Starting a Vegetable Garden

Starting a vegetable garden can seem overwhelming, but if you plan well and start small you can be successful! 

Steps to Starting a Vegetable Garden

  • Make a Plan
  • Prepare the ground
  • Start Planting

Make a Plan

make a vegetable garden plan

When starting a vegetable garden, it’s important to make a plan for your garden.  First, decide where you want to put your garden and determine how much space you have available.

  • Notice shady areas, soggy areas, and which way is south.
  • Plan to plant tall crops on the north side, where they won’t shade other plants, or plant shade tolerant crops on their north side.
  • Think about where your water will come from and how far your hose or sprinkler can reach (or how far you’re willing to haul).

For a beginner food garden that will feed a family of four for the summer, make your garden about 10 feet long and about 11 rows across. It’s better to start small and then expand as you get experience, so you do not need to use all 11 rows at first. Make paths between each row and be sure you do not have any beds that are wider than 4′ across or you will have trouble reaching the center. 

Next, choose what vegetables you want to grow and determine how many plants of each you will need. As a beginner, start with easy vegetables that are also productive. It’s also good to find out what plants grow best in your area. Mix in flowers such as marigolds —which discourage pests – like deer, rabbits, mosquitoes, moles and voles – attracts pollinators, and adds some color! 

Now that you know what you want to plant, think about:
  1. Where will each plant go?
  2. When will each vegetable need to be planted?
Here are a few guidelines for arranging your vegetables:
  1. There are “cool-season” veggies that grow in spring (e.g., lettuce, spinach, root veggies) and “warm-season” veggies that aren’t planted until the soil warms up (e.g., tomatoes, peppers). Plant cool-season crops after spring frost, early March through April and then plant warm-season crops in the same area later in the season, late March through May. 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 which appreciate shade as the weather heats up.
  2. 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 or beds.
  3. 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 seed packet. 
  4. 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 ‘em coming!

We found an online garden planning tool offered by The Old Farmer’s Almanac!  Check it out here: They offer a 7-day free trial or the subscription is only $29 annually with an automatic renewal.       

Prepare the Ground

prepare the ground for spring garden planting

The next step in starting a vegetable garden is to prepare the ground for planting.

Gardening is more than just planting seeds or plants. You have to provide your plants with good, healthy soil.

Soil Testing

First you need to determine your soil pH and nutrient availability. You can get soil sample testing kits from your local Cooperative Extension office, local Master Gardeners, or a garden center. Find out about free and inexpensive soil testing services in your state. Do this early in the spring, so you’ll have plenty of time to get the results and amend your soil before planting time.

Use your soil testing results to decide which amendments to apply. When you use only as much as necessary, you minimize nutrient runoff into surface and groundwater, optimize the health of your plants, and save money.

Organic Matter

Adding organic matter such as compost to enrich your soil, may be all that you need to do. Organic matter can take many forms: partially decomposed leaves, straw, grass clippings, compost, farmyard manure that can be guaranteed to be free of all traces of herbicides, ground tree bark, sawdust, lime, peat moss.

Preparing the Ground

There are many tools for preparing the soil for planting. Your goal is to mix in any amendments and to loosen the soil, so plant roots can grow easily and water can seep in. The best way to get started is to rent a small roto-tiller from your local hardware store. Remove the sod from the area with a shovel, then till the dirt to the depth of the roto-tiller blades. Once you have tilled the ground, add your amendments and organic matter and till again. Do a final rake to clean and level the soil and remove all sticks, rocks and other material. 

Also, you can purchase topsoil and compost when constructing your garden.  Soil for a backyard, even if sufficient, is not going to be as amazing as the topsoil and compost we can provide to you, at Jack Frost Landscapes & Garden Center!

Once you build a foundation of good, fertile soil, your vegetables will grow better and produce more.

Start Planting

planting your vegetable garden

The final step in starting a vegetable garden is to add the actual plants or seeds. You can start seeds indoors weeks before you can plant outside and then transplant them after the last frost. However, some plants prefer to be sown as seeds directly into the garden versus starting inside since their roots can be damaged by transplanting. 

Plants that prefer to be planted directly into the garden include:
  • Cucumbers
  • Muskmelon
  • Pumpkins
  • Squash
  • Watermelon

Root vegetables like carrots and beets don’t like having their roots disturbed, so it’s usually safer to just start their seeds outdoors in the ground rather than transplant them later on. Plants with long tap roots also prefer not to be transplanted; examples include dill and parsley. Plants like radishes and peas are fast growing and cold tolerant so just plant them directly into your garden. 

Wait until after the last frost before you sow your seeds outside. To plant at the proper depth and spacing, check the instructions on the seed packet. You will follow your Plan from Step 1 to know what to plant where. Label your rows with the names of each vegetable. When finished, water gently to avoid washing away your seeds. Keep the ground moist until the seeds germinate, and once they have 2-3 leaves, do thin out the extra plants to avoid overcrowding. Don’t forget to provide trellises and other support for vining plants and to consider how you will protect them all from pests.

Some plants do better when started indoors. These include: 
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Lettuce
  • Tomatoes
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Eggplant
  • Peppers

If you are transplanting live plants into your garden, do this in the afternoon on an overcast or drizzly day to avoid burning their tender leaves in the sun. Water the soil thoroughly (but do not flood) and make a hole that is deep enough for the roots of each plant. Bring the soil to the top of each root ball, but don’t drown you plant base in dirt. Press the soil down firmly around each plant. Give them plenty of water until they are established. It’s good to put mulch, straw or newspapers between your plants to discourage weeds.


Remember, starting a vegetable garden not only to provides food for us but also provides habitat and nourishment for pollinators, birds and small animals. Also, gardening allows you to take a mental break from your daily stresses and working the earth and caring for plants should be enjoyable and relaxing. Extra vegetables can be shared with friends and family and you could also donate extra vegetables to your local food bank to help your community.  Even though getting started may seem overwhelming at first glance, you will find out very soon that it is absolutely worth it. The health benefits and pride you can take in producing your own food is amazing. You will find yourself anticipating the next growing season!




Let us know in the comments if you are starting a garden this year and what vegetables you plan to grow!

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