Vegetable Gardening for Beginners: 16 Tips and Tricks
Even if you've never planted a vegetable garden before, follow our HGTV garden experts' tips and you'll be planting a bumper crop of tomatoes, peppers and lettuce before you know it.
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Why You Should Plant a Vegetable Garden
It's uniquely satisfying to grow your own food from scratch. There are lots of reasons to plant a vegetable garden. When you grow your own produce, you can ensure your vegetables are free from chemicals and that you will have a reliable supply of food on hand. Vegetable gardening is also a great way to involve children in the incredible process of watching plants or seeds sprout fruit or vegetables they can eat. And after you get going, planting and eating your own fruit and vegetables can be cheaper than buying produce at the grocery store (homegrown produce also tends to taste better). A small tomato plant, for instance, can yield up to 10 pounds of tomatoes throughout the growing season. Read on for our best tips for ensuring your vegetable garden is productive from the get-go.
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Know Your Zone
Absolutely critical for any successful garden is knowing what zone you live in. Your gardening zone will determine what and when you can plant. You can easily determine your garden zone by heading to the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map.
More About Plant Zones: Plant Hardiness Zones
Planting Rules of Thumb
The techniques related to planting will differ for each crop, and whether the crop is sown directly into the garden or started indoors and transplanted to the garden. Planting depth, spacing and requirements for temperature, soil, sun, water and nutrients are all basic factors for the survival and success of the crop (read your seed packet or seedling tag info closely and follow to the letter). Most crops will have some margin for error, but too many stress factors can lead to crop failure. The best way to minimize problems here is to start small. Get comfortable with a few crops at first, and then expand as you learn more.
Small Is OK
Some beginning gardeners get intimidated about growing a home vegetable garden because they feel like they don't have the space to do it. But you don't need a big yard to grow edibles. You can create a productive vegetable garden in small pots on a deck, in a raised bed or even a windowbox. More and more plant companies are also focusing on edibles that work well in small spaces. A common recommendation for a beginner vegetable garden is 10' x 10' or 16' x 10' but you can go as small as 4' x 4'. You can always increase that size if you need to next season.
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Mulch Is Critical
Mulching is a critical step in gardening that many people skip. But mulch not only gives your garden beds a neat, finished look, it is essential for helping your plants thrive. Mulch is important for maintaining soil moisture, preventing evaporation and shading out weeds, so don't neglect this important step when planting your garden.
Maximize Space by Going Vertical
Plant vining vegetables, such as squash, peas, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, tomatoes or zucchini, and train them up a trellis, cage, fences or other climbing structure. Planting vertically saves space in your garden and also ensures your plants have better air circulation and are less prone to fungal diseases.
Vertical Garden Ideas: 16 Ways to Squeeze a Garden Onto Your Deck or Patio
Follow the Sun
Most vegetables need at least 6 hours of direct sunlight a day to grow, so make sure you pick a spot in your yard, on your deck or patio that receives that much daily sun.
Great Soil Is Critical
A soil combination that is half compost and half topsoil is the best for growing vegetables but many gardeners also like to mix in specialized plant growing soil amendments and some manure. Loose, well-drained soil is best and since you are able to control a quality soil mix in raised beds, those are recommended over vegetable gardening in the ground.
More on How to Establish Great Soil: How to Prepare Soil for a Garden
Veggie Placement Is Important
Many prefer to plant in rows but planting in a triangular formation can allow you to fit more plants in your garden plot. Place tall and trellised crops like corn or pole beans on the north or west side of your garden so they do not shade smaller plants.
Soaker hoses and drip irrigation are great ways to make sure your vegetable garden gets adequate water. The recommended weekly amount of water is 1 inch a week.
Don't get too ambitious with your garden and plant more than you can maintain or plant veggies you or your family don't really like. A good rule of thumb is to plant no more than five types of vegetables in your garden.
Location Is Key
When planting your garden, think about where it will be in relation to a water source and to your home. The closer your garden is to your home the easier it is to maintain in terms of weeding, pest control and watering.
Consider Growing in Containers
If you have limited space or less time for watering and maintenance, growing a small crop of edibles in containers is a great way to experience vegetable gardening without the space or time commitment. Even better, plant and seed companies are creating more and more options for small space gardening with peppers, tomatoes, berries and a host of other options made for container gardening.
With their trailing growth habit, strawberries spread nicely over the edge of pots and produce sweet fruit fresh off the plant. Other fruiting plants, such as blueberries and raspberries, also make excellent container plants. Create a grouping of containers with plants of complementary textures, colors and tastes. Make sure to provide adequate water throughout the seasons.
Tips for Effective Container Gardening: 18 Container Gardening Tips
Properly Space Garden Rows
Many amateur gardeners tend to overplant, so make sure to leave enough space between your garden rows so that plants do not shade out the plants next to them. Plants too close together compete for nutrients and water and are more susceptible to disease and pests. Pay close attention to spacing requirements on seed packets when planting your garden.
Use High-Quality Seeds and Plants
Make sure seeds are fresh. And if you are planting in spring and want a productive yield it is always best to use freshly purchased seeds rather than planting seeds from previous seasons. Make sure the vegetable plants you choose for your garden are healthy, free of yellowed leaves and pest-free to give your garden its best start possible.
Practice Succession Planting
Make the most out of your vegetable garden by planting so that you will have a steady output of produce. As one crop matures and stops producing, a new crop will begin producing. You can plant fast-maturing vegetable varieties to keep a steady produce output. Just remember to replenish your soil with a 1/2 inch of compost worked into the soil when you plant your next phase of crops to keep your plants supplied with nutrients.
Plant in a Stable Environment
Make sure the area where you locate your garden, containers or raised beds is free from strong winds and flooding, and that the soil in that location does not tend to dry out. Choosing the best spot for your vegetable garden increases the chances for a productive harvest.