Kristina Cipolla Photography & Design

A Simple Guide to Starting a Beginner Vegetable Garden

Where should I start?

What should I plant? Where do I start? Planning a beginner vegetable garden may seem daunting at first, but with the right steps, it can be an enjoyable and rewarding experience. Before you begin planting, it’s important to plan out your garden to ensure the best results. Black thumb? No problem, I got you covered! In this blog post, I’ll explain how to plan out a beginner vegetable garden, including understanding the different zones and how to determine what’s best to grow in your region.

*Disclaimer: Please note that some of the links in this post are affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission if you make a purchase through those links. This helps support the blog and allows me to continue to create content like this. Thank you for your support!

Step 1: Choose the Right Location

The first step in planning your vegetable garden is to choose the right location.

The most important information to take into account include:

  1. Sunlight: Vegetables need at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day to thrive. Make sure the location you choose receives enough sunlight, and avoid areas that are shaded for most of the day.
  2. Soil: Good soil is crucial for a successful garden. Look for a spot with well-draining soil that is rich in organic matter. You don’t want an area that floods or puddles.
  3. Water: Your garden should be located in an area where it’s easy to access water. Consider placing your garden near a water source and invest in a good, long hose. Watering cans are cute, but walking back and forth to fill them up is not. Invest in a good hose and nozzle. My favorite kind of nozzle is a garden wand. These are great for also watering hanging baskets and shrubs and also have 9 different spray settings. I love it! Yes, I love it.
  4. Space: Make sure the location you choose has enough space to accommodate the size of your garden. Consider starting small if you’re a beginner to avoid feeling overwhelmed.

*Avoid planting in areas that are shaded or prone to flooding.

Step 2: Determine Your Vegetable Garden’s Size

Once you’ve found the perfect location for your vegetable garden, determine how much space you have to work with.

  1. Start small: It’s easy to get carried away when planning a vegetable garden. Yes, I’m totally guilty of this! That was me, filling my cart at Lowe’s with 10 different kinds of tomato plants because they all have cool names etc. Buying all of the pepper plants when I don’t even like peppers. It’s me, I’m the problem, it’s me. Starting small is the key to success! A small garden will be easier to manage and maintain, allowing you to focus on learning the basics of gardening.
  2. Consider your space: Take into account the space you have available for your garden. If you’re working with a small yard or balcony, consider container gardening or vertical gardening to maximize your space.
  3. Plan for growth: Remember that your plants will grow over time, yes they will grow! You’d be surprised on how big they can actually grow, so plan accordingly. Make sure there is enough space between plants for them to grow and consider using supports, such as trellises or cages, for plants like tomatoes or cucumbers. These plants are going to get tall, and they will need support. Trust me, when a good thunderstorm or wind gust comes through, your plants will thank you! You’ll want to install your trellis or cage over the plant before it gets too big. Also, tomatoes and cucumbers need space, don’t overcrowd them. Each plant also comes with a label, make sure to read the important information on the back which includes planting and spacing information. Read your labels!
  4. Think about your needs: Consider what you want to grow and how much of each vegetable you’ll need. If you have a small family, a small garden may be enough to provide for your needs. If you want to preserve or store your harvest (freeze or can your vegetables), you may need a larger garden. Again, I’m a fan of starting out small the first year, you can always expand next year!
  5. Start with easy-to-grow vegetables: As a beginner gardener, it’s best to start with easy-to-grow vegetables that require less maintenance. I’ll include a list of “easy” vegetables to grow later in this post, keep reading.

By taking these factors and tips into account, you’ll be able to determine the right size for your beginner vegetable garden and set yourself up for success. You can do this!

Step 3: Understand Your Planting Zones

Understanding your planting zone is crucial when planning your vegetable garden. Again, this is SO important! Planting zones are determined by the average minimum temperature in your area and are used to determine what plants are best suited for your climate. In the United States, the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map is the most commonly used reference. This map divides the country into 11 zones, each with a different range of minimum temperatures. Just type in your zip code, and it will tell you what your zone is. When selecting your vegetables, the “zone” info will also be listed on the label.

Step 4: Choose the Right Vegetables

Now that you know your planting zone, you can determine which vegetables will grow best in your region. Vegetables are categorized as cool-season or warm-season, and it’s important to choose the right ones for your climate. Cool-season vegetables include lettuce, spinach, and broccoli and can be planted in early Spring, while warm-season vegetables include tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers can be planted in mid-May.

  1. Lettuce: Lettuce is a great choice for beginner gardeners because it’s easy to grow and can be harvested multiple times throughout the growing season. It’s also a cool-weather crop, so it can be planted early in the spring or in the fall. I’ve personally had great experience growing romaine lettuce!
  2. Radishes: Radishes are another easy-to-grow vegetable that can be harvested in as little as three weeks after planting. They’re also a good choice for small gardens or containers because they don’t take up much space.
  3. Green beans: Green beans are a popular vegetable that are easy to grow and can produce a large harvest.
  4. Carrots: Carrots are a low-maintenance vegetable that can be grown in most types of soil. They do require consistent moisture, but otherwise, they’re a relatively easy crop to grow.
  5. Tomatoes: While tomatoes require more maintenance than some other vegetables, they’re still a good option for beginner gardeners. I’ve personally had great success with red and yellow cherry tomatoes and also freeze them in ziplock bags to use during the off season. They can also be grown in containers or in the ground and provide a large harvest throughout the summer.
  6. Cucumbers: These take a little more effort and again, you will need to use a support system like a trellis or cage. They can also be grown in containers or in the ground and provide a large harvest throughout the summer. Also great for canning and making pickles! Your friends and neighbors will love you!

By starting with these easy-to-grow vegetables, you’ll be able to gain confidence and experience as a gardener before moving on to more challenging crops.

Step 5: Plan Your Vegetable Garden Layout

Once you’ve chosen your vegetables, it’s time to plan your vegetable garden layout. Consider the amount of space each plant will need to grow and arrange them accordingly. Some plants, like tomatoes and cucumbers, will need support structures, such as cages or trellises, to grow properly. They also need space! I would start off by planting one of each, and see how they do. You will still get plenty of produce!

Photo Credit: Savvy Gardening

Step 6: Prepare Your Soil

Raised Vegetable Garden

*Good soil is crucial for a successful vegetable garden.

Here are some easy tips for starting your garden with good soil:

  1. Test your soil: It’s important to know the pH and nutrient levels of your soil before planting your garden. You can purchase a soil test kit online or from a garden center to determine the quality of your soil.
  2. Add compost: Compost is an excellent way to improve the quality of your soil. It’s rich in organic matter and nutrients that plants need to grow, and it can also improve soil structure. You can purchase compost from a garden center or make your own with kitchen scraps and yard waste.
  3. Till the soil: Tilling the soil helps to loosen it and create a crumbly texture that is ideal for plant growth. You can use a garden fork or a tiller to till the soil before planting.
  4. Use raised beds: Raised beds are an EASY and great way to create good soil for your garden, especially if you have poor-quality soil in your yard. You can fill raised beds with a mixture of compost, topsoil, and other organic matter to create the ideal growing environment for your plants. We personally use these raised garden beds and they have held up great! We are on year 5 of gardening at our current home and now have 4 raised garden beds. Love them!
  5. Mulch: Adding a layer of mulch to your garden helps to retain moisture and suppress weeds. Mulch can also improve soil quality over time as it breaks down and adds organic matter to the soil.

Garden Tip: I also like to plant marigolds in with my vegetable garden. They are an excellent way to repel unwanted pests who may want to eat your garden.

By following these tips, you’ll be able to start your garden with good soil that will provide your plants with the necessary nutrients and structure for healthy growth.

Step 7: Plant Your Vegetables

Vegetable garden layout

After you’ve planned your vegetable garden and prepared your soil, it’s time to plant your vegetables. Follow the planting instructions on the plant labels to ensure proper spacing and planting depth. Again, read those labels!

  1. Choose the right time to plant: Different vegetables have different planting times, so it’s important to research the best planting time for each vegetable in your region. Planting too early or too late can lead to poor growth and yield.
  2. Follow spacing guidelines: Each vegetable has specific spacing requirements to ensure proper growth and yield. It’s important to follow these guidelines to prevent overcrowding and to allow room for plants to grow and spread.
  3. Plant in the right location: Different vegetables have different light and soil requirements, so it’s important to plant each vegetable in the right location. For example, vegetables like tomatoes and peppers require full sun, while leafy greens like lettuce and spinach prefer partial shade. Although I’ve had success in growing lettuce in full sun.
  4. Water consistently: Yes, You have to water them. Consistent watering is crucial for the growth and health of your vegetables. Water deeply and regularly, especially during hot and dry periods. Be careful with tomatoes and not to over water them, or they will bust. They can be little drama queens and do require more attention and care.
  5. Fertilize as needed: Vegetables need nutrients to grow, so it’s important to fertilize as needed. You can use organic fertilizers like compost or manure or synthetic fertilizers. Be sure to follow the instructions carefully to prevent over-fertilization. I personally just use the Alaska Fish Fertilizer and have had great success. It smells terrible, but does wonders for your vegetables!
  6. Mulch your garden: Mulching your garden can help retain moisture, suppress weeds, and regulate soil temperature. Use a layer of organic matter like straw or shredded leaves around your plants.
  7. Monitor for pests and diseases: Keep an eye on your plants for signs of pests or diseases. Catching problems early can help prevent them from spreading and damaging your crops. You can use Neem Oil or Insecticidal Soap found at any Lowe’s or Home Depot.

By following these tips, you can ensure that your vegetables are planted properly and have the best chance of growing healthy and yielding a successful harvest in your beginner garden.

In conclusion, planning a beginner vegetable garden requires understanding your planting zone, choosing the right vegetables, and planning your garden layout. By following these steps, you’ll be well on your way to a successful and rewarding gardening experience. Remember to start small and enjoy the process! Like I always say, it’s supposed to be fun! 🙂

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Thank you for reading. 🙂

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