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How to Plan a Vegetable Garden: Perfect for Beginners

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Are you ready to turn your patch of soil or empty patio space into a flourishing vegetable garden? Whether you’re a green thumb in training or a seasoned gardener, learning how to plan a vegetable garden is the first step towards growing a bountiful harvest. I’ll guide you through the process, providing easy-to-follow steps and tested advice that’s perfect for beginners because I was once a beginner, just like you. Get ready to dig in and discover how to transform your space into a thriving vegetable garden that can help you grow your own food right at home. 

how to plan a vegetable garden

“A failure to plan is a plan to fail,” are those words attributed to Benjamin Franklin and planning a vegetable garden requires just as much planning as the next task. Overall, making a vegetable garden plan will save you time, money, and sanity. 

Assess Your Space and Resources

Many gardeners want to jump into planting right away, especially if plants and seeds are already on hand. But it’s important to take a step back and assess your space and available resources. Understanding the unique characteristics of your garden area will help you make informed decisions when it comes to plant selection, layout, and maintenance. Factors you want to consider when starting to plan a garden, especially if this is your first year, include:

  • Sunlight: Start by evaluating the amount of sunlight the area you’re planning for a garden receives. Most vegetables thrive in full sun (6+ hours). Observe your garden space throughout the day to identify any shady spots or areas that may be blocked by trees or structures. This information will be essential when deciding which vegetables to grow and where to place them within your garden.
  • Soil Quality: Next, consider the quality of your soil. Rich soil is the foundation of a successful vegetable garden. Take a handful of soil from different areas of your garden and perform a simple soil test. You can do this through your local Cooperative Extension office and many times of year this is free. You can also test to see if the soil has good drainage by following the instructions here. 
  • Water Availability: A nearby water source is another important factor to consider. Growing your own vegetables typically requires consistent moisture to produce a bountiful harvest. Evaluate your water source and determine if you have access to a reliable irrigation system or if you’ll be relying on manual watering methods. 
  • Your Time: Finally, don’t forget to consider your available time and energy when planning your garden. Vegetable gardens require regular care and maintenance, including watering, weeding, and pest management. While some of these tasks can certainly be streamlined and reduced with good gardening practices, be realistic about how much time and effort you can commit to your garden, especially if you’re a beginner. Starting small and gradually expanding your garden as you gain experience is a smart approach.

Another recommendation I have for planning a vegetable garden space is to create a Sun Map of your yard. This allows you to know exactly what areas get more sun and have the best access to water. Check out my post with full instructions of How to Make a Sun Map. It’s easy to do and can pay off in dividends if you select the best spot for a garden the first time. 

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​The Best Garden Type for You

If you already have a garden space going, then skip this section. For those who are planning a garden for the first time, you’ll want to figure out what type of garden space works best for you. You’ve already identified the space you have for gardening and what the planting area looks like. Now, you can figure out what style of garden beds would work best for your new vegetable garden. Here are some great options:

  • Classic Row Gardens: These in-ground gardens are the cheapest way to start gardening, as long as you have the space and decent soil. This is definitely a great way to start a garden on a budget using a simple tiller or going the no-dig method using cardboard and compost. (Check out Charles Dowding’s No Dig Gardening book as a helpful resource for what I think is the best way to start a row garden.) Traditional rows are also easy to organize and plan. 
  • Raised Bed Gardens: If your soil is challenging or you’re looking for less weeding and maintenance, then a raised bed garden may be an easy way to start a vegetable garden. Many new gardeners opt for a simple raised bed as a way to try out gardening before expanding. Raised beds can be made at home using simple tutorials like this DIY Garden Bed Tutorial or by purchasing easy to put together kits like these from Garden in Minutes. This is a great option for a small garden or those working with a small space.
  • Container Gardens: ​If available yard space is an issue or your back deck or patio has the best sunlight options, then a container garden may be the best best for vegetable gardening. There are a variety of container types out there and any number of plants can be grow in containers year round. 

Now that you know the best garden type for planning your vegetable garden, let’s talk about what you’re actually going to want to grow. 

Choose the Right Vegetables

For many of us, choosing seeds and plants may be the funnest part of starting a garden, but it’s also one of the most important. Now that you’ve decided where your garden will be, let’s dive into the exciting world of vegetable selection and discover the perfect crops that will thrive in your home garden.

When it comes to choosing the right vegetables for your garden, it’s a good idea to consider a few key factors. 

  1. Grow what you will eat: First and foremost, think about your personal preferences. After all, the ultimate goal of your vegetable garden is to enjoy a bountiful harvest of vegetables that you and your family love to eat. Consider the vegetables that are staples in your kitchen and the ones that you find yourself buying most often from the farmers market or grocery store. By all means, try new things, but steer away from vegetables and herbs that you know you don’t enjoy.
  2. Consider the Climate: Next, take into account your local climate and growing conditions. Different vegetables have different temperature and sunlight requirements, so it’s important to choose varieties that are well-suited to your region. Also, consider when you’re starting your crops. Grow seasonally appropriate vegetables, fruits, and herbs that will have enough time to mature before the season changes. 
  3. Consider Space: Another crucial factor to consider is the amount of space you have available in your garden. Some vegetables, like sprawling pumpkins or melons, require a lot of room to spread their vines. If you have limited space, focus on compact or vertical varieties that can be grown in containers or trained to grow on trellises. This way, you can maximize your harvest even in small gardens or balconies.
  4. Maintenance: Take into account your available time and energy for caring for the garden. Some vegetables require more maintenance than others, such as regular pruning, staking, or frequent watering. If you have a busy schedule or prefer low-maintenance gardening, choose vegetables that are more self-sufficient and require less hands-on attention. (See my article on the Low Maintenance Fall Garden.) 

Finally, don’t forget to consider the compatibility of different vegetables when planning your garden. Some plants thrive when grown together, benefiting from companion planting, while others may hinder each other’s growth or attract the same pests. Check out these helpful articles all about companion planting:

Design Your Vegetable Garden Layout

When it comes to planning your vegetable garden, it’s not just about choosing the right vegetables and understanding their needs. You also need to think about how to design your garden layout for optimal success. The layout of your garden will determine how efficiently you can access and care for your plants, as well as how well they will grow and thrive. So, let’s dive into the process of designing your garden layout, and what planting method may work best for you:

  • Square Foot Gardening Method: ​This planting method works especially well with raised bed gardens, and it dictates how many vegetable plants can be grown in one square foot. The garden space is divided up into square feet (either physically with string or simply visually) and planted accordingly. See my article on How to Start Square Foot Gardening. I used this method for years when I was just learning how to plan a vegetable garden. It’s very helpful. 
  • Intensive Gardening: If you aren’t interested in the structure of square foot gardening, and want to make the most of your space, then intensive gardening may be a good way to grow what you want. This method maximizes the space you have for growing a variety of vegetables. See this post from Gardenary for more info on intensive gardening and why it may be the best choice for you. 
  • Row Gardening: If you’re using an in-ground garden, then consider the traditional method of planting in rows. Each row can be dedicated to one or two vegetables, or you can ​alternate down the row, placing companion plants near each other. 

Also consider the height of each respective plant. Don’t plant tall vegetables, such as okra or corn where they will eventually shade out lower plants (unless those plants do well in part shade). Let’s move onto soil as we talk about planning your vegetable garden.

Garden Planning Inspiration

​Here are some great layout ideas for planning your home vegetable garden. 

  • Victory Garden Plan for a Family of 5 (Growveg.com): See this full victory garden which is planned out in a traditional row garden style.
  • Fall Square Foot Garden Plans: See my printable set of square foot garden plans for the fall garden. There are multiple to choose from depending on the types of vegetables you enjoy. 
  • Small Spring Vegetable Garden Plans: This article from Better Homes and Gardens includes a detailed layout of a small spring vegetable garden and tells you exactly what to plant. 
  • Spicy Salsa Garden PlansUse these plans to grow everything you will need for spicy and flavorful salsa all summer long!
  • Summer Vegetable Garden Plan​Designed for a raised bed, this summer vegetable garden plan from Better Homes and Gardens is an easy plan for anyone looking to grow a lot in not much space. 

More Vegetable Garden Planning Helps

If you are looking for more helps with planning your vegetable garden, check out these resources that will help you put ideas on paper and get that garden growing:

  • Free Printable Garden Planner: This free printable planner will help you get all of the ideas down (where you hopefully won’t forget them), and allow you to reference them all year long. 
  • Spiral-Bound Kitchen Garden Planner: If you’re looking to make your garden planning longer lasting, check out my spiral-bound Kitchen Garden Planner in a convenient 6×9 size that’s easy to take into the garden to plan and record anything you might need. This is a helpful resource full of tips and places for recording everything from garden layout to fertilization, pests, and watering to reflections on that season. 
  • How to Start a Vegetable Garden Guide: This printable step-by-step guide will take you through all of the above steps in a helpful format. Print it out and keep it in a binder for year-round use or send it off to your local print shop to be spiral bound.
  • Digital Garden Planner: This Google Sheets doc is perfect for the digital garden planner. Easy to use and keep track of seeds, plans, results, and more! Easy access to this is just a click away and can be used during any growing season year after year. 

I hope this helps you plan a vegetable garden at home whether this is your first garden or one of many you’ve grown. There is just such joy that comes from growing your favorite vegetables at home, and I’m happy to help you along in your gardening journey. Be sure to sign up for my weekly newsletter for helps and tips that come straight to your inbox! Happy Gardening!