A Guide to Starting Your Own Vegetable Garden: Tips for Success and Abundant Harvests

Vegetable Garden

Starting a Vegetable Garden

Growing your own veggies doesn’t require a lot of space, money, or talent. But you will need to be committed to regular maintenance tasks like watering, weeding, and pest control. The first step is to find a spot that gets full sun. Most vegetables need at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight a day.

Decide Where to Grow Your Vegetables

Ideally, choose a spot that gets at least 6 hours of sun a day. This will encourage vigorous growth and help the vegetables resist pests and disease. Moreover, a site with good drainage is best to avoid water pooling that can cause rot in roots.

A level site is also preferred, as it will make it easier for you to work the soil and perform other routine tasks. If possible, locate the garden away from buildings and trees that cast shade during much of the day. If the site has a slope, make sure it faces south or southeast to maximize sunlight exposure. Be aware of any “frost pockets,” areas that may experience frost in spring or fall earlier or later than other parts of the garden.

Weeds are the enemy of vegetable plants and will compete for limited space and nutrients. To minimize weeds, plant the vegetables close together, which will also help them resist the wind and weather. To further reduce weeds, mulch regularly with a thick layer of organic material.

When planning your garden, consider the time of year you’d like to eat vegetables and whether you want to grow tried-and-true favorites or experiment with new ones. If space is limited, concentrate on vegetables that provide the highest return for the effort and can be grown quickly, such as root crops and leafy greens.

Prep and Amend the Soil

You’re going to need lots of high-quality dirt if you want your vegetables to grow well. It’s a good idea to test the soil before you begin and use premium, organic compost, and other soil amendments to ensure you have the best possible starting point.

Most crops grow best in rich, crumbly loam teeming with microbes and earthworms. This type of soil is also better at holding moisture than clay or sand, which dry out quickly and require a lot more watering.

To amend the soil, work in an inch or two of compost and other organic material to improve structure and fertility. The addition of these materials will help the soil to retain moisture and provide a slow-release form of fertilizer throughout the season, reducing the need for commercial fertilizers.

Add organic matter like shredded leaves, compost, or well-rotted manure to the soil each season. Be sure to add this organic material in the fall, before planting, so it has time to decompose over the winter and improve soil structure. Incorporate the material in a layer no more than 6 inches deep and mix it into the topsoil. This will also reduce competition from weeds and other unwanted plants. For the most effective use of organic matter, a cover crop of legumes (clover, vetch) or comfrey is an excellent choice. This will enrich the soil with nitrogen.


Growing your own vegetables is a rewarding experience that anyone can enjoy, even if they don’t have a lot of outdoor space. It is possible to get started with a small vegetable garden and gradually increase the size year-on-year as your skills and confidence grow.

A successful vegetable garden requires careful site selection, soil testing, preparation, covering the ground in the fall, and regular weeding, watering, and fertilizing throughout the growing season. The first step is finding a spot for your garden that gets plenty of sun, as most veggies need at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight a day. Some plants will tolerate some shade, but be sure to choose a location that’s open and not overshadowed by trees or buildings.

Vegetable gardening can be a bit of a chore, especially if the garden becomes overrun with weeds. To avoid this, you can use close planting or mulch such as straw to help deter weeds from germinating and competing with your crops for nutrients. Watering the garden should be done on a schedule rather than in bursts so that each plant receives a consistent amount of water. Visit the Farmer’s Almanac for a great resource that will tell you exactly how much water each type of vegetable plant needs.

Depending on the size of your vegetable garden, you can decide whether to plant in rows or blocks. Row cropping works best for larger gardens and allows you to easily use a tiller or other mechanical equipment between your crops. Block gardening is more flexible, allowing you to experiment with arrangements such as ringing blocks of radishes with carrots or inter-planting heads of lettuce and kale.

Protect & Support Your Plants

Growing your own vegetables is a fun and rewarding hobby, but it takes more than just a sunny spot and some seeds or plants to be successful. To grow a bountiful garden, you need to give the plants what they need: sunlight, water, air, and nutrients.

A well-tended vegetable garden can help keep your family healthy and provide a source of fresh, homemade food. To get the most out of your garden, be sure to protect it from pests and disease by using only organic or non-toxic controls for insect and plant diseases. Also, be on the lookout for hungry predators such as squirrels and deer, as these can damage or even destroy the produce you’re trying to harvest.

When irrigating, use a hose that delivers a slow, steady stream to avoid blasting your plants with too much water at once. One inch of water per week, including any natural rainfall, is adequate for most vegetable crops. Wet foliage can encourage fungus and other disease problems.

To keep the weeds at bay, mulch your garden with a layer of clean straw or compost. Be especially vigilant in early spring when weeds are most active. Deer and rabbits can easily wreck a vegetable garden, so you may need to fence in your plot or use a repellent spray to prevent them from raiding the crop. Also, be sure to group taller crops such as corn and sunflowers together on the north side of the garden so their tall stalks won’t shade shorter plants.

Choose Your Vegetables

When choosing the vegetables to plant in your garden, consider not only what you like and the health benefits of each vegetable, but also how easy the crop is to grow. If you’re a beginner, choose crops that require little maintenance and are quick to mature. Crops that are difficult to grow can be more of a challenge and may not produce as well.

The first major decision to make about your vegetable garden is where it will be located. Most vegetables do best in full sun, meaning over 8 hours of direct sunlight a day. However, you can still grow vegetables in less sunny areas, as long as the site is open and not shaded by trees or buildings.

Vegetables need well-draining soil that is rich in nutrients. To test the quality of your soil, dig up a trowel’s worth and examine its texture. Does it feel gritty or sandy, powdery when dry, or sticky when wet? The combination of these three types determines the soil’s overall texture, which in turn affects drainage and nutrient availability.

Aim to kill perennial grasses and weeds the summer before you want to plant your vegetables. Perennial weeds are more difficult to kill once they are established, so the earlier you get them under control, the easier your gardening will be. Repeated tillage can accomplish this by using mulches.

Plant Your Vegetable Garden!

Unlike ornamental plants, vegetables don’t require fancy design elements or precise placement to thrive. However, that doesn’t mean they don’t need careful planning. Aesthetics takes a back seat to place your plants in their optimal growing conditions, providing room for paths and workspace, and taking into account the number of veggies you plan to grow.

The first thing you need to do is decide whether to plant from seed or start with transplants. If you choose seeds, plan to sow them indoors six to eight weeks before the last expected frost in your area. Then, transfer the seedlings to your garden when the weather warms up and follow the planting instructions on the seed packet.

Make sure your planting site has plenty of sunshine (at least 6 to 8 hours a day) and that there are no shade-blocking trees or structures nearby. Most vegetables love full sun, although there are a few that will tolerate part-shade conditions.

A well-draining spot is important, too, because wet roots can rot. If your soil tends to stay wet, till or spade the ground before planting to improve drainage and mix in nutrient-rich compost or other organic matter to help with the heavy load of nutrients your veggies will need to thrive. If your planting site is too sandy or rocky, amend it with additional organic material to create a looser, more porous texture.