Vegetable Garden Planning Guide

Wouldn’t it be great if you could grow your own vegetables?

The good news is that it’s actually easier than most people think.  Once you know the basics of vegetable gardening, you’ll be able to grow your own crops in your backyard.

So, if you’ve always wanted to try growing your own veggies at home, this guide will let you know all there is to know to get started.

By the end, you’ll be able to decide which ones you want to grow, plan your garden, know when to sow, harvest and store them.

Let’s get started.

 

Planning Your Vegetable Garden

The very first step to growing your very own vegetable garden is planning.

Here, you’ve got a few options, among them are:

 

Start as a Side Hobby

This was how I started. I wasn’t sure whether I’d enjoy growing vegetables. So, what I did was get a few containers and seed packets of the veggies we enjoyed eating like tomatoes.

There was no organization to it. I had 6 containers of different vegetables and that was it. The containers meant I could move them around as needed.

As you can see, there was no planning at all. And, I mostly learned through trial and error.

 

Plan Things out Ahead of Time

If you’re sure that you’re going to stick to it. And, you like staying organized. Then, this is a better way to go.

That said, the method takes more work.

But, it also saves you the hassle and effort of moving big pots around. Not to mention having to re-organize all the other containers as well.

This is also the best way to go if you plan on growing your vegetable garden on the ground, since it’s not easy to move them around once they’re in the soil.

To help you out, here’s a chart of vegetables that are easy, hard or not ideal to transplant outdoors.

It also includes how many weeks they need before you move them outdoors.

Hopefully, this will help you plan your vegetable garden if you want to start some crops indoors earlier.

List of vegetables transplant outside chart. shows you which crops are easy or hard for transplanting after starting the seeds indoors.

 

Location, Sunlight, and Good Soil – The Essentials of a Successful Garden

That said, when it comes to planning your vegetable garden, you want to have 3 essential things.

  • Choosing a good location
  • Make sure they get a lot of sunlight (most vegetables like at least 6 hours of light daily)
  • Place them in good soil

Of course, there are other details the pop up along the way. But, I’ve found that if you get these 3 components right from the beginning, things go much smoother.

Finally, don’t be afraid to start small.

It’s the easiest way to learn how to grow vegetables. And, it allows you to focus on understanding the details since you don’t need to try to care for so many of them all at once. Once you get the hang of things, you can go bigger as the process will be more second nature to you.

 

Choosing a Good Location

What does it mean to choose a good location for your vegetable garden?

Here are some things to consider.

  • Pick somewhere you can easily get to. The closer it is, the more often you’ll be there. Similarly, the more often you see it, the more likely you’ll tend to it. As such, the best place to have your garden is somewhere in or around your home. But, that may not always be possible. If that’s the case, it should be at least close by. Similarly, if you can see your garden through your kitchen window every morning, the more likely it stays in your mind. But, if it’s way back deep in your big backyard, it’s easier to forget about it.
  • It should be easy to move things there. Proximity also helps in that it’s easy to transport soil, mulch and things back and forth. While you can use a cart or wheelbarrow, it’s still much easier if you need to just walk a few feet than a few hundred feet. And, the closer it is to your tools or shed, the better as well.
  • There’s a water source nearby. You’re going to be using a lot of water. And, you’re going to need it frequently. As such, the closer the water source is, the more convenient it will be to use it. Also, the farther away the water source is from your plot, the longer the hose you’ll need. Distance also reduces the strength of the hose’s spray as well.
  • Avoid inclines and slopes. In some cases, you may not have a choice, especially if your garden is shaped that way (unless you’re willing to re-landscape). But, if possible try to avoid steep inclines and slopes. Ideally, choose a flat surface. Although, a slight slop is fine. Flatter spaces let you avoid problems with erosion. And, it makes keeping the plants upright easier (as opposed to an angle). Finally, it eliminates the risk of you turning your ankle.
  • Consider your microclimate. This is something you’ll learn more in detail below. That said, microclimates are pockets of space in your yard where the climate (temperature, wind, sunlight, etc.) is different from everywhere else around it. This is often caused by objects blocking the sun, bodies of water, troughs in your garden, trees, shrubs or other things. For example, if you have a wall or a large tree, at some point in time, that wall or trees will cast a big shadow that shades a section of your garden from the sun. As such, during those hours, that section won’t experience the same amount of sunlight as the rest of your yard or that of your neighbors’.
  • Size. It’s easy to get tempted to start with a large vegetable garden. But, from my experience, it’s easier to grow from a small one. It doesn’t even matter if you start with just a few containers. That’s good enough. Starting small helps because it allows you to focus on just a few plants. This lets you focus on learning more about how the entire process goes as opposed to trying to care for lots of them at the same time. As such, anything up to 100 square feet is more than enough space when starting out. You can always expand later on. If you’re looking to grow a larger harvest, be it for food storage or community gardening, a plot of around 500-600 square feet works well.
  • Maintenance. The larger your garden, the more maintenance it will require. As such, it’s a good idea to start with something manageable when you’re a beginner. Similarly, most of the work will be front-loaded to the beginning of the season. You’ll be doing things like preparing the soil, adding fertilizer, experimenting and germinating seeds among other things. As such, the first month will take more time daily, between 30 minutes to an hour per day depending on your experience. Also, it takes a lot more time to figure things out in the beginning. But, by the end of summer, that time should go down to around 30 minutes every other day or every 2-3 days. That’s because by then, you’ve got your routine going and you already know where everything is. And, once things are established, everything will be running smoothly and you’ll spend less time running around doing things.

 

Light / Sunlight

In addition to the criteria above for choosing location, you also want to consider sunlight exposure. How much light and what kind of light your crops get will play a hug part on your garden’s success.

As such, it’s one of the biggest factors to consider when it comes to deciding where you set up your vegetable garden.

 

How Many Hours of Light Do Vegetables Need?

Vegetables, like most plants, like a lot of sunlight.

As such, you want to position them where they can get 6-8 hours of sunlight daily. If you’re growing them indoors, you’ll need to use grow lights.

But, since grow lights provide lower quality light compared to that of the sun, you’ll need to give your vegetables at least 14-16 hours of artificial lighting.

While some are okay with less, one thing I’ve noticed is that lack of sunlight (or light, in general) reduces your crop’s yield.

That said, do read the seed packet’s label on the back. It will give you most (if not all) the instructions you need to grow that specific plant.

Those that fall under these categories include fruiting vegetables and fast-growing ones like tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, eggplants, squash, melons, beans, and peas.

These like full sun. That is, they enjoy (and need) direct sunlight. And, lots of it. As such, you don’t want any trees, shadows, shrubs or buildings blocking the sun’s line of sight to them.

The good news is, getting the 6-8 hours of sunlight daily is not as hard as it sounds. That’s because you can split the entire duration into blocks. For example, 3 hours from the morning sun and another 3-4 hours from the afternoon sun.

As long as the total amount of sunlight gets to 6-8 hours, you’re good.

The chart below shows you the light requirements of common vegetables, whether they need full sun or partial shade.

It also includes the days to maturity per vegetable and minimum pot size if you want to grow them in containers.

Vegetable Light Requirements Chart. Shows you the different vegetables and whether they need full sun or partial shade to grow. Container Size Chart. It also shows days to maturity per vegetable and minimum container size you need if you want to grow the vegetables in pots.
Vegetable Light Requirements Chart. Shows you the different vegetables and whether they need full sun or partial shade to grow. Container Size Chart. It also shows days to maturity per vegetable and minimum container size you need if you want to grow the vegetables in pots.

And just in case you need a reference for the plant container pot sizes, check out the chart below. This chart shows the pot size, their gallon and liter equivalents.

Also, it tells you how much soil you need to fill each pot size.

Vegetable Pot and Container Size Conversion Chart. Includes size of pots in gallons, liters and tells you how much soil in cubic feet you need to fill the pot.
Vegetable Pot and Container Size Conversion Chart. Includes size of pots in gallons, liters and tells you how much soil in cubic feet you need to fill the pot.

 

Partial Sun and Partial Shade Vegetables

That said, if you can’t find a suitable location in your yard or garden to get that much sunlight, you might want to consider other crops.

Those that are labeled partial sun or partial shade require only 3-6 hours of sunlight daily. Thus, if certain areas of your garden get shaded through the day, they won’t fuss as much as the full sun vegetables.

If this is your case, then it would be a better option to go with vegetables like kale, spinach, lettuce and chard. In fact, these plants don’t like too much sunlight. If you treat them like the ones above, they’ll end up getting dry. And, you’ll eventually see their leaves curl up and brown spots appear.

In general, leafy vegetables (as opposed to the ones that fruit) do well with partial sun or shaded conditions. So, you can grow arugula or bokchoy as well.

Herbs like thyme, parsley and chives work just as well in these conditions.

Similarly, root vegetables (those that grow under the ground) like carrots, potatoes, beets and radishes can work with just 4-6 hours of direct sunlight a day.

 

Other Options

If your garden just doesn’t get enough direct sunlight for the vegetables you’d like to grow, don’t despair, there are three other options I’ve found to be very effective.

  • Grow them in containers. Containers and pots let you grow specific plants away from your garden. This lets you move those containers to areas where they can get the 6-8 hours of sunlight they need, while the others stay in the garden. So, if you have a patio, deck or other areas that get enough sunlight, set up a few containers there.
  • Create your own “movable” garden. Another great option is to grow your containers on a rolling tray or something large enough to hold them (with wheels). This takes a little bit of work since you may need to move them every now and then. But, it allows you to position the plants where they get enough sunlight.
  • Grow multiple plots around your home. In some cases, you may have different spots around your home where you can grow. In my case, for example, I don’t have the biggest home nor the biggest plot of land. But, we do have extra planting spaces on all sides of the house. So, while most of the plants are facing the south (most sunlight), there are quite a few containers on the east and west sides of my home as well. This way, you can choose which vegetables (and plants) go where based on how much light they need.

 

Light Intensity

Besides duration, it’s also important to consider light intensity.

In general, direct, intense light is best, at least for most plants (including vegetables).

That means you want light that shines directly on your plants with no obstructions to filter out its rays. As such, light on a sunny, cloudless day is much more effective than when the sun is blocked by clouds.

Similarly, for indoor gardens, sunlight that’s blocked by some kind of shade, curtains or even thin sheet of fabric is not as good as direct sunlight.

As you probably already know, plants need sunlight to turn water and carbon dioxide (CO2) into sugar that the plants use for food. The more intense the sunlight, the more sugar it’s able to produce.

In addition to energy, the sugars also allow plants to develop flowers and fruit as well as strengthen its tissues.

As such, if you’re growing fruiting vegetables like tomatoes, lack of sunlight may cause them to not bear fruit.

Fruiting is less of an issue for leafy vegetables. Nevertheless, they still need light to grow properly.

 

Choose a Location Facing South

To get the most sunlight that’s likewise intense, growing your garden facing south is the ideal. That’s because the U.S. is north of the equator.

As such, sunlight comes from the south. It is also why you want to avoid the growing your garden facing north. That is unless you’re growing plants that prefer partial shade or full shade.

Just as importantly, because you need 6-8 hours of light for most vegetables, both the east and west sides aren’t as ideal locations.

That’s because the east only gets a few hours of sunlight in the morning. Similarly, the west only gets exposure in the afternoons.

That said, since the sun’s rays are more intense in the afternoon, the west is a better option compared to the east for plants that thrive on strong, direct sunlight.

 

Sun & Shade Patterns Change with Seasons

Another important thing to know about sunlight is that it isn’t static. That is, it changes with the seasons.

You’ve probably already noticed that there’s more sunlight during spring and summer. And, that the rays of the sun are more intense during the summer compared to spring.

Similarly, the length of the days isn’t the same at different times of the year.

All these factors affect both how much sun, and what intensity of light your plants get.

And, from above, you know why both are important for your garden.

In most cases, a location that’s facing southward will do well. The only exception is if there are trees, buildings or other things that will cast shadows or shade over them.

This is why it’s important to track how much sunlight each of your planting locations receive by season.

Winter will likely be the hardest, even if you live in states that don’t get a lot of snow.

 

How Long and Short Days Affect Your Plants

Similarly, as seasons change, day length changes with it. During the summer, days are longer and nights are shorter. In the winter, you experience the opposite.

That’s because the Earth is tilted.

What many people don’t know is that the length of day affects your vegetables and other plants as well.

  • Long day plants need 12 or more hours of light to be able to flower. Thus, they bloom during summer. Some examples include potato, radish, dill, lettuce and spinach. As such, some gardeners will set up lightboxes after 4 or 5 pm to fool these plants into thinking the day isn’t over yet.
  • Short day plants will only bloom when the days are shorter than 12 hours. That’s because they need long periods of darkness. Some examples include onion and rice.
  • Day-neutral plants aren’t affected by longer or shorter days. Thus, they bloom independently of day length. Corn, cucumber and tomatoes are day-neutral plants that flower regardless of how long the days are.

 

Trees & Shrubs

Trees are an amazing addition to your garden or backyard landscape. But, you need to be aware of them when growing your plants and vegetables.

For one, they will cast a shadow or shade over your garden. Depending on where they’re located, what time of day and the time of year it is, the shade will differ.

Just as importantly, the larger (and wider) the tree, the bigger the shadow it will cast.

Thus, it can get in the way of direct sunlight which some of your vegetables may need.

Also, there’s the matter of water.

Trees will compete with your plants for water and nutrients in the soil. Because the trees are bigger and their roots extend farther down and out, they’ll likely win as well.

 

How Far Should You Plant Your Vegetables From Trees?

A tree’s drip line is the area under the branches and leaves that extend beyond the trunk. For trees and shrubs, this “line” actually is a circumference surrounding the tree. It’s called as such since the drops of water (from rain) cover this area.

So why bother about the drip line?

That’s because a tree’s roots will extend slightly past the drip line. So, if you can, avoid planting within this “circle”. Ideally, you want to start planting outside of it.

That way, the roots aren’t going to “rob” your vegetable garden of water or nutrients.

In case you can’t avoid doing so, then make sure to provide your veggies with extra water and fertilizer. That way, they still get enough even if the tree gets some of it.

 

Know Your Trees & Shrubs

Finally, know your trees and shrubs. Some don’t play nice with neighbors. Also, others are toxic not just to your kids and dogs or cats, but also to other plants.

For example, the roots of black walnut trees release a chemical called juglone, which is used as an herbicide.

This harms plants that are growing too near it, stunting their growth. And, in some cases causing them to wilt or die.

As such, if you have trees or shrubs like that, it’s a good idea to distance your vegetable plot at least 25 feet or more away (depending on what the tree or shrub is).

 

Spacing

Plants need space to grow. As such, you’re somewhat limited by the space in your garden.

By that I mean, the size of your garden may largely determine how many crops you can grow and which vegetables you can plant.

For example, you’ll only be able to grow a few large vegetables because, in addition to their size, they also need more space between each other. In contrast, you’ll be able to grow more smaller crops since they don’t take up a lot of space.

 

How Deep Should You Plant Your Seeds?

Not all seeds are planted in the same depth. In most cases, planting depth is influenced by their size.

You don’t want to bury them too deep. Otherwise, they’ll need to work harder just to get to the surface.

Instead, use just enough soil to cover them sufficiently. A simple guide that’s easy to follow is to go twice as deep as its diameter.

So for example, the seed is 1/4 of an inch wide, then bury it 1/2 an inch deep. For very small seeds that you can’t measure, just push them into the surface of the soil.

After all, the goal is to provide them with enough moisture for germination.

 

How Much Space Do You Need Between Vegetable Plants?

Unfortunately, there is no uniform spacing between vegetable plants and seeds. That’s because they grow to different sizes.

That said, it’s important to understand that space is about 2 things:

  • The distance between plants in a row
  • The space between each row

So, to help you quickly figure out how much room the plants you plant on growing are, here’s a plant spacing chart that lists the different vegetables you may want to grow.

Vegetable seed planting depth and spacing chart. Shows you how deep to plant vegetable crop seeds and how to space them.

Of course, another useful thing to know is how much yield does each planted vegetable yield.

This way you know how much you need to plant for your needs. And how to allocate enough space for your favorite veggies.

Here’s a chart showing you the average yield per vegetable.

average yield of each vegetable when planted
average yield of each vegetable when planted

 

Altitude & Elevation

Altitude is another facet that affects climate. But, it’s effects aren’t limited to that. As such, every vegetable gardener needs to understand how it influences their crops.

Change in elevation effects:

  • It’s generally colder at higher elevations. The temperature drops an average of 3.3 degrees Fahrenheit for every 1,000 feet you go up during cloudy conditions. And, drops 5.5 degrees for each 1,000 feet higher during sunny conditions.
  • Humidity. Humidity decreases as you go up; more humid at normal elevations)
  • Rain and Snow. The higher the elevation the more rain and snow you can expect to receive.
  • In addition to that, it also affects how much sunlight, and the kind of sunlight your plants get. If you’re higher up, there’s also a greater chance of clouds covering much of the sun, depending on where your plot if located.
  • The higher up you go, the stronger the wind speeds you can expect.
  • Growing season. Last but not least, elevation affects the length of your growing season. The higher up you go, the shorter your growing season gets. As such, more frost days will limit your ability to properly grow vegetables that take longer to mature.

As such, in normal circumstances, we enjoy long summer months that are sunny, warm and humid. But, if you live in higher elevation, months can turn into weeks depending on how high you go.

Sunlight, humidity, temperature and precipitation also change. All of which affect how well your plants grow.

And, you’ll also experience conditions you’ll never see at normal altitudes. Some of these things include frost and hail storms during the mid-summer months (July & August).

 

Workarounds to Higher Altitudes

The good news is, there are some workarounds.

But, it’s important to know what your location’s altitude is and how it influences your garden.

A few examples include:

  • Choosing vegetables that are well suited for your conditions
  • Creating an environment where your vegetables can grow faster due to the shorter growing season
  • Protect your plants during the colder months (usually the beginning and end of the season)
  • Starting seeds indoors
  • Applying some season-extending techniques (see the section on season extenders below for more details)

More importantly, while it may be harder to grow your vegetable garden at higher elevations. But, its not impossible.

All you need to do is adjust the way you garden to your conditions.

 

Wind

The wind is another factor that affects climate. You’ve probably noticed that wind helps cool down a hot summer day. And, it makes a cool day even colder.

But, it doesn’t stop there. In addition to temperature, wind also affects your garden in other ways. These include:

  • Damaging your plants. Strong winds can damage your crops. And if they’re strong enough can destabilize them or even pull them out of the ground. The taller the plant, the more at risk it is.
  • Moisture loss. Wind increases the rate at which soil loses water. As such, you’ll need to monitor it closely and water more frequently during windy conditions.
  • Reduce pollination. Windy environments make insects less likely to pollinate.
  • It can carry salt deposits. If you live near the sea, strong winds can carry salt from the water to your garden.
  • Water and pesticide may be blown as you apply. The results is water or the chemicals being sprayed onto random areas instead of where you intended them to go.

That said, some gardens are more prone to winds. These include those in higher elevation, open areas, flat and exposed spaces. In contrast, areas covered by mountains, trees or large structures like buildings are less prone to windy conditions.

 

Protecting Your Garden from the Wind

Among the different factors we’ve discussed so far, the wind is one of the easier ones to control or modify. This gives you the ability to make it work to your advantage.

In most cases, protection from the wind comes in the form of some kind of shelter. The question is what kind of shelter.

Unfortunately, there is no definite answer to this. Depending on the logistics of your garden, where you live and what kind of winds you’re getting, you can turn to a variety of different solutions.

Some are man-made like barriers, covers or other structures. You can likewise turn to more natural forms like trees, shrubs and bushes.

That said, it’s important to plan out your shelter. And, figure out what its consequences are as well.

 

Planning Your Shelter

The reason why you can’t just put up any kind of shelter without planning is that it will eventually affect the rest of your garden.

Here are a few things can get affected.

  • Shade. The kind of shelter you put up will cause some kind of shade. Depending on how big, where and if it’s solid, it may block more or less light.
  • Temperature. Shelter affects temperature. Often, it can cool it during the summer and help warm things up during the winter. But, the effects can vary.
  • Rainfall distribution. Where and what kind of shelter or cover also affects where rain will or won’t reach the ground. Trees will allow some rain to get through, whereas something more man-made may not.
  • Moisture. Sheltered areas will likely receive less sunlight. Thus, allow the soil to experience less evaporation. Similarly, it can also cause plants to compete for moisture.
  • Wind Funnels. This one’s a bit more bothersome. Wind funnels can form when you block winds coming from different directions only to cause them to converge into a funnel. When this happens, you get a narrower gust with more intensity.
  • Change the overall microclimate. The shelter can alter the different microclimates happening in your yard or garden. It can likewise alter the overall microclimate you’ve established before.
  • Cost, Time & Effort. Of course, there’s the cost, time and effort involved in building it along with sourcing the materials.

 

Slope

Slopes and inclines are a less major, yet important factor to consider when gardening.

In general, most slopes aren’t going to be a problem. But, a steep one may be somewhat troublesome.

To clarify, a steep slope is something that’s 20 degrees or more. To help you visualize it, that comes out to an increase of 2 feet (in height) for every 10 feet of the distance you move horizontally.

Why does it matter?

Uneven surfaces, compared to flat, ones bring up a few extra challenges for you as a gardener. These include:

  • Risk of soil erosion. This is the biggest problem when it comes to slopes and inclines. The uneven terrain makes it easier for rain, strong winds and other conditions to displace the soil. In the process, it can take your plants down with it.
  • Stability. This is related to soil erosion. Depending on what kind of soil you use, it may be easier or harder to keep the soil in place and maintain it to the point that it’s able to let your plants grow.
  • Harder to walk move about. The incline also makes it harder for you to work in your garden. At times, it can make you roll your ankle or lose your balance as well.
  • Water retention. Water flows down the slow. As such, the steeper the slope, the less likely areas of your garden will be able to hold water and rain. Similarly, it can cause puddles to form at the bottom or grow into gullies.
  • Hard to maintain. Maintenance is likewise harder with steeper slopes. For lawns, this becomes a problem when mowing.
  • Sunlight. Depending on where your slope is facing it may or may not get a lot of light. Those facing the sun will get more intense exposure because they’re at an angle that’s perpendicular (90 degrees) to the sun’s rays. This can be too intense for many crops. In contrast, slopes against the sun will experience shade for the most part, which means you’ll need plants that don’t get a lot of sun. Similarly, slopes facing east received morning sunlight along with earlier, cooler evenings. Those facing west experience have less heat in the morning and lots of it in the afternoons.

 

Septic Lines & Systems

Finally, be aware of where your septic system and other underground utilities are. You don’t want to grow your garden right on top of them.