Think of clusters of tomatoes heavy on the vine, glossy green peppers reflecting the sun, cucumbers, crunchy and cold. With planning and–OK, a bit of dirt under the fingernails–a harvest of lush vegetables from your backyard vegetable garden is yours to create. Whether you’ve got some time between your travel plans or are home for the foreseeable future, learn how to plan a backyard vegetable garden with these easy steps.
CONTENTS: In this article, you will learn vegetable garden basics including:
- The Garden Site: Where to Plant a Vegetable Garden
- What Vegetables to Plant in Your Vegetable Garden
- How Much is Enough to Plant?
- 3 Popular Garden Design Options (and Their Benefits)
- Should You Try Companion Planting?
- What is Succession Planting?
- Is Crop Rotation for You?
- Where to Buy Seeds and Seedlings for Your Garden
- Final Thoughts
The Garden Site: Where to Plant a Vegetable Garden
A new garden begins by finding the best location. In most cases, a south- or -southeast facing spot on a very slight incline in full sun is ideal when you plan a backyard vegetable garden.
However, a site with good drainage that receives six to eight hours of sun will suffice.
It’s best to avoid northern exposures when you plant a veggie garden. That’s because they have a tendency to be windy. Also, remember to choose a location convenient to both a water source and your home to make maintenance easier.
The size of your garden may be limited only by the amount of space available.
Whether your garden is large or small, make a realistic assessment of your commitment to gardening. Every foot of garden equates to another foot of soil you have to
- Manage pests
Sometimes, a small, well-tended garden often produces as well or better than a large, neglected one.
What Vegetables to Plant in Your Garden?
Now that the confines of the garden have been defined, let common-sense guide you.
You’ll want to first determine which vegetables you’ll grow when you plan a backyard vegetable garden. Here are some tips, below.
This may sound obvious, but make sure you select those things you like to eat when making your choices. Glossy catalog photos have a tendency to be persuasive. Instead, focus on buying vegetables and herbs that you know will be put to good use.
Consider whether the crops are higher-priced or hard to find at local markets. That will save you some money, too!
Conversely, you might want to expand your taste by growing something new and different. If you usually grow only tomatoes and peppers year after year, try your hand at green beans. Or, how about growing an “unusual” vegetable, like artichokes, or blue potatoes?
By including new vegetables, your garden will provide a conversation piece in addition to a crop. Remember, restraint is key. A good rule is to limit experimental choices to one or two.
How Much is Enough to Plant?
While the yield of each crop depends largely upon the specific variety and growing conditions, be practical when deciding quantities. This takes some fine-tuning when you plan a backyard vegetable garden.
If you’ve gardened in the past, consider how past-years’ crops measured up to your expectations.
Did your entire crop of peas amount to a measly handful?
Or did you share a bumper crop of zucchini with the entire neighborhood?
Are you a real foodie who loves to cook world dishes?
Once you have the answers to these questions, adjust your quantities accordingly.
If this is your first garden, look ahead to harvest time. Note the quantities you’ll need in relative terms. For instance, you can note that you want to plant “a little bit” of zucchini, and “alot” of basil.
Then, make the quantities more specific as your garden plan solidifies.
Whether you’re a novice or seasoned gardener, factor storage considerations into quantities.
Some vegetables store well by freezing or canning, while others store poorly. As an example, radishes are easy and abundant to grow. But, they get spongy after just a day or two in the refrigerator. Plus, you might be hard-pressed to find dishes with radishes beyond salad.
3 Garden Design Options (and Benefits) to Help Plan Your Backyard Vegetable Garden
Long before your shovel touches the soil, it’s important to plan the layout of your garden on graph paper. That is the time to consider and plot the various garden designs–or some combination thereof–as the groundwork for a productive garden.
Here are three popular garden design options to consider:
- Traditional Rows
Growing vegetables in traditional rows offers the simplest approach for planning and sowing purposes. Simply traverse the length of your garden with neat rows of vegetables, following spacing guidelines for plants and rows as directed.
- Raised Beds
A design that maximizes crop yields, raised beds are particularly effective when working with small spaces. Plants are densely sown in nutrient-enriched soil, sometimes in “square foot” groupings.
This layout, thickly packed with crops minus long rows of wasted space, is conducive to water conservation. Although establishing the raised beds themselves takes some effort, on-going maintenance efforts are reduced.
(Tip: If your carrots grow stubby and forked, the loose soil of a raised bed may provide the solution.)
Depending on the height of the beds, raised beds are also easier on the knees.
- Container Gardens
Containers make a nice option for decks or even as a general alternative to a garden plot. Just make sure they are super-sized and be sure not to let them dry out.
If you avoid planting herbs like mint because of their invasive nature, try planting them in your garden with the container and all. The container will help keep spreading under control, so long as an inch of the pot remains above the soil level to keep roots and runners from spreading.
Do You Know What Companion Planting Is?
Companion planting is an approach in which the special properties of one plant are used to benefit another. Some suggestions include:
- Use corn as a shady support for peas
- Repel cutworms from tomatoes with dill
- Sow fast-growing radishes with carrots aid in their thinning
Whether based in science or garden folklore, companion planting often makes good old-fashioned sense.
Why You Should Rotate Your Crops
Crop rotation is very important to consider when you plan a backyard vegetable garden. That’s because many pests and diseases affect vegetables belonging to the same botanical family.
For a healthier garden, rotate the location of crop families each year to minimize the threat of pests and diseases wintering over.
For instance, since tomatoes and peppers both belong to the family (Solanaceae), they are subject to the same fungal enemies. Plant vegetables from another family, such as beans (Leguminosae), where the tomatoes grew last year.
Rotate the vegetables within the garden from year to year to help reduce the recurrence of pests and diseases that strike vegetables by Botanical family.
Here is a quick reference list so you can plan your crop rotations.
Plants in the Tomato Family (Solanaceae)
Plants in the Cabbage Family (Cruciferae)
- Brussels sprout
Plants in the Squash Family (Cucurbitaceae)
Plants in the Pea Family (Leguminosae)
- Lily Family (Liliaceae)
Plants in the Carrot Family (Umbelliferae)
Plants in the Grass Family (Gramineae)
- Lettuce Family (Compositae)
Is it Too Late to Plant a Vegetable Garden?
Most people think you have to plant your garden in the spring.
But that’s not true.
It’s never too late to plant a garden, especially when you practice succession planting.
There is always something you can grow!
Even if you’ve got a late start, you can always plant more mature plants from nursery stock, or start planning ahead for the next season’s harvest. And if you’re heading into winter, that’s a good time to do some seed starting indoors.
You can also look to indoor crops, like mushrooms and sprouts.
What is Succession Planting?
Another consideration when you plan a backyard vegetable garden is succession planting. With succession planting, you plant according to the season and reuse garden space once you harvest a crop.
For instance, a cool-weather crop, such as lettuce, leaves free space in the garden after you harvest it in late spring.
You can reuse that garden space by following with a warm-weather crop, such as tomatoes.
Make the best use of your garden space by following cool-season crops with warm-season crops. Ambitious gardeners can even sow a second cool-season crop following warm-season crops for a fall harvest.
In that way, you’ll maximize the garden’s productivity and yield. All vacant plots in the garden are re-used and re-purposed.
Below are lists of cool-season and warm-season crops for your reference.
*Hardy. Plant 2 to 4 weeks before the frost-free date.
Warm Season Crops
- Beans, Lima*
- Beans, Snap
- Sweet potatoes*
*Needs hot weather. Plant 1 week or more after frost-free date.
Where To Buy Seeds and Seedlings for Your Garden
Local nurseries and garden stores usually carry the most common vegetables. A phone call in spring will confirm their plans to offer a specific, less common vegetable you have your heart set on.
For hard-to-find or specialty items not locally available, consider mail order and internet sources.
Once you have planned your vegetable garden on paper, it’s not too soon to think about the harder stuff,
Those things will probably include:
- Preparing the soil
- Deciding and purchasing fertilizer
- Making your own compost
- Establishing a watering system
- Managing pests
- Acquiring any special garden tools
Even though it may be a lot of work, it’s extremely rewarding — especially when you keep your eyes on the prize at the end. A good harvest is worth every bit of time, effort, and money you invest.
Final Thoughts on How to Plan a Backyard Vegetable Garden
A backyard vegetable garden can be one of the most welcoming parts of returning home from vacation. With careful planning and regular water and care, it will reward you with a bountiful harvest, season after season.
Let me know in the comments, what is your favorite thing about backyard gardening?
This article is may contain affiliate links. As always, all opinions expressed are my own. For more information, please see the following Disclosure. It originally appeared in print in The Patriot Ledger newspaper titled “Inch by Inch, Row by Row” by Jackie Gately.
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