time for planting them is. Think about what you like to eat as well as what’s difficult to find in a grocery store or farmers’ market.

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!


Make Planning Easy: Use the Almanac Garden Planner!

Create a smarter, more productive garden. Use the online Almanac Garden Planner—now the #1 Garden Planner on the planet. Check it out here:

In minutes, you can draw your garden plan on your computer. We’ve done all the research for you!

The Garden Planner automatically pulls in the frost dates for your location! Also, it shows you how many plants fit in your space so you don’t waste seed or crowd your plants!


Plus, you’ll see many free garden plans for inspiration, as well as growing guides for more than 250 vegetables, fruits, herbs, and flowers.

Try the Almanac Garden Planner for free here. You’ll have ample time to plan your first garden, and if you like it, you can subscribe.

Any questions? Ask us in the comments below!

Reader Comments

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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

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:
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:
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
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 expectations get the best of me.

As you say, this was a "last

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.

Try Safer Insecticidal Soap.

Try Safer Insecticidal Soap. Also, it's best to grow eggplants under floating row covers until they start to bud; then they're big enough to handle the insects.

we had a major rainstorm last

we had a major rainstorm last night and it has flattened all of my Potatoes.Some of them have started flowering how can I save them to get a harvest this season?

Your potato plants should

Your potato plants should survive. If you have continuous rain over a week or more, you would have to worry about them rotting. Otherwise, the foliage should perk back up.

I am new at this and i have

I am new at this and i have lots of thistle in my garden, Is there any thing i can do this fall to keep them from coming back next year other then digging them up each time one pops up?

We rented a house a few years

We rented a house a few years ago and there was a raised bed with lots of weeds ready to use. That fall we laid down some heavy black plastic after weeding. In the spring I removed the plastic turned the soil and was ready to plant. You may get similar results by running a large "HOT" compost pile over the garden through the winter if your location allows for such, then just turn the fresh compost into your garden, that way you can use all that lovely thistle biomass in place of chucking it away. Best of luck. I compost my pig weed and morning glory all the time...see, weeds do have a use.

Smothering the ground in that

Smothering the ground in that manner can be bad for the soil. When you put down landscaping fabric, or in this case plastic, to smother or bake out the weeds, it also kills beneficial things in the soil such as earthworms (which digest dead plant material and in turn both aerate the soil as well as fertilize it) and good bacteria. Instead, you should spend a year or two seriously overmulching the area to smother the weeds. This will still let the earthworms and other beneficial creatures live, keeping your soil healthy, while the mulch slowly breaks down and adds a new layer of compost to the top, which will be healthy for your new garden when it's planted.

I am wanting to plant a

I am wanting to plant a garden and it is the begining of June! The only place i have to plant my garden is in the evening shade but it has the morning sun, so will it be ok to plant my garden now in the shade

i recently planted a small

i recently planted a small garden with 4 rows. i planted corn and peas from seed, and tomatoes already started and peppers, and onions with starters, but i think i may have overwatered them cuz they were looking good then today they look wilted. any suggestions?

Is it ok to plant my garden

Is it ok to plant my garden next to are well?

It's generally advised not to

It's generally advised not to put a garden near a drinking well, due to possible nitrate contamination.

why would I use gypsum? We

why would I use gypsum? We do have hard clay in our dry arid
desert. Do we apply that liberely or on the rows or till? We are not tilling the soil. good idea?

Gypsum has not been proven

Gypsum has not been proven effective. Break up your hard soil and improve aeration and drainage by mixing in organic amendments such as compost, peat and manure. The Colorado extension services advises, "Add a two inch layer of the organic amendment on the surface of the soil and till or spade in to a four to six inch depth. When purchasing organic soil amendments, buy four cubic yards for every thousand square feet of area."

Hello, I'm confused about the

Hello, I'm confused about the wording when it says planting too close to the house will discourage wild animals from nibbling... So planting close to the house it a good thing then? The south facing portion of our house is really the only place I can plant but I would have to put them right against the house because our lot isn't very large. I was thinking of building raised beds or buying breathable fabric containers. What would you suggest?