The 5 Essential Steps for Starting a Vegetable Garden Off Right

Woman holding a container of veggies from her garden

Growing your own veggies is a super exciting experience. But, it also brings a level of self-accomplishment knowing that you’re bringing food to the table that you grew with your own two hands. Whether you’re thinking of growing tomatoes or carrots or any of your favorite vegetables, starting a garden can seem like a daunting task. That’s why we created the ultimate guide for newbies to help them avoid mistakes and setbacks. Let’s dive right in!

1. Start With a Small Space

As a beginner gardener, the best advice is to start small. It’s better to be excited about the little you’re able to produce rather than get frustrated with the big task of running an entire garden by yourself. It’s also a smart way to learn some key gardening basics firsthand before investing a ton of time and money into this project.

plants of veggies in big pots of an urban garden in a balcony

Experts advise starting off with a small, 6×6 feet garden and selecting up to five types of veggies to plant. You’ll still get plenty of fresh produce, but it will be a hundred times easier to keep up with the maintenance chores. Consider growing veggies in containers at first, especially if you don’t have a yard. All you need is a sunny balcony or deck.

2. Grow the Most Preferred Veggies

In other words, make a list of your and your family’s favorite vegetables and focus on growing only them. Pay attention to the seed packet, label, or tag, and try finding varieties that are suitable for containers or small gardens. Plan your consumption ahead to assess how many seeds of each variety to plant. Consider whether you will be freezing or giving away part of the produce. Keep in mind that plants like tomatoes and peppers provide produce throughout the season, while other veggies like carrots can be harvested only once.

an assortment of home grown veggies

Be mindful of crops. To ensure your garden will give you a harvest of herbs and veggies throughout spring, summer, and winter, you need to plan the respective varieties ahead of time.

3. Choose the Spot for the Garden

When it comes to starting a veggie garden, there are two main requirements — you need a place with lots of sunshine and one with easy water access. For reference, the fastest-growing veggies (think spinach, cucumbers, and radishes) need at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight a day. If your yard has partial shade, focus on vegetables and herbs that can thrive with fewer hours of sunlight, like parsley, lettuce, kale, carrots, and thyme.

person digging up soil

Generally, the closer your garden is to a water source, the better. After all, you’ll need plenty of water to frequently tend to your herbs and veggies. The rule of thumb is to generously water your garden once every few days rather than do a short sprinkle each day.

4. Plan the Layout

You’ll need to choose row cropping or intensive cropping. Row cropping is when you place plants single file in rows that are at least 18 inches apart to let you walk easily between them. If you have a lot of space, choose this method.

A garden layout example

Intensive cropping, on the other hand, is more suitable for smaller spaces. Space two or three plants in a bed together about 4 feet wide. That way, you will maximize your garden because the plant’s leaves will barely touch each other at maturity. The downside here is that you’ll have to weed by hand.

5. Prepare for Pests and Diseases

Woman spraying plants with product against pests

Although some problems are hard to avoid, you can do a lot to minimize the chances. Some guidelines to follow are:

  • Stop weeds in their tracks by regularly removing them
  • Keep animals out from wandering into your garden
  • Deter destructive insects (e.g., pick off large insects and caterpillars by hand)
  • Fight fungal diseases by watering the soil and not the leaves of the plants