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

Leave a Comment

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. 

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.

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