Vegetable Gardening for Beginners

The Basics of Planting and Growing a Vegetable Garden

April 19, 2020
Girl in Tomato Garden
Travnikov/Shutterstock

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/

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! 

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Reader Comments

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I am doing my very first

I am doing my very first vegetable garden this year with my oldest son and we have bought tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, okra and 2 kinds of hot peppers and i have a 12X16 garden. I have yet to put anything in the ground because i have been getting the spot ready and this morning i woke up to blue jays in my garden. How or what can i do to keep them out of my garden and not eat my plants?

The blue jays and other birds

The blue jays and other birds aren't eating your plants, they are eating the insects that eat your plants. So, birds are always welcome in my garden.

they may be eating some

they may be eating some insects but mostly they are eating worms that are good for your soil and they and other birds will eat your seed and sprouts after you plant. An owl decoy will help, I also use two black hoses, the kind that are used on the back of a washing machine , but any black or brown hose about 2 or 3 feet long will work. I place them in my garden in a way that resembles a snake and move them to different locations about once a week. This works great.

Thanks for the information.

Thanks for the information. But, how do you keep birds away from eating your corn?

see my above reply to the

see my above reply to the bluejay problem. I discovered this because of a crow problem. The owl decoy will not work on crows they will attack it but the fake snake does work.

fake snakes made from rubber

fake snakes made from rubber or plastic work on people also some people are scared of snakes it keeps them away from your vegges

I see where marigolds

I see where marigolds discourage bunnies from nibbling on your young plants. What do you do about squirrels? We have a real problem with squirrels in my backyard, and that is why I've not planted a garden before now. This year I want to try one. What do I do about the squirrels, short of shooting them?

Get a cat, but then you have

Get a cat, but then you have the cats messes to deal with. Fence them out is another option. There are also electronic rodent repellers which work well for keeping mice out that will probably work for squirrels.

Look for coyote urine at your

Look for coyote urine at your garden supply store or online. Rodents won't come within yards of the smell. It's also good for fending off deer and other nuisance critters without harming them.

i would like to know if you

i would like to know if you can plant veggies in pots,and if so why didnt my garden grow?

May be your plants are not

May be your plants are not getting the necessary light or may be you need to fertilize the mud of your garden if you say than I can arrange you some cheap fertilizers from wholesalepages.co.uk I Got some contacts their;-)

Maybe the pots you used were

Maybe the pots you used were too small. Remember 50% or more of any plant grows underground.

The size of the pot is def a

The size of the pot is def a factor I grew some Basil in a pot and some in the ground the Basil in the ground was amazingly better..if say triple the yield

I have planted my first

I have planted my first garden ever this spring, it is 12x20, i planted 8 rows of corn 8feet long, a row of half white runners 8 feet long, a row of burpless cucumbers 8 feet long, a row of okra 8feet long, 2 tomato plants and 2 bananna pepper plants, my corn is the only thing that is not doing wonderful, it is growing well, but within the last week, some of the stalks are falling over and when i goto straighten them up they are completely out of the ground, they seem to have no roots at all, just rounded ends where the roots should be, any ideas?

corn should be planted in

corn should be planted in patches not rows. It is pollinated by wind

Eight rows Eight feet long

Eight rows Eight feet long does make a nice patch.

The problem you are having

The problem you are having sound like you have cutworms. They eat the corn at the base of the plant, making it look like their are no roots. They feed at night, so you may not see any. Try digging around the root area and inspecting for a dark to black grub.

I have a garden that is 12x20

I have a garden that is 12x20 with tomatoes and hot peppers. I have 24 tomato plants and about 72 hot peppers. But I was just wondering about the watering of the tomatoes. I hear that you need 2 inches of water a week for tomatoes. How do you know how much to water in the morning? e-mail me at dcmartorano@comcast.net thank you.

Yes, you should give your

The Editors's picture

Yes, you should give your tomato plants 2 inches of water per week. Water your plants 2 to 3 times a week, giving them about 3 to 4 liters (roughly a gallon) of water each time. If it's really warm out, you can give your plants extra water.
You can also look at our tomato plant page for more growing tips.
Hope this helps!

I want to plant a vegetable

I want to plant a vegetable garden, my very first. I need to make a raise bed garden as I need to sit while gardening, what is the best frame for a garden? Cinder blocks, wood?

I do not know much about

I do not know much about raised gardens. However, I have used the following to create my own self watering container garden. It took a little over an hour to build one. The tomatoes in the self watering containers resisted the first frost and kept producing until mid December.

link to PDF file
http://www.seattleoil.com/Flye...

Hope this helps

I have a 5x12 16" deep that I

I have a 5x12 16" deep that I framed with non-insulated vinyl siding. Staked it with 2x4"s cut to size, screwed them into siding and added plastic ties for more support. Durable and inexpensive

Wood is mostly used, but DO

Wood is mostly used, but DO NOT get pressure treated wood.

Why shouldn't I use pressure

Why shouldn't I use pressure treated wood?

Pressure treated wood has

Pressure treated wood has toxic chemicals, such as arsenic and copper, in it that will leach into the soil and into your plants.

UH, OH ! Just finished

UH, OH ! Just finished planting in my new raised beds made from pressure treated wood ! Any suggestions?

Don't worry about the

Don't worry about the pressure treated wood. They don't use arsenic anymore and the chemicals that are used are much safer. Also, many tests have been done to show that the amount absorbed into the food you grow is absolutely minuscule and cannot possibly pose any harm.

If you want a permanent bed

If you want a permanent bed cinder blocks work fine and last longer than wood. Treated wood is OK for growing things you aren't going to eat.

It depends on where you live.

It depends on where you live. We got compressed wood because we get so much rain. But here is an ideas, this company offers triple raised beds, that might be easier for you.http://www.hooverfence.com/vin...

If you want a good raised bed

If you want a good raised bed on the cheap check out cedar fence boards at your local lumberyard. They are usually limited to 6in x 6ft and are dogeared on one end, but a little creative design with some cedar 2x2 stakes made from deck spindles can give you a great raised bed on a budget.

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