Vegetable Gardening for Beginners


The Basics of Planting and Growing a Vegetable Garden

March 25, 2021
Girl in Tomato Garden

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? How about enjoying the best vegetables and fruit you’ve ever eaten? If you’ve never tasted garden-fresh food, 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. Sunny spot: Most vegetables need 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight per day. There are a few veggies (mostly the leafy ones) that will tolerate some shade.
  2. Drains well and doesn’t stay wet: 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. Stable and not windy: 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.”
  4. Nutrient-rich soil. You soil feeds your plants. If you have thin, nutrient-poor soil, you’ll have poor, unhealthy plants. Mix in plenty of organic matter to help your plants gro. See how to prepare you soil for vegetable plants.

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.

Size of Garden

  1. If planting in the ground, a 10’ x 10’ garden (100 square feet) is a managable size. Pick 3 to 5 of your favorite vegetables and buy 3 to 5 plants of each one.
  2. If planting in a raised bed, a 4’ x 4’ or 4’ x 8’ is a good beginner size. See our Raised Garden Bed Guide which covers the benefits of raised beds, how to build a raised bed, and what type of soil to fill a raised bed with.
  3. If you want to go bigger, a 12’ x 24’ garden in the ground is probably the biggest a first-timer should go. For example, a garden that feeds a family of four could include: 3 hills of yellow squash; 1 mound of zucchini; 10 assorted peppers; 6 tomato plants; 12 okra plants; a 12-foot row of bush beans; 2 cucumbers on a cage; 2 eggplant; 6 basil; 1 rosemary, and a few low-growing herbs such as oregano, thyme, and marjoram.
  4. Whatever the size of your garden: Every four feet or so, make sure that you have paths that allow you to access your plants to weed and harvest. Just make sure that you can reach the center of the row or bed easily without stepping on the soil.


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.


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. Not all vegetables are planted at the same time.  “Cool-season” vegetables such as lettuce and brocoil and peas grow in cooler weather of early spring (and fall). “Warm-season” such as tomatoes and peppers and cucumbers aren’t planted until the soil warms up in late spring and summer.
  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 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:

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

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.

Try Safer Insecticidal Soap.

The Editors's picture

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

The Editors's picture

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

The Editors's picture

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

The Editors's picture

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?

Planting close to the house

The Editors's picture

Planting close to the house will keep nibbling animals at a distance. Both raised beds and fabric containers work well. The containers you can store away during the cold months while the raised bed will be a permanent fixture.

I would love to build a

I would love to build a wooden box next to the house but I'm worried that watering a lot right next to the house is bad. Is that a concern that I should have (damaging the house in some way from all the water)?

Planting a garden close to

The Editors's picture

Planting a garden close to your house is not a bad idea, in fact, having it close to the house means you may be more inclined to use it/care for it. But you need to be sure that the spot you choose receives at least 6 hours of direct sunlight each day. 10 hours is even better.

I have looked at the best

I have looked at the best planting dates for my region and evidently I am late in my planting. I have the plants not seeds. Can I still plant and grow? When do I plant?

Hi I have just made a veggie

Hi I have just made a veggie garden I planted seeds in spots I had to dig up the soil and put it into planting boxes and re plant my other plants now all the seedlings are starting to come through everywhere is it bad having a cramped garden?

I have a question...Should I

I have a question...Should I soak all my seeds in water overnight before planting them in the garden or just certain ones? I have a variety of seeds I'm planning to direct sow both vegetables and herbs had read somewhere that I should soak them. Just wanting an "experts"advice. Thanks.

I just planted my first

I just planted my first garden using wood pallets, The bottoms and sides are covered with landscaping fabric. Don't know if the roots will go deep enough, but really wanted to try this as it is much easier than building raised beds. I put my tomato and pepper plants in livestock water tanks. We shall see........

horse manure... fresh or

horse manure... fresh or frozen lol.
I am going to rototill some fresh stuff into the whole garden except where the potatoes will be. good or bad idea.
thank you ahead of time.

Bad. Do not apply fresh

The Editors's picture

Bad. Do not apply fresh manure to beds in the growing season; apply fresh manure only in the fall, several months before planting.

How do you keep crows from

How do you keep crows from eating all your young corn plants???

Hi, EMT, If your rows aren’t

The Editors's picture

Hi, EMT, If your rows aren’t too long, consider making a V-shaped “tent” above the row to protect seedlings until they are rooted well enough to resist the crow pulling on it. Another idea from a reader was to put balloons between the corn rows! One oldtime cure was to soak a few quarts of dried corn in whiskey, and scatter it over the fields for the crows. All the best.

We also have a page

The Editors's picture

We also have a page specifically about Crows and how to deter them here:

I had a treatment plant

I had a treatment plant instaled with a sprinkler system off of it. Can I water my veggie garden with this system safely.

The circumstances you

The Editors's picture

The circumstances you describe are general and require a specific answer. We are not qualified to give you a conclusive response to this, sorry. Consider getting the water tested and then talking to your cooperative extension service about the results and the viability of using the water on edibles. We champion the idea of recycling water but it may be that this water is best used on ornamentals and the like. We hope this helps.



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