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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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: http://www.almanac.com/content...

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.

I have a huge rabbit

I have a huge rabbit problem.....We have jack rabbits & cotton tails. My house sits accross from an open field. We have a large lawn area in the front yard, as well as several large planters. Little did my husband & I know we were opening a 24/7 buffet for the lil boogers when we started filling in these planters. For a brief time we had 9 beautiful purple fountain grass, 7 agapanthus nile lilies, 5 Day lilies, several calla lilies, tulips, & hiacinths, freesia & asiatic lilies among flowers. What the rabbits didn't eat down to nothing died from lack of h2O because the they chewed through my drip system hoses. There has got to be a solution! We are so tired of repairing the drip system & feeding the rabbits. We just want our pretty yard back & to survive these attacks. Please help! I am surrounded by dirt & need something pretty to look at. Any suggeststions on remedies & or rabbit proof plants, ground cover or flowers. we had rosemary at our old house, rabbits didn't seem to touch that....

Here are are a few flowers

The Editors's picture

Here are are a few flowers that rabbits may be less likely to eat: geranium, ageratum, wax begonia, bee balm, peony, Russian sage, salvia, daffodils, and ornamental onions. For vegetables try potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and squashes. Some larger shrubs may also work. Rugosa roses have thorns that will keep bunnies away. Have you considered putting up a fence?

This post is a good guide for

This post is a good guide for the gardening beginners...very good tips are shared here! Got to learn many important things which should be kept in mind for gardening! I must say that this is a must read post!

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