Planning and Starting a Vegetable Garden

Tomato vines on trellis with small green and red tomatoes hanging in vegetable garden

The Spruce / Gyscha Rendy

If you've never vegetable gardened before, you are in for a treat on many levels. Growing great-tasting vegetables and staying ahead of problems does take a little knowledge and effort, but the following lessons will get you comfortably up and running in no time. The rest you'll learn as you go, which is the real thrill of gardening: overcoming unexpected obstacles and ending the season with a hearty harvest. You literally get to eat the fruits of your labor!

  • 01 of 10

    Placing Your Vegetable Garden

    Vines hanging on metal trellis with small flowers placed in vegetable garden

    The Spruce / Gyscha Rendy

    You want to make your vegetables happy as stressed plants won’t give you bushels of great-tasting vegetables. Most vegetables enjoy the same growing conditions, so making them happy isn’t complicated or complicated, especially if you have a spot with full sun. At the same time, if your vegetable garden isn’t convenient, it’s going to be neglected. Here's what to consider as you decide where to put your vegetable garden and how much effort you are willing to put into it.

  • 02 of 10

    Choosing What to Grow

    Yellow squash hanging in middle of squash plant in vegetable garden

    The Spruce / Gyscha Rendy

    This is the fun part of planning a vegetable garden. It’s also deceptively difficult because our eyes are much bigger than our gardens. Everything sounds so luscious that it’s very tempting to try and squeeze in more than we should. When vegetable types come in a wide variety, such as tomatoes, do some research to determine the best bet for your garden plan. For example, if you'd like to harvest a little bit at a time, cherry tomatoes are a better option than large heirloom or beefsteak varieties.

  • 03 of 10

    Starting From Seeds vs. Buying Plants

    Small red and green pepper plants planted in pots from above

    The Spruce / Gyscha Rendy

    There are some practical considerations here. A lot of gardeners will start all their plants from seed because seeds come in greater variety than seedlings. But even if the idea of spending your winter pampering tiny plants in the basement is disagreeable to you, there are still vegetables that grow best if planted from seed. Don’t panic. These can be direct sown in your garden. Still, you'll need to know which vegetables you can buy as plants and which you’ll need to pick up as seeds.

  • 04 of 10

    Designing Your Vegetable Garden

    Wooden cross posts holding up plants in vegetable garden

    The Spruce / Gyscha Rendy

    Aesthetics take a back seat in vegetable gardens. Your first concern should be placing the vegetables in their optimal growing conditions. You’ll also need to consider room for paths and space for working. But that doesn’t mean it can’t look great. Here are some tips for laying out your vegetable garden and some vegetable garden photos for inspiration.

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  • 05 of 10

    Growing More Vegetables in a Small Space

    Staggered plantings of vegetables in garden

    The Spruce / Gyscha Rendy

    You don’t usually plant your vegetable garden all at once. Some vegetables will fade when the weather heats up and others can be popped into the opened space. Other vegetables only produce for a limited time and can be sown in staggered plantings to extend the harvest. There are several easy ways to make the most of your vegetable garden space, such as choosing small or dwarf plant varieties, growing vining plants that can be trained upward, and mixing sun-loving and shade-tolerant plants so that the former provide shade for the latter.

  • 06 of 10

    Growing Vegetables in Containers

    Eggplant tree growing in black container with small purple eggplant hanging

    The Spruce / Gyscha Rendy

    Almost any vegetable can be grown in containers. Container vegetable gardening has certain advantages. First, you can control the soil and drainage. It’s a lot easier to have great soil when you’re pouring it into a pot and not breaking your back tilling in amendments. You can place your containers where they’ll get the most sunlight, or even move them around to follow the sun. And raising your vegetables off the ground a few feet makes them harder for pests to reach. Of course, they’ll need more water than in-ground plants, and some of the larger vegetables won’t be happily cramped into a pot.

  • 07 of 10

    Tending Your Garden

    Couple gardening together.
    Dougal Waters / Getty Images

    Now we’re ready to tackle more practical matters. A vegetable garden requires regular maintenance. Vegetables won’t wait until it’s convenient for you to water them, stake them or harvest them. Some tasks, like staking and mulching, can be done early in the season. Others, like watering and weeding, will be ongoing. You also want to decide early on whether you want to garden organically because this may require soil improvements that should be made before planting.

  • 08 of 10

    Controlling Pests

    Branch with small yellow vegetable next to pest infected leaves in vegetable garden

    You knew it was coming. Pest control is a vital part of vegetable gardening. The last resort is to start spraying all kinds of concoctions on your food. The trick is to stay on top of the situation and take the appropriate steps when necessary. This is what is called Integrated Pest Management, or IPM.

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  • 09 of 10

    Harvesting and Preserving

    Three long eggplants in woven basket resting on harvested vegetables

    The Spruce / Gyscha Rendy

    Finally. To savor the best, we need to know when to pick at peak. Some vegetables tell you, like the way a cantaloupe will slip off the vine. Others take a bit of finesse.

    It’s possible to grow only what you intend to eat fresh or give away, but it seldom happens that way. Besides, there are few winter treats as enjoyable as a pie made from your frozen blueberries or a jar of your crushed tomatoes. If you grow herbs, it's handy to know how to freeze or dry them to enjoy their flavors throughout the off-season.

  • 10 of 10

    Learning What Your Vegetables Need

    Varieties of green vegetables stacked on a tiered surface

    The Spruce / Gyscha Rendy

    By now you must be raring to go. The only thing left to do is study up on what your vegetables want, so you can be sure to give it to them.