11 Principles to Know When Laying Out a Vegetable Garden

Kristin Guy's Vegetable Garden

Kristin Guy of @tendingwest

If you live somewhere that's still firmly rooted in wintertime, this may be hard to believe—but right now is actually a great time to start mapping out your spring and summer gardens. This is especially true if you’re tackling your very first veggie garden, but even experienced gardeners benefit from planning their garden layout and determining which crops they are growing way in advance.

Planting vegetables for the first time can be an overwhelming task, to say the least, so we turned to the experts to ask for their pro tips. Here’s what they had to say.

  • 01 of 11

    Have Patience

    Kristin Guy's veggie garden

    Kristin Guy of @tendingwest

    Kristin Guy, the certified horticulturist and master gardener behind @tendingwest, says that it's important to remember one thing before you even begin: a great veggie garden takes time. 

    “Don’t feel pressured to create a garden wonderland overnight," she says. "Building a garden that flourishes and has ecological balance takes time—it’s okay to make mistakes."

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  • 02 of 11

    Start Small

    Kristin Guy's Greenhouse

    Kristin Guy of @tendingwest

    Even if you’re lucky enough to have a large plot of land to work with, Jenny Davis of the British gardening accessories company Forest Garden thinks it's best to keep things manageable—at least to start.

    “Start with a small space so it doesn’t feel too overwhelming," she says. "This will give a great insight into the time commitment involved in growing your garden.”

    Guy agrees, noting that a great way to start any garden layout is to grow the things you love to eat. From there, add in some beneficial pollinators and native plants to create a thriving eco-habitat.

    "I think this is a great practice for beginners when trying to figure out the space they have and how much they can pack in," she says. "From there, you can adjust and expand your planting areas."

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  • 03 of 11

    Mark Out Your Plot

    Kirstin Guy's full garden

    Kristin Guy of @tendingwest

    After you've determined the relative size of your garden, Davis shares a great first step: mark your territory. Make sure wherever you plan to grow your garden is either full of sun or that you pick seeds that don’t mind a bit of shade.

    “Mark out a sundrenched plot in your garden, or choose a wooden planter to dedicate to your new hobby,” Davis says. “Vegetables need sunlight, so try to stay away from the shade."

    Guy tells us that no matter the size of your land, it's also important to consider vertical growing space, too. "Don’t forget to use trellising to grow up and maximize the growing area that you might not have on the ground!" she says. "Even if you’re short on space, be sure to tuck in a few pollen and nectar-rich blooms for the pollinators and a handful of alliums to keep certain pests at bay."

    Tip

    If part of your garden is overlooked by partial shade, opt for seeds that can grow under these conditions. For example, herbs and kale can tolerate more shade than other vegetables.

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  • 04 of 11

    Pre-Plan Your Irrigation

    Drip Irrigation in Garden

    firemanYU/Getty Images

    Along with plenty of sunlight, vegetable plants also require water—and a lot of it. Be sure to pick an area of your yard where this is feasible. Davis suggests making sure your space can be reached with a hose pipe. Seeds and seedlings can thrive with just a drink from a watering can, but as they grow, they will require much more water.

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  • 05 of 11

    Clear Your Soil of Stones and Weeds

    Soil pH mixed in soil with shovel

    The Spruce / Heidi Kolsky

    Once you’ve picked the perfect spot, Davis says it’s time to prepare your soil. If you are planting straight into the ground, make sure your soil has been cleared of all stones and weeds. Ensure your soil is of the highest quality possible, too.

    “The key to a really successful crop is good quality soil,” Davis says. “Whatever condition your soil is in before you start sowing, adding rich compost will help. Whether it's compost from your own heap or a shop-bought one, a good amount in your soil will really give your seeds a boost.”

    Davis agrees that soil health equals great plant health. "It’s just as important to take the time to plan and tend to your soil as it is to your vegetables," Davis explains. "I like to amend raised beds with 2-3 inches of compost each new planting season."

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  • 06 of 11

    Start With the Easiest Veggies

    Kirstin Guy's veggies

    Kristin Guy of @tendingwest

    This might depend on where you live, but Davis says a great start to your garden layout is easy-to-grow plants. From March onwards, start with vegetables that aren’t too difficult to grow, such as salad leaves, onions, beetroot, peas, and potatoes. Tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, pumpkins, and green beans all are easy to grow as well.

    And if you don’t have all the seeds you want yet, think again.“You may already have the seeds you need to grow many veggies,” Davis says. “Dry your own from the vegetables you buy to eat.”

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  • 07 of 11

    Plan a Sensible Vegetable Plot

    raised bed vegetable garden

    The Spruce / Randi Rhoades

    Once your land or planters are ready, it’s not as easy as just tossing your seeds into the soil, watering, and waiting. As Davis explains, you might want to be very intentional with where you plant each crop. 

    If you want to ensure a happy, peaceful vegetable plot, there are several seeds that should not be sewn near each other, she explains. Plants release different compounds, which can have a negative impact on their neighbor if a garden is not planned correctly. Certain plants also attract certain non-beneficial insects, which may attack other vegetables if planted together.

    “For example, beans and onions are not compatible, as beans can hinder growth thanks to the biochemicals they produce,” Davis explains. “Carrots, however, grow really well next to beans—but they don’t grow well near their fellow root vegetable, parsnips.”

    Guy also notes that overcrowding can cause a major headache later in the growing season. "The mature height and size of a plant is the most important thing to consider to avoid overcrowding," she says. "When plants compete for soil nutrients, airflow, and sunlight you’re welcoming in a variety of pests and diseases. Keep in mind a combination of high-growing and low-spreading plants each season that can work together."

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  • 08 of 11

    Pay Attention to Each Plant's Individual Needs

    Vegetable garden designed with different plants and growing in raised garden beds

    The Spruce / Alandra Chavarria

    Guy says that one of the best ways to guarantee a garden's success is by treating each plant individually. The best way to do this is by checking out the instructions on the back of the seed packet. There, you'll find days to maturity, transplant dates, and the appropriate temperature for growth.

    "Once you’ve planned out what you’d like to grow for the upcoming season, check out the dates on the packet and check your frost dates to make sure you’re aligning with appropriate weather (ie: soil temperature)," Guy says.

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  • 09 of 11

    Include Natural Bug-Eaters In Your Layout

    cosmos

    The Spruce / Letícia Almeida

    Guy also gave us a few suggestions for optimal plant pairings, with pest control in mind. Certain flowers are actually great for controlling unwanted pests.

    "When it comes to companion planting, I like to bring in my own bug-eating army with the use of flowers," she says. "Adding easy-to-care-for cosmos, chamomile, calendula, chrysanthemum, borage, nasturtium, and marigolds into your beds will attract ladybugs, lacewings, hoverflies, and other insects to help control aphids, thrips, and other destructive pests."

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  • 10 of 11

    Maximize Biodiversity

    Kristin Guy's harvest

    Kristin Guy of @tendingwest

    Guy also tells us that, at the end of the day, her main goal is maximizing biodiversity, but this is a gardening skill that you might need to develop over time.

    "I used to be more precious about the organization of different vegetables in very neat areas, but now have taken the approach of growing anything anywhere to maximize biodiversity," she tells us. "The right choice of plants can make your garden tasks easier, not to mention those pops of colors between all the greenery really adds a lovely layer of texture."

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  • 11 of 11

    Embrace the Journey

    vegetable garden

    The Spruce / K. Dave

    No matter where your vegetable garden journey leads, Guy says it's all about embracing the process and learning as you go.

    "At the end of the day, the garden is a living thing. You have only a certain amount of control over things, but you can help guide each plant and add more throughout the season," she says. "Be kind to yourself. If the first time starting seeds didn’t go as planned, you can supplement with a few choice nursery starts. It’s all about learning and growing together."