Vegetable Gardening for Beginners

The Basics of Planting and Growing a Vegetable Garden

November 23, 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 (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 for improved drainage. Wet soil means wet roots, which can turn into rotted roots. 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 smile.

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 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

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 10 Easy Vegetables
(Tip: Click on a veggie’s name to see its detailed Growing Guide.)

  1. Tomatoes
  2. Zucchini squash
  3. Peppers
  4. Cucumbers
  5. Green beans
  6. Lettuce
  7. Peas
  8. Carrots
  9. Chard, Spinach, or Kale
  10. Radishes
  11. (Bonus) Marigolds—a flower that discourages pests, attracts pollinators, and adds some color!

Some guidelines for 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 readily 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 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. 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 plan to grow a full garden, you need to consider:

  • Where will each vegetable go?
  • When will each vegetable need 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 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 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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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!

Hello, I am building my first

Hello, I am building my first tilled garden in many years and trying to do it right. when I till the garden flat, then make rows, do I plant in the mounded rows or in the valley? Sorry to be so dumb but been awasy from gardening for over 30 years. Thanks So Much

Hello, Thomas, For most

The Editors's picture

Hello, Thomas, For most veggie seeds, you just make rows but there is no need to created mounded rows. The seed packets will mention how deep the seeds need to be planted.
Those gardeners who mound their rows often have heavy soil with poor drainage, such as hard-packed clay soil; the rain just runs off it. Mounded rows can also help warm the soil faster in the spring.

If you do mound your rows, usually you plant on top, not in the valley. Make a depression in the middle to hold the water a little longer.
Of course, there are certain plants that prefer mounds such as melons and squash. See our Plant library for each plant's planting needs: http://www.almanac.com/plants

If you are putting a fence

If you are putting a fence around your garden what kind of fence would you put?

It depends on your purpose.

The Editors's picture

It depends on your purpose. Do you wish to keep out animal pests? In general, a simple 3-foot-high chicken-wire fence with 1-inch mesh keeps out rabbits and most small- and medium-size animals. You'll also need steel or rot-resistant wood posts. We'd suggest you visit a home improvement store for more advice, but hope this gets you started!

A low (2ft) wire mesh, such

A low (2ft) wire mesh, such as chicken wire, will deter small animals. If you have deer in the area place an additional high (3ft) wire or string 3ft outside the low fence and tie some rag flags to it. The deer will not jump the high fence and low fence both. Something about the combination makes them wary of being trapped.

I am new to gardening Last

I am new to gardening
Last year none of my green pepper plants had any growth
This year I had a lot of green pepers but they stayed small
They tasted great but also had a "brown rash" on the bottom
They were not touching the ground at all
Anyone know what this is?

Peppers and tomatoes are both

Peppers and tomatoes are both sensitive to calcium deficiency that is often caused by watering with fluoride laden water. Fluoride blocks calcium uptake into plants and causes "blossom end rot". Severe cases literally rot on the end opposite the stem. Less severe occurrences resemble the brown to black "rash" you described.

Check the soil for ph, and nutrient content and amend it with bone meal generously. Crushing a calcium based antacid tablet into the hole when planting is also good. Try to use rain water or allow municipal water to sit in a barrel to "gas off" for 48 hrs prior to applying.

hi what is the best veggies

hi what is the best veggies to plant in winter

It depends on where you live.

The Editors's picture

It depends on where you live. In the South, you have many options. The main concern is whether you have a killing frost in your region. For example, if you have a first freeze by late October, you could plant root crops by mid-August (early carrots, leek, turnips) as well as some leafcrops (early cabbages, winter cauliflower, Swiss chard). By mid-September, you could plant chives, radishes, spinach, and cover crops. Cold frames are a great way to grow fall and winter crops. See: http://www.almanac.com/content...

I also have a jay

I also have a jay problem.
They attack rubber snakes & owls & steal my tomatoes & strawberries.
The only thing I've found to stop them is a net!

I have used the hay that my

I have used the hay that my cows didnt eat as mulch in my garden now i have grass comming up every place that i used the mulch what should I do

Old-timers say that if you

The Editors's picture

Old-timers say that if you see weeds coming up through the hay you need to mulch more. Add another layer of hay. Another tip from a reader is to put the hay in the chicken yard first and let the chickens find all the seeds. Then use it as mulch.
The grass that comes up from hay is usually pretty easy to pull out by hand.

I have chipmonks and squirls.

I have chipmonks and squirls. Last year they ate ALL my tom and peeppers. Funny thing, they would eat them 2 days before I could even do a eary pic. I really dont want to cage thentire garden, any advice? By the, my tenant just moved in w/2 small dogs, maybe the wil keep vermen @ bay

See this squirrel page here

Catherine Boeckmann's picture

See this squirrel page here for remedies that have worked for me and other readers: http://www.almanac.com/content...

I'm just starting my first

I'm just starting my first veggie garden, and because of the small back yard my husband and I have and my bad back, we isolated a spot and built up a raised garden bed. After reading these threads I realized that it was probably a bad idea that we used pressure treated wood.... what should I do now? Is the pressure treated wood going to stop my veggies from growing? will it make them dangerous to eat with the arsenic and copper that leaches into the soil and plants?

Hi Kimmie, It really depends

The Editors's picture

Hi Kimmie, It really depends how the type of pressure-treated wood. Pressure-treated lumber sold in the US after 2003 contains no arsenic (and is no longer CCA-treated). The wood you bought should come with tags that identify how it's been treated and here's a page about types of treated wood: http://npic.orst.edu/ingred/pt...
If you have questions about this, or any pesticide-related topic, please call NPIC at 1-800-858-7378. To be on the safe side, they suggest lining the beds with plastic.

hello, i'm new to gardening

hello,
i'm new to gardening and have a very limited site that gets good drainage but is somewhat shaded by large oak trees. what vegetables can you recommend for a newby?

In my experience, some plants

In my experience, some plants produce surprisingly well even near trees, but maybe not on the north side of large trees.
In partial sun (near trees), try squash, greens, beans, cucumbers, and potatoes.
If you want corn, tomatoes, or peppers, I think they will need full sun (far from trees).

Hello, I plan on starting my

Hello,
I plan on starting my first vegetable garden this spring. I have a small cat problem though. The neighbours cats, while friendly, already make use of my flower garden in the front. Could anyone suggest a safe method of keeping the cats out of the veggie/herb garden?

A large dog...lol...mine

A large dog...lol...mine keeps all the neighborhood cats away.

I have heard that sprinkling

I have heard that sprinkling citris peels onto the dirt keeps them out.

Chicken wire around plants

Chicken wire around plants and other areas you don't want dug into. The cats will not like scratching into it and will find another place.

I am attempting my first ever

I am attempting my first ever vegtable garden and want to go all organic, I seem to have red ants EVERYWHERE around my raised garden beds, does anyone have any ideas on how to get rid of them organicly?

Try a light sprinkle of boric

Try a light sprinkle of boric acid. It is a light white powder sold at hardware stores in the pesticide dept. just use a light sprinkle. they walk through it an when they groom they ingest it and it poisons them. it should not hurt flying bugs as it has to be picked up and eaten. it also works on roaches. it should be organic, but check to make sure. But if you just leave the ants alone and work around them, you should be alright. They are considered benifical.

I hard that some plants

I hard that some plants compliment other plants and should be planted next to the one
that compliment the other in order to help pollination. Is this true & if so do you have a planting guide?

I am currently doing research

I am currently doing research on this as well. If you look on-line there are numerous sites which suggest,"companion plants" for all different kinds. Also lots of flowers to attract bee's, like honey suckle and bee balm. Happy planting!

A good companion planting it

A good companion planting it the "three sisters" first passed to early settlers by Natives. It's corn, squash, and beans. The plants will grow in the needed order to protect the others and they are nitrogen neutral when planted together. Little weeding should be necessary after the plants emerge and less water is needed in the tight pattern that mulches itself.

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