How To Start A Vegetable Garden From Scratch? - Guide For Beginners

Last update: Dec 5, 2019

How To Start A Vegetable Garden From Scratch? - Guide For Beginners

Start a vegetable garden?

Doesn’t it just buy some favorite plants and stick them into the ground?

Hm… sound not bad. But I’ll tell you, without a good plan, the amount to learn, maintain, and weed can rapidly knock you out. Consequently, it is just setting yourself up for disappointment.

Now, what to plan? And how to?

To start your garden from scratch, you should go over these 4 things:

  • Find the right location for your garden
  • Choose the best type of garden
  • Narrow down which plants to grow first
  • How to take care of them?

Choose The Right Location

There are four main elements you should think about when choosing a location for your new garden – wind, rain, water source, and the sun.

The sun

How To Start A Vegetable Garden From Scratch? - Guide For Beginners

95% of vegetables love a place where they can be exposed to 7 or 8 hours of sun per day. Under this range, they won’t grow healthily.

If there are various spots available around your backyard to place a garden, choose the one that can get the direct morning sun. On the contrary, using a mirror or taking advantage of white walls to reflect some sunlight back onto your plants is a genius idea.

You also should consider the effect of shade in a garden as well.

Avoid direct afternoon sun, especially if your living area has burning hot summers or your crop includes short cool growing plants.

When planning your garden, getting to know about sun-mapping is also a big bonus to find the right place, even the right plants for your garden:


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Which plants are suitable for

South-facing gardens

Get the most hours of exposing to the sun

Heat tolerant vegetables such as eggplants, peppers, tomatoes, okra, squash, and watermelon

West-facing gardens

Expose directly to afternoon sun

Tomatoes if you’re living in cold climates

Conversely, provide some shade for your garden

East-facing gardens

Get the direct morning sun

Heat intolerant veggies like spinach, kale, carrots, cauliflower, and broccoli

North-facing gardens

Generally shady

If that area gets at around 2 – 3 hours of sun, try carrots, oregano, mint, chives, and leafy green.

Wind

Many gardeners forget to consider this feature but in reality, especially if you’re living in a region prone to summer storms, wind will affect your plants for sure.

Most vegetables can hold up well with occasional storms; fall off in daily wind; and be stripped off during severe storms.

How To Start A Vegetable Garden From Scratch? - Guide For Beginners

So aside from figuring out how strong gusts of wind, you also should determine whether the veggies that you intend to grow can handle them or not.

For years of living on your property, I think you have known which areas will suffer the strongest gusts of wind during summer storms.

Avoid those places!

In case you can’t, use windshields and landscaping cloth to wrap around your plants.

Although this method can’t prevent 100% the affection of wind on your veggies, it can diffuse partly the force and therefore, stakes will be more wind-resistant and sprawling plants won’t restrict to cages.

Rain & Water Source

Too much water is the biggest enemy of all plants. Regardless of rotting or getting bogged down, just the amount of soil splashing onto your plants’ leaves can cause them to diseases.

From that point, avoid those spots that can make your plants heavily splashed during downpours. For example, eave and gutter are two first areas to be in your blacklist.

A water source is another thing you should consider, by the way. It’d better locate your garden as near to a water source as possible because it will save lots of time and effort for watering.

What Is The Right Type Of Garden For You?

For a new garden, here are three common types of garden to consider:

The following table will help you easily figure out which is the right one for you:


Pros

Cons

Who suit for?

Garden directly in the soil

No limitation of root growth

Keep nutrients and water efficiently

Lower cost

Have to do several soil tests to check if there are any fungal diseases in it

Get higher risks of suffering diseases and pests

Weeds

Gardeners who prefer to have a large garden

Raised garden beds

Easily put on top of the current landscape

Require less kneeling and bending -> save your back and knees from pain and fatigue

Don’t limit the place to construct

A bit costlier to build

Restrict space to add more plants

Weeds are still able to invade your garden

People who have arthritis or certain physical restrictions

Want to build a new garden on top of weeds and grass

The soil available is too compacted or dense to grow plants

Garden in containers

Easy on the knees and back

100% no weeds

Can be located anywhere

Restrict the plant varieties on each container

Require nutrients and water more often

Limited in the depth, not suit for plants that need space for rooting

You don’t have much outdoor space or good soil for a garden

Weeds heavily invalid your area

For people who just want to grow 1 or 2 kinds of plants

Your sunniest place is on a patio

Bonus: How do I prepare the ground for a vegetable garden?

How To Start A Vegetable Garden From Scratch? - Guide For Beginners

Here is a step-by-step brief guide to help you get a garden off to a great start:

Determine the soil health by testing its pH, mineral levels, and macronutrient content. You can buy a soil test kit in any local cooperative extension services. The best time to do this is during spring or autumn.

Examine soil type and texture to find out the best way to improve it

Improve the soil: Growing green manures, using mulch, or adding organic matter in the form of aged manure and compost are some ideal ways to enhances the soil’s nutrients

I highly recommend using organic matter rather than chemical fertilizers as these can’t maintain good, friable soil. Not to say that organic matter also provides air in the soil (at 25%) and improve the soil structure to benefit your plants.

Best soil for vegetable garden in raised bed

60% topsoil + 30% compost + 10% potting soil.

How To Start A Vegetable Garden From Scratch? - Guide For Beginners

Which Plants To Grow

Now is the most fun part – choose the plants to grow.

There are three main things to keep in mind:

  • Select the reasonable plant varieties
  • Consider the frost date & length of your growing season
  • Which veggies can and cannot companion together?

Select The Reasonable Plant Varieties

Start with listing out all the species you like to grow and narrow them down to the ones that suit most for the available sun/shade patio and the gardening area that you have. They should be easy to plant and take care of as well.

As you’re a beginner, it would be better to have fun with a small garden rather than disappointed by a large one.

The perfect plan is beginning with a few vegetable beds each year and then expand them once you get more confidence.

Which Vegetable Is Easiest To Grow?

To increase the chances of gardening success, here are some easiest veggies:


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Sun/Soil/Wind/Where to plant?

When to plant

Basil

Easy to grow as long as it’s planted outdoors in the summer

Suit for garden in containers or plant directly in the ground

Sunny windowsills or outdoors

Early June

Summer squash

Easy to grow

Highly productive after short growing time

Can keep pumping out fruits until frost

Don’t like wind

Need 8 – 10 hours of sun

Plant directly in the ground or containers

Late spring

Bell peppers

A perennial in tropical areas but can withstand cold weathers

Need 6-8 hours of sun/day

Can be planted in containers, raised beds, or directly to the ground

2 or 3 weeks past the last spring frost when the soil is 65 degrees F or higher

Radishes

Easy to grow & fast-growing in any garden sizes

Just need a short period of time to grow – 4 weeks

Need 6 hours of sun/day but can be planted in shade areas

Suit to grow in containers, raised beds, or directly to the ground

Late spring

Tomatoes

Can be planted in any garden sizes

Can produce fruits all seasons

Provide numerous varieties

Can survive a brief frost

Suit to grow in containers, hanging baskets, raised beds, or directly to the ground

Need 6 to 8 hours of sun/day

6 or 8 weeks before the last frost date

Spinach

Tolerate a light frost

Can be planted indoors and outdoors

Produce crops all year round

Require moist, nitrogen-rich soil

Need full sun

Grow best in pots, containers, or raised beds

6 weeks before the last frost date

Cucumbers

Very prolific and easy to grow

Need full sun

Moist, fertilized soil

2 weeks after the last frost date

Lettuce

Can be started indoors

Grow well in most regions in spring and autumn

Suit to grow in containers, raised beds, or directly to the ground

Grow fastest in full sun

Suit to plant in pots & containers

For early winter crop: early August

For an early spring crop: early February

For a summer/autumn crop: late March to late July

Green beans

Easy to grow

Can be started in the soil

Best to be planted directly in the ground or raised beds

Need fertilizers contain 10% potassium, 5% nitrogen, and 10% phosphorus

Need full sun – 8 to 10 hours of sun/day

10 to 12 weeks before the first frost

Carrots

Hardy

Can be planted directly in the soil

Need loose, sandy soil

Suit to grow in containers, raised beds, or directly to the ground

Need full sun or partial shade, at least 6 hours of sun/day

Spring or autumn

10 to 12 weeks before the first fall frost.

2 weeks before the last frost date

What Is The Hardest Vegetable To Grow?

While most veggies are difficult to grow in highly alkaline or highly acidic soils, it might be hard if the gardeners try to plant it in an unsuitable environment.

For example, tomatoes would be hard to grow in full shade and wet conditions while okra won’t be germinated in cool to cold weather.

But can’t deny that aside from weather, sun, and wind, some plants are very fussy to grow as they need a really long time to grow while requiring much care on watering and fertilizing. For examples:

Onions: They will give you bigger bulbs if being planted from seed than from onion sets. However, this method will eat up 12 weeks before transplanting and require rich soil with regular care. Not to say that you should keep in mind the watering schedule.

Cauliflower: It’s difficult to get a big enough head of cauliflower before the heat sets in. You should meticulously pay attention to choose the right varieties, prepare the right soil and timing.

How To Start A Vegetable Garden From Scratch? - Guide For Beginners

Broccoli: This veggie is challenging to grow because it requires the right soil nutrients and perfect temperatures. It would be best to grow them in warm seasons with lightweight row covers.

Celery: No doubts! This is renowned for being fussy and hard to grow because it needs A LOT of time to grow – 3 to 4 months of mostly cool weather. Meanwhile, celery requires the right fertilizer and watering schedule to grow well.

Which Vegetables Can Grow Without Sunlight?

How To Start A Vegetable Garden From Scratch? - Guide For Beginners

  • No plants can grow WITHOUT sunlight but at least, they can in partial shade conditions, such as:
  • Leafy green: Rhubarb, garden cress, watercress, spinach, leaf lettuce, horseradish, kale, endive, swiss chard, and arugula. Plant them in those places that are shaded moderately during the day, or get dappled or filtered sunlight all day.
  • Root: Turnips, rutabagas, radishes, potatoes, parsnips, leeks, kohlrabi, carrots, and beets. They love areas where there’s less direct sunlight. In fact, these veggies still need a ½ day of full sun and some partial shade.
  • Cruciferous: Chinese cabbage, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, broccoli, and cabbage
  • Allium: Garlic
  • Edible plant stem: asparagus, chives, and scallions
  • Marrow: Summer squash, bush beans, and peas

What Vegetables Need Full Sun?

Full sun means 6 to 10 hours of direct sunlight per day without blockage, like walls, trees, and tall shrubs. Here are some vegetables that need full sun:

  • Turnips
  • Rutabaga
  • Radish
  • Leek
  • Onions
  • Cabbage
  • Beets
  • Peas
  • Beans

You might see some varieties that are included in both lists of partial shade and full sun but don’t worry, those are the easy-to-grow plants so, in most conditions, they can grow well.

What veg can you grow all year round?

If you want to grow vegetables that are productive all year round, here are some easy-to-try options:

Kale: It is a biennial veggie and particularly productive for cold weathers. Kales have a life span of 2 years.

Radicchio: This plant will grow best in warm climate and be extremely productive during the spring and autumn

Leeks/onions: Some varieties of onions and leeks are perennial that can give your food on the table all year round, such as perennial leeks, Egyptian walking onions, and Perulite.

Horseradish: This veggie can grow well in any kinds of climates and be very hardy. Can be harvested in fall and winter.

Chayote Squash: It grows healthily and gives fruits during the spring and summer. Chayote squash will die back in the winter and return again when the soil and weather are warmer. You just need to carefully mulch the soil where it grows during cold weathers.

Okra: It’s a perennial plant that puts numerous food per year

Eggplants: Though being treated as an annual veggie, eggplants are a perennial plant and will provide food as long as they survive the frost

Others: Tomatoes, peppers, and Jerusalem Artichoke

What vegetables grow in 30 days?

By growing fast-growing vegetables, you can harvest in no time:

  • Kale
  • Arugula
  • Spinach
  • Lettuce
  • Sweet potato leaves
  • Green onions
  • Radishes
  • Baby carrots

Consider The Frost Date & Length Of Your Growing Season

How To Start A Vegetable Garden From Scratch? - Guide For Beginners

Why? – you might ask.

By acknowledging of the frost dates, you will get your timing right to start a new growing season without frost damage. This is the very first essential step for a successful spring garden.

The average final spring frost in your area is called “the last frost date” and it’s varied on elevation, country, state, and whether you’re living in a rural or urban environment.

For example, the last frost dates in urban areas might be moved up by several days to a week because due to pockets that surround cities called “heat islands”, these places will be heating up more quickly in spring.

What if I plant my vegetable garden during the last spring frost?

Well, there might be some certain consequences, more or less. As most veggie varieties can’t stand the low temperatures during the frost spring nighttime, their germination will be affected. Their ideal temperature range is from 55 degrees F and above.

Some cold-season plants can grow well in temperatures 32 degrees F and above, such as carrots, beets, radishes, spinach, cabbage, and lettuce.

But below that range, they can’t grow either.

Getting to know your climate is the very first thing to do. Then, when buying a seed packet, looking for the cultural information and nursery tags about it will give you an idea of when to start gardening and which ones can be in the same crop.

Now, how to know the frost day in your area?

You can find many online resources available. They keep updating periodically the specific frost date of different states, regions, or countries for gardeners.

The USDA website is a shining example. It belongs to the American government and USDA stands for U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is very reliable.

But you should understand that these given pieces of information are due to historically averaged temperatures, implying of 10% chance available for seasonal-damaging frosts to happen after the listed date in your region.

The most optimal way to avoid damaging plant frosts is to combine with the seed guidelines according to the last frost date and weather forecast.

Companion Planting

Rather than considering whether carrots should be placed next to leeks, companion planting is worked based on factors beyond your control, like pests and weather. In summary, choosing the right plants to pair together is dependent on 3 main principles:

Consider shade & support

How To Start A Vegetable Garden From Scratch? - Guide For Beginners

For example, the shade of broccoli or tomatoes saves lettuce from the summer sun. Or, sweet corn can be used to offer support for climbing beans.

Before you want to grow a specific number of plants together, you can search online and ask other gardener friends for information. Or, let your own experiments be your guide. Below are some references for you:

  • Trellis plants + sunflowers
  • Trellis plants + corn + climbing beans
  • Corn + climbing beans + squash
  • Corns + potatoes

To attract beneficial insects

How To Start A Vegetable Garden From Scratch? - Guide For Beginners

Such as hoverflies, bees, lacewings, and ladybugs.

Not only aiding pollination, these insects can eat pests like scale insects, mealybugs, thrips, mites, and aphids. That’s the reason why many practical gardeners choose to add some certain flowers to their vegetable garden.

Flowers known to attract beneficial insects are usually rich in high-protein pollen.

For example, nasturtium, comfrey, carrots, parsleys, garlic, onions, poached egg plants, daisy, chamomiles, marigold, and calendula. There are also some efficiently insectary green manures, such as:

  • Clover
  • Buckwheat
  • Phacelia

To confuse pests

Aside from using beneficial insects to get rid of pests, you can take advantage of the added plants for that.

For instance, to eliminate egg-laying issues of onion fly and cabbage fly, many gardeners will use heavily aromatic plants like mints or lambs-quarters.

While a huge area of a single crop is prone to attract pests, a garden variety bedding geranium can confuse them.

How To Take Care Of My Garden?

Once your vegetable garden is set up and growing, some proper care will boost its productivity. Rest assured! These extra steps are very easy to do:

What Garden Tools Do I Need?

The most basic tools and materials for maintaining a garden include:

If you want to learn more about gardening tools and their use, take a look at our “Gardening tools list with pictures and their uses”.

How To Start A Vegetable Garden From Scratch? - Guide For Beginners

There are 4 things you should consider to take care of your veggie garden properly – watering, mulching, eliminating weeds, and fertilizing.

Watering

How To Start A Vegetable Garden From Scratch? - Guide For Beginners

More or less, your plants need water to grow faster, establish stronger roots, and produce more quality fruits. But take note that only consistent watering will deliver optimal results so this task might be a little bit tricky if your garden has a wide range of varieties.

Most veggies in general require watering after planting.

For young plants and seedlings, you should keep the top 6” of soil moist. Once they have established roots, regularly check the soil by pointing your fingers on the top layers. If 3” or 4” of topsoil is dried, wetting it at least 6” deep.

With a bigger garden, it’d better install a soaker hose or irrigation to control the amount of water for your plants.

The most optimal option is using a sprinkler system as it provides enough water to your plants without wetting their leaves and besides, can save up to 60% of the water.

How to know if I overwater or underwater my plants?

Two common ways are direct observation and using a moisture meter. You will know you have under watered if the plants have dead or brown leaves, stunted growth or wilting.

Some common symptoms of overwatering are: moss or mold growing on the topsoil, dead or yellowing leaves, or the soil around the plant stem is soaked.

Mulching

How To Start A Vegetable Garden From Scratch? - Guide For Beginners

Should I mulch my vegetable garden?

Yes, you should.

According to the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, mulching 1 or 2 inches on the topsoil will help to limit soil erosion and evaporation. Besides, it can reduce weeds growth, diseases and regulate soil temperatures.

Grass clippings, straw, shredded leaves, and pine needles work well.

If you intend to use grass clippings, only choose from untreated lawns, not the herbicide-treated, fresh manure and sawdust, or hay.

The best time to apply mulch is in spring when the soil has warmed up gradually – at least 65 degrees F at 4” deep (according to the University of Georgia). Don’t try to mulch earlier as it will disturb the soil’s warming.

Extra bonus: If your garden has many acid-love plants, like potatoes, azaleas, and rhododendrons, use coffee grounds and pine needles will give better results.

Weeds

How To Start A Vegetable Garden From Scratch? - Guide For Beginners

The biggest enemy of any gardeners is weeds. Not only they are a trouble in and of themselves, but weeds also attract diseases and pests.

So the most common question is “How do I keep weeds out of my vegetable garden?”

To control weeds, you should hoe or pull them as soon as they appear and still young. Aside from mulching as mentioned above to suppress weeds, there are some other methods to keep them at bay:

  • Cultivating & digging regularly
  • Build a raised garden bed
  • Cover the gaps between plants by other plants – companion planting

Fertilizing

How To Start A Vegetable Garden From Scratch? - Guide For Beginners

Highly-nutrient soils promote healthy plants to tolerate disease problems and even pests. Throughout the growing season, every veggie crop will have its own nutrients needs.

By understanding the available soil texture and fertility, you can quickly figure out how much additional fertilizer needed and when to feed the soil.

With vine crops, you can start fertilizing when the vines are spreading and one more time when they bloom. Fertilize corn, cole crops, head lettuce, eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes 3 or 4 weeks after planting.

How to fertilize?

Sprinkle fertilizer 8” from scratch and stems into the soil. Use 2 pounds/25 feet of row or 2 tablespoons of 5-10-10/plant.

BONUS: Vegetable Garden Layout Ideas

Now, I’m quite sure that you’ve known how to start a vegetable garden from scratch but some guys might be a bit unsure of how to lay it out, right? So this extra section will give you some ideas for easy-to-build but beautiful vegetable garden layouts:

Take advantage of your raised garden beds: You can play colors by painting the wood boards or plants different varieties. Or some rearrangement like this is quite a creative idea:

How To Start A Vegetable Garden From Scratch? - Guide For Beginners

Pallet Garden: You can put some time and effort to build a pallet garden, start with your raised bed. Just place a pallet on the backside of the bed for plants to grow up, which is quite easy.

How To Start A Vegetable Garden From Scratch? - Guide For Beginners

Choose companion planting wise: Here are some plant combos to try:

  • Cabbage + chamomile
  • Chives/geraniums + roses
  • Garlic/chives + lettuce
  • Cilantro/basil + tomatoes
  • Carrots + radishes
  • Eggplants/tomatoes + lettuce
  • Broccoli + calendula
  • Pumpkin/squash + pole beans + corn
  • Swiss chard +sweet alyssum
  • Flowering herbs + squash/melons
  • Cucumber + nasturtium

Conclusion

As you can see, gardening is both an art and a science. And I hope my intensive guide has cleared all the questions that you have about how to start a vegetable garden from scratch. Thanks for reading!

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