A vegetable garden is a fantastic way to add delicious, nutritious elements to the dinner table without having to depend on the local market or grocery store. Setting up a vegetable garden takes some forethought and planning to ensure the greatest productivity.
This guide will aid gardeners in efficiently planning the layout of a vegetable garden by providing information in the following areas –
- Types of Vegetable Gardens
- Garden Size
- Garden Location
- The Vegetables in Your Garden
- Putting Vegetables in Groups
- Vegetable Placement
- Creating a Garden Map
- Keeping a Garden Log
Start reading below to go through all the ins and outs of planning the layout of a vegetable garden. Soon that plan will become a reality.
Good planning and hard work lead to prosperity, but hasty shortcuts lead to poverty.Proverbs 21:5
Types of Vegetable Gardens
Growing vegetables can be done in a variety of ways. Three main types of vegetable gardens are available to choose from before planning begins. These include container gardens, raised beds and in-ground gardens.
Container gardens are the most compact sort of vegetable garden. Most vegetables can easily be grown in containers, as long as they are deep enough to support that vegetable’s root system. It’s crucial to keep container gardens watered because of the nature of how they are planted.
The Best Vegetables for Container Gardens:
- Lettuce and Chard
Check out our helpful article The 9 Best Containers for Growing Vegetables.
Raised beds are garden plots that are lifted above the natural ground with a border built around them out of wood or another strong material. Raised bed gardens are often quite small, averaging around 4-feet wide. This kind of vegetable garden will warm up faster in the spring and remain warm later into the fall.
An in-ground garden is quite straightforward. These vegetable gardens are what most people typically think of when gardens come up. Vegetables are planted directly into the ground as it already stands. The majority of the information in this guide will apply to in-ground gardens.
If you are not sure which is the best method for your situation, check out more detailed information in our article Are Raised Garden Beds Better than In-Ground Garden Beds?
A vegetable garden doesn’t have to be huge to yield an impressive harvest. It’s better to keep a garden to a manageable size, depending on how many people will be working on it. Even a small garden will provide plenty of vegetables for more than one person.
Consider the number of people that will be helping out with the gardening responsibilities. A large family will be more capable of keeping up with the care of a larger garden than a single person might. It’s better to have a small, clean garden than a large, messy one.
It’s also important that there is enough time to take care of the garden. As a hobby, a small garden is perfect. Much less time will be required to keep it healthy and to grow. If it’s used for a large number of vegetables for eating and storing, a larger garden will be necessary.
Keep in mind that some vegetables need a minimum of 3 feet of space between rows to grow properly. The number of vegetables in the garden will have an impact on the size it needs to be, so every plant has adequate space to stretch out and grow.
A good rule of thumb – Don’t plant more than 100 square feet per person in the household. The garden won’t need any more room than that to provide enough nutritious vegetables for everyone in the family.
Choosing a plot for a vegetable garden doesn’t have to be a difficult task. However, some areas of a yard will do better than others. Using the following criteria, try to find an area that meets as many as these points as possible.
When selecting a site for a vegetable garden:
- Avoid low places where water collects easily and keeps the soil wet. The lack of drainage can harm vegetable growth.
- Find a sunny spot. Choose an area where the sun shines at least 8 hours a day.
- Consider the angle of the sun. In our area, the south side of homes receives more sun than the north side.
- Stay away from shrubbery. Don’t plant directly beside large trees or shrubs. These plants will steal nutrients, water, and sunlight from them.
- Place the garden near a water source for easier watering.
- Keep in mind, areas that don’t grow weeds won’t grow vegetables either. (This type of area would require compost, mulch, and time for the soil to improve naturally)
- Go for level ground. Pick a site where the ground is as level as possible.
It’s a slim chance that the perfect site exists that meets every single point listed above. Choose an area that works best and adapt as necessary. If more space is needed for the perfect spot, provide trellises for vine plants.
The Vegetables in Your Garden
A garden is a wonderful tool to provide a variety of healthy vegetables to an individual or an entire family. Before the garden can be planted and maintained, the different types of vegetables being grown will help determine the layout.
The best place to start is the vegetables everyone enjoys. A vegetable garden won’t be much use if no one in the house wants to eat what comes out of it. Make a list of personal and family favorites in order of how frequently they will be eaten.
Easy to grow vegetables are always a good candidate for any garden. They require much less work to reach maturity, almost guaranteeing a harvest. There are plenty of vegetables that fall into this category, which means there is something for everyone.
- Bush Beans
- Summer Squash
- Swiss Chard
Consider growing vegetables that are more expensive to buy at the store than others. Growing things like broccoli, garlic, herbs, and heirloom tomatoes can help save on the grocery bill. Vegetables that are the highest in nutritional value like sweet potatoes and peppers make great additions as well.
If garden size is an issue, keep in mind that certain vegetables grow better in a smaller space. Make the most out of limited garden space by planting:
- Snap Beans
- Swiss Chard
Most vegetables tend to taste better when eaten fresh from the garden rather than being bought from the store. Sweet corn, asparagus, and peas all fall into this category. If any of these are a favorite, they may be good candidates for a garden.
Putting Vegetables in Groups
During the planning process, grouping vegetables together is an essential step. Vegetables should be grouped together by what season they grow and how long it takes each one to grow to maturity. Separating them this way makes it easier to keep track of when to harvest and plant certain sections.
Vegetables by Season
All vegetables fall into one of two groups: cool-season vegetables or warm-season vegetables. Placing vegetables together by season aids in keeping track of when to plant certain ones for an optimal harvest.
Doing research on the temperatures in your area is a good way to determine the best time for planting. Knowing the average date of the last frost in spring and when the temperatures begin lowering in the fall will make it much simpler to plan.
Cool-season vegetables thrive in temperatures below 80° and should be planted in early spring, late summer or early fall. Once the temperatures begin to rise in the summer, they won’t grow anymore, making way for other vegetables to be planted.
The hardiness of a cool-season vegetable may further determine when it should be planted. Hardy vegetables are more likely to survive in lower temperatures, as low as 40°. They can be planted up to 4 weeks before the average time of the final spring frost.
Semi-hardy vegetables are a little less tolerant of frosty nights, though they are still capable of thriving in low temperatures. They shouldn’t be planted any sooner than two weeks before the average time of the final spring frost.
Cool-Season Vegetables by Hardiness
(Information Sourced from Colorado State University)
Warm-season vegetables should be planted in the late spring when the ground has warmed up, and the last spring frost has passed. They prefer temperatures above 70° and yield incredibly tender crops.
Depending on the tenderness of a vegetable, they may be more or less tolerant of even the slightest nip of a spring breeze. Tender vegetables can handle a few cooler breezes that might lower the temperature a bit. They can be planted as soon as the final spring frost ends.
Very tender vegetables are incredibly intolerant to any sort of chill. These vegetables should be planted when all potential for frost is over. The temperatures should be above 60° for at least a week before planting is attempted.
Warm-Season Vegetables by Tenderness
(Information Sourced from Colorado State University)
It is possible to grow vegetables over the winter. Not many options are available, but utilizing garden space over the coldest months is possible. Cold-hardy vegetables that are planted from mid-August through early October have the chance to yield a harvest come springtime.
Incredibly cold-hardy plants can survive below 28° and won’t die even in conditions of heavy frost. Some examples of these plants are spinach, broccoli, kale, cabbage, brussels sprouts, and radish.
Less cold-hardy plants are still capable of surviving winter with lower temperatures. They can withstand temperatures as low as a range between 28 and 32°. Some examples of these plants are beets, lettuce, cauliflower, parsley, and celery.
Any vegetable that is bright red or purple is considered a cold-hardy vegetable. The pigment that gives them this color, anthocyanin, makes them much more resistant to rot during the winter.
For more information, check out our article How to Grow a Vegetable Garden in Winter.
Vegetables by Growing Time
The second way vegetables should be grouped is by how long it takes for them to grow to maturity. Having vegetables with similar growing times in the same area of a garden makes it easier to harvest them.
The information below came from university extension sites, which tend to be a great source of information you can trust when planning your vegetable garden.
Estimated Harvest Time for Vegetables
|Time to Harvest (Days)||Vegetables|
|< 50||Green Onions, Radish|
|50-70||Beets, Broccoli, Carrots, Cauliflower, Collards, Cucumbers, Kale, Lettuce, Lime Beans, Okra, Pepper*, Pole Beans, Snap Beans, Soybeans, Spinach, Summer Squash, Turnips|
|70-90||Cabbage*, Cantaloupe, Eggplant*, Peas, Sweet Corn, Tomatoes*|
|90-100||Brussels Sprouts, Garlic*, Potatoes, Watermelon|
|> 100||Asparagus, Onions, Parsnip, Peanuts, Pumpkin, Rutabaga, Sweet Potatoes, Winter Squash|
To produce a constant fresh harvest from quick-maturing vegetables, it’s best to plant small plots 7-10 days apart. This will keep the vegetables coming in fresh and prevent overcrowding the vegetables by planting them all at once.
The note about transplants above refers to beginning plants from seeds either in a greenhouse or other temporary place, then moving it into a prepared spot in the vegetable garden. Times indicated with a (*) above indicate that these times reflect that step.
To allow for the best sun exposure, a vegetable garden should be placed in a north to south orientation. The tallest growing vegetables like corn and tomatoes should be put on the north side of the garden. This prevents them from blocking sunlight from shorter plants.
Planting vegetables together that grow in a similar time frame makes harvesting and replanting those areas much easier. Adequate spacing between rows of vegetables is necessary to give them the room they need to grow. It also leaves space to reach each row without a struggle.
Spacing Between Vegetables
The amount of space a certain vegetable needs between rows varies. This information, as well as how deep to plant the seeds, can usually be found on the backside of any seed packet. Taking the time to figure out the space needed to grow vegetables will make planning the final layout much simpler.
This table is an excerpt from the University of Illinois Extension, which offers a plentiful source of information for gardeners. The full chart can be found on their webpage devoted to vegetable gardening.
|Vegetable||Seeds per Foot||Minimum Space Between Rows (inches)|
(Information Sourced from University of Illinois)
Without the proper spacing, vegetables can run into one another, have their growth stunted, or even overtake another vegetable. It’s best to give them as much room to grow as possible rather than overwhelming the garden in order to yield the best harvest.
Look for a chart on a reputable website for help, such as the one above. Also, find this information on each and every seed packet you buy. Don’t throw those away without taking advantage of the very important information they contain.
Plan for Crop Rotation
Placing vegetables in a garden is not as simple as having one plan. Crop rotation is an essential step to keeping any garden free of harmful insects and diseases that breed in the soil over time. By moving the vegetables around each year, the harvest will stay fresh and abundant.
Crop rotation works the best with gardens that have three or more plots. For smaller gardens, simply moving vegetables from one end of the garden to the other will help as well. It’s recommended not to plant a specific vegetable in the same place more than once in a three-year span.
Rotations are easily done by the plot. A garden with three plots can be rotated on a 3-year cycle to prevent any nasty build-up beneath the soil over time. A simple but effective rotation plan isn’t difficult to maintain. It may look something like the following table.
|Year||Plot 1||Plot 2||Plot 3|
After the third year, the rotation plan would reset to the same plan as year one and begin again. Adding additional plots for larger gardens is just as simple. Keeping up with this sort of plan will ensure a happy and healthy vegetable garden.
Adding in Drip Irrigation
Setting up a drip irrigation system is an effective way to keep a vegetable garden watered. It is by no means a necessity as overhead watering is a perfectly legitimate way to get vegetables the water they need to survive.
Some Advantages of Drip Irrigation:
- 90-95% of the water makes it directly into the soil for the vegetables’ consumption.
- Water is delivered directly into the soil, minimizing water waste from runoff and evaporation.
- The water won’t hit any foliage, helping to prevent disease from forming.
- Drip irrigation can be set on a timer ensuring the plants never go without water when they need it.
- Emitters are easily moved, exchanged, or taken away to change the layout of a drip irrigation system at any time.
The placement of drip irrigation emitters, the tubes that carry the water, should be placed as close to planting roots as possible. An emitter will be running from the mainline along each row of vegetables to keep everything sufficiently watered.
Drip irrigation starter kits can be purchased from Amazon for less than $40 and set up without the need for digging trenches or installing any large equipment. It’s possible to simply attach the system to a hose faucet to get it up and running.
Creating a Garden Map
A drawn map of a vegetable garden is a useful tool to create before any planting even begins. The best way to go about drawing a map is to use graph paper. Designating a certain number of squares per square foot of the garden will give a great visual of the finished layout.
A garden map should include every kind of vegetable that will be grown and where they are going to be placed. With a solid plan in place, transferring the small map into a real-life vegetable garden will be much easier.
It may be necessary to create more than one garden map for the different seasons and each rotational year. Cool-season and warm-season vegetables would ideally have their own maps. And keeping track of crop rotation would be a breeze if a map were created to represent each year in the rotational cycle.
These maps don’t have to be anything fancy. They can be as simple as pencil-drawn boxes on a sheet of paper and some scribbled vegetable names. The important part is that the plan is on paper so it can be efficiently followed.
Keeping a Garden Log
While it’s not necessary, a garden log will aid significantly in keeping track of the details of a vegetable garden. Instead of estimating and working on guesswork, a written record will be down on paper of what works and what doesn’t, which can help the garden run smoothly for years to come.
Things to Keep Track of in a Garden Log:
- Maps of the garden
- Lists of what vegetables were planted
- Where the seeds and transplants were sourced
- Dates certain vegetables were planted
- How much it rained
- Temperatures during the growing season
- When certain vegetables were harvested
- How much of each vegetable was harvested
By keeping records on the details of a vegetable garden, there is a greater chance that it will perform to the best of its ability. Knowing what works in regard to planting times, temperatures, growing times, etc. will support all gardening efforts for future years.
Small Space Vegetable Gardening
Living in a home with limited space doesn’t exclude people from having a plentiful vegetable garden. Growing vegetables in small spaces can work just as well with a little planning. A small patio or balcony is the perfect place to start a vegetable garden. Even a windowsill will do.
If a vegetable can be grown in your backyard, it is just as well-suited to be grown in containers sitting on a balcony. The most important part of gardening in such a small space is to ensure there is plenty of sunlight reaching it to keep the vegetables alive and growing.
- Fruit-bearing vegetables like peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant need the most sunlight. Root vegetables like radishes, beets, turnips, and onions need an adequate amount of sunlight.
- Leafy vegetables like lettuce, greens, spinach, and parsley can tolerate less sunlight than the rest.
Different types of vegetables require different sizes of containers, depending on how much room their roots need to grow. The most common vegetables that are grown in containers are listed below with the size of container needed and how many plants can grow in each container.
A chart like this one, from Texas A&M AgriLife extension website, gives recommendations for the size of the container needed, as well as how many plants can be grown in each one.
|Vegetable||Container Size||Plants per Container|
(Information Sourced from Texas A&M)
The kind of container used for small gardens isn’t limited to the typical planting pot. A variety of containers can be used from baskets to plastic bins with similar results. If an unconventional container is used, drainage can be an issue and should be addressed before planting.
Adding drainage holes is best done on the side of the chosen container. They should be located 1/4 to 1/2 inch from the bottom of the container. For full detailed information on drainage, check out our article Good Drainage in Pots: DO NOT Use Rocks and Root Rot Explained.
Growing vegetables in containers can be accomplished with garden soil, but also with synthetic forms of growing medium as well. Some planting mediums that work well with vegetable gardening are wood chips, peat moss, sawdust, and perlite. Any medium used should provide physical support and be able to drain well.
Here are some helpful articles we have written about soil used in containers:
- DIY Potting Soil and Seed Starting Mix to Save Money
- Does Potting Soil Need Fertilizer?
- Does Potting Soil Go Bad?
- Can You Use Garden Soil for Potted Plants?
To ensure the greatest yield of vegetables from a small garden, check on plants and take care of them on a daily basis. Vegetables benefit from continuous care. It’s just as important to maintain container gardens as it is with larger backyard gardens.
Before planting even a small garden, be sure to have adequate time to care for it. This includes watering, trimming, and pruning the vegetables as they require it. The removal of pests and weeds may also be necessary for container gardens, as well as the treatment of any diseases.
Limited space doesn’t have to mean the end of a gardening dream. Growing vegetables is well within reach with a little bit of planning and having the proper resources at hand.
Set up the Perfect Vegetable Garden
Gardening as a hobby or as a way to put food on the table is a worthwhile use of time. One of the most important parts of any vegetable garden is setting it up to perform at its very best. There’s no use in having a garden where everything is just thrown together with no thought.
The importance of separating vegetables into groups and allocating enough space for them to grow is what makes a garden grow. Without a plan, the quality and quantity of vegetables a garden yields can suffer. Taking the time to figure everything out is well worth it.
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