This comprehensive guide covers how to start a vegetable garden from scratch, which vegetables to grow, and when to plant what. We’ve also added a “starter” garden plan consisting of easy-to-grow vegetables, companion planting techniques, and some lovely flowers! Let this year be the year that you grow a successfulgarden!
Vegetable Gardening forBeginners
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 youcan!
It may seem daunting initially, 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 togrow.
Understanding When to Plant Vegetables
How to Lay Out a Vegetable Garden
What to Plant in a Victory Garden
Pick the RightLocation
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 goodsite:
- Sunny spot:Most vegetables need 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight daily. A few veggies (mostly leafy ones) will tolerate someshade.
- 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 weakerplants.
- 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 makeGoldilocks smile—somewhere that’s “justright.”
- Nutrient-rich soil. Your soil feeds your plants. You’ll have poor, unhealthy plants if you have thin, nutrient-poor soil. Mix in plenty of organic matter to help your plants grow. See how to prepare your soil for vegetable plants.
Choosing a Plot Size: StartSmall!
Remember: It’s better to be proud of a small garden than be frustrated by a bigone!
One of the most common errors 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 willeat.
- If planting in the ground, a 10’ x 10’ garden (100 square feet) is a manageable size. Pick 3 to 5 of your favorite vegetables and buy 3 to 5 plants of eachone.
- 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 bedwith.
- 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, agarden that feeds afamily 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 eggplants, 6 basil, 1 rosemary, and a few low-growing herbs such as oregano, thyme, andmarjoram.
- 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 ensure you can easily reach the row or bed center without stepping on thesoil.
As a beginner, start by choosing easy vegetables that are also productive.We’ve listed some of the easiest vegetables for beginners below. Most are best started by seeds planted directly into the soil, unless noted.
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 maystruggle.
Top 10 Easiest Vegetables to Grow
(Tip: Click on a veggie’s name to see its detailed GrowingGuide.)
- Tomatoes(by transplant, i.e. small nurseryplant)
- Peppers (by transplant, i.e. small nurseryplant)
- Chard, Spinach, or Kale
Mix in flowers such as marigolds—which discourage pests, attract pollinators, and add somecolor!
Five tips for choosingvegetables:
- 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 into growing a big crop ofbeans.
- 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!(You could always give excess veggies away to friends, family, or the local soupkitchen.)
- Consider the availability of veggies at your grocery store. Maybe you want to grow tomatillos instead of cabbage or carrots, which are readily available in your area. Also, certain veggies are so far superior when homegrown that 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-storeherbs.
- Be prepared to take care of your plants throughout the growing season.Going on a summer vacation? Remember that tomatoes and zucchinis grow strongest in the middle of summer. If you’ll be gone for 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 earlyfall.
- 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 toPlant
This process is easy if you are simply growing two or three tomato plants. But if you planto grow a full garden, you need toconsider:
- Where will each plantgo?
- When will each vegetable needto beplanted?
Here are a few guidelines for arranging yourvegetables:
- Not all vegetables are planted at the same time.”Cool-season” vegetables such as lettuce, broccoli, and peas grow in the cooler weather of early spring (and fall). “Warm-season” vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers aren’t planted until the soil warms up in late spring andsummer.
- 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 that appreciate shade as the weather heatsup.
- 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 orbeds.
- 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 seedpacket.
- 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 ‘emcoming!
When to PlantWhat
Every region has a different planting time based mainly on the 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 inCanada)!
For specific planting information, see our individual Grow Guides for over 100 popular vegetables, herbs, and fruits.For each crop, we provide specific information about how to plant, grow, and harvest, including watering, fertilizing, and pestcontrol!
A Starter Beginner GardenPlan
To help beginners, we thought it may be useful to see a garden design. Here is an example of a starter family garden using thecommon easy-to-grow vegetables listed above.It also features companion planting (the practice of placing plants that thrive together next to eachother).
You’ll see that we have given the garden decent-sized paths and mixed in afew herbs and flowers, too. Frankly, ifwe had grown this garden in our very first year, we would be thrilled! In planning the garden this way, we have made it much easier for you tosucceed.
Click here to see the full plant list, number of plants, spacing, and spacing inrows.
The Old Farmer’s Almanac offers an excellent online garden planning tool that 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 seeds 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 everyvegetable!
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 anddisease.
With new gardeners in mind, we offer a FREE week to try the Garden Planner—ample time to plan your firstgarden.
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. Happygardening!
Insights, advice, suggestions, feedback and comments from experts
As a seasoned gardener with years of experience, I can assure you that starting a vegetable garden from scratch is an incredibly rewarding endeavor. The joy of tasting garden-fresh food, bursting with sweet, juicy flavors and vibrant textures, is unparalleled. There is truly nothing like growing your own vegetables and reaping the delicious rewards.
When it comes to vegetable gardening for beginners, there are a few key concepts that you need to understand and implement. Let's delve into each of these concepts to help you establish a successful vegetable garden.
Pick the Right Location: The location of your garden is crucial for the growth of your vegetables. Most vegetables require 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight daily, although some leafy vegetables can tolerate partial shade. Ensure that the soil drains well and doesn't become waterlogged, as wet roots can lead to rot. It's also important to choose a stable location that isn't prone to strong winds or excessive foot traffic. Opt for nutrient-rich soil by incorporating organic matter to nourish your plants.
Choosing the Plot Size: It's better to start with a small garden that you can manage effectively rather than overwhelming yourself with a large one. A 10' x 10' garden in the ground or a 4' x 4' or 4' x 8' raised bed is a manageable beginner size. Start by selecting 3 to 5 of your favorite vegetables and buying 3 to 5 plants of each. If you want to go bigger, a 12' x 24' garden in the ground can provide enough space for a family of four, with a variety of vegetables such as squash, peppers, tomatoes, okra, beans, cucumbers, eggplants, and various herbs. Ensure that your garden has accessible paths for easy maintenance.
Choosing Vegetables: As a beginner, it's best to start with easy-to-grow vegetables that are also productive. Some of the top 10 easiest vegetables to grow include lettuce, green beans, radishes, tomatoes (by transplant), zucchini, peppers (by transplant), beets, carrots, chard, spinach, kale, and peas. These vegetables can be directly planted into the soil from seeds. However, it's always wise to consult your state's Cooperative Extension Service to determine which plants grow best in your area, considering local weather conditions.
Where and When to Plant: Different vegetables have specific planting requirements. Some vegetables, known as "cool-season" vegetables, thrive in the cooler weather of early spring and fall, while "warm-season" vegetables prefer to be planted in late spring and summer when the soil has warmed up. When planning your garden, consider the height of the plants and their shade requirements. Tall vegetables should be planted on the north side of the garden to avoid shading shorter plants. Stagger your plantings to ensure a continuous harvest and plan for the maturity period of each crop.
Using a Garden Planning Tool: To make your garden planning easier, The Old Farmer's Almanac offers an excellent online garden planning tool. This tool allows you to draw your garden plan, select your preferred vegetables, and automatically calculates the proper spacing for each crop. The tool takes into account your specific location's frost dates, identifies easy vegetables, and even suggests companion plants. It also provides crop rotation suggestions to avoid pests and diseases.
By following these concepts and utilizing the resources available, you can confidently start a vegetable garden from scratch. Experiment with different vegetables, enjoy the process, and savor the incredible flavors of your homegrown produce. Happy gardening!