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How to Plant a Vegetable Garden

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How to Plant a Vegetable Garden

So you want to start a vegetable garden, and you’ve picked the perfect sunny spot for your row, raised-bed, or container garden. What’s next? As much as I’d like to say you can snap your fingers, a la Mary Poppins, and things will just start growing, that’s not really how it works. Your next step will be to prep your garden area. This can be done in a few steps. The steps are a little different depending on what type of garden you’ve chosen to plant, but the overall goal is the same: you want loosened, rich soil. 

vegetable garden with tomatoes and marigolds


Chances are, achieving this may take a trip to your local hardware store or nursery, unless you happen to live somewhere that the soil is just awesome. If choosing to grow in the ground, take the extra step of having a soil test done by your local extension office. Most of the year this is a free service the county provides. Side note: This totally happened to us in our first house! It was a new construction house in what used to be a farmer’s field. Our garden grew like gangbusters that year. So, despite what type of garden you’ve chosen, here’s how to get ready to get growing:

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Till or Fill Your Garden

Row Garden– For a traditional row garden, you’ll want to think about how big your garden plot needs to be for everything you want to plant. For a larger garden, you may also want to incorporate a little space for a “walkway” in the middle, so when you’re checking on your plants, you’re not packing down the soil where plants are growing. Once you’ve determined the size, till up the dirt by hand or with a tiller. (If you don’t own a tiller, check around to see if you can borrow or rent one.) Here’s a video from Troy-Bilt for you visual learners: (Full disclosure: I find it unnecessary to till the place a raised bed will sit, but the tiller tutorial is good for an in-ground garden.)

For an in-ground row garden you may also need to amend the soil depending on your soil sample results. A soil test will give you both a Ph analysis of your soil and phosphorus and potassium index. The ideal Ph for a vegetable garden is 6.0 to 6.5. So if your result shows a low ph, lime will need to be applied before planting. Too much phosphorus in the soil? Be sure to use a fertilizer during the season with a 0 or lower number in the middle number on the fertilizer bag. (Ex. Espoma’s Organic Plant Food has a lower phosphorus content.)

Raised Bed or Container Garden– Your first step will be to build or purchase your raised bed or various containers. (Need a good DIY Raised Bed tutorial?) You can also check out these great visual instructions from The Pioneer Woman (love her!). Once you have your bed/containers in place, you’ll want to fill them. What to fill them with?

Five Dollar Hole for a 50 Cent Plant

I know the grammar isn’t necessarily correct, but this is a very old saying, at least down south. And the advice here is good. That pack of seeds may only cost a bit of change, but the soil you plant them in makes all the difference. Now, I’m not telling you to go out and buy bags of Miracle-Gro; that will surely put a cramp in the budget, but you do want to get some good quality soil. A good mix will be 2 parts peat to 1 part compost, but most gardeners have their own variation on this. (Try my DIY Potting Soil recipe to fill your beds and containers.)

Now is also the time to put that rich compost pile you’ve been working on to good use! But even if you’re not composting at home (you should give it a try!), you can certainly buy compost. In the past, we’ve used Black Kow compost that we’ve purchased from Lowe’s, but there are other non-animal product composts that are wonderful. Mix up the soil and compost in your garden so everything is well distributed and moisten it up with light watering.

Get Ready to Plant

Now you’re set and ready to plant your garden! Not sure when to start getting ready to plant? Check first which zone you live in here at the USDA’s website.

usda zone map

For a spring garden, you usually want to plant after the danger of frost has passed. You can also look on the back of seed packages, and there are suggestions there, based on the zone you live in. Seed packages have a wealth of information on them, and we’ll talk about plants and seeds in Part 3!

For plants, consider what your local hardware store is currently carrying. They will usually carry plants that are in season, since that is what sells. Plant in the garden what your family enjoys eating. Don’t plant things that sound fun, but you don’t think you’ll really eat. I’m speaking from personal experience here! 

So start thinking about a Saturday coming up that you can put your garden plans into action! Don’t feel like you need to start out with a bang if this is your first year gardening. A simple container or single raised bed is a great way to get your gardening feet wet. I’m happy to answer any questions you may have as you begin your gardening journey, and I’d love to know what you’re thinking about growing this year. Happy Gardening!

What to Plant in Your Vegetable Garden by Season:

What to Plant in an Early Spring Garden

Spring Garden: What to Grow?

What to Grow in a Summer Garden

Low-Maintenance Fall Garden

Companion Plants: What to Grow Together


I'd love to hear from you

Cy Jr Perkins

Saturday 5th of March 2016

I plowed my garden spot last weekend and plan to harrow on Monday. Starting my tomato and pepper seeds today. Can hardly wait to see things pop up!!


Sunday 6th of March 2016

How exciting! Can't wait to see it!

I'd love to hear from you

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