Your Easy Guide on How to Start a Vegetable Garden

Have you come to realize that supermarket veggies are missing the key taste that brings all your dishes to life? Or are you perhaps trying to save a little extra money by growing your own food at home? Whatever your reason, this guide on how to start a vegetable garden will provide you with all the key steps necessary to set you up for success.

Growing your own veggies is easier than you might think if you set yourself up for success from the beginning. This guide will do just that. It is like your favorite teacher who is with you every step of the way…..Let’s get to it!


1. Select the Right Location

This first step is essential for a successful garden. The correct location not only helps your veggies grow to their greatest potential, but it also makes gardening easier for you overall. Who doesn’t want that? Here are several factors to consider when picking out the ideal location for your vegetable garden.


Plant in healthy soil. 

Soil health is a very high priority for your garden. The soil holds all the nutrients your vegetables take up while growing. If we want nutritious and yummy vegetables it’s in our best interest to plant them in soil that has a balance of sand, silt, and clay; the three components that make up soil.

Too much sand causes water to drain quickly and too much clay retains water which can cause root rot. It’s okay if your soil leans too heavy in one direction because you can always improve it in the future which we will get into later.  Do your due diligence, though, and find a spot with the best soil you have to give your plants a great head start!  


handful of soil

Find a Sunny Spot.

Many vegetables need at least 6 hrs of full sunlight to grow big and nutritious. Watch your yard and see how the light falls throughout the day.  Do any of your trees or your neighbor’s trees cast shade on your future vegetable garden? Have all the leaves from your trees come out after being dormant in winter? If not, will they cast shade on your future garden? 

Choose a Stable Location. 

There is never a worse feeling than getting your garden set up with vegetables growing only to find during the first big rainstorm to have everything completely flooded. You won’t like it and neither will your veggies. With that being said, how might your garden be affected during all the elements? 


2. Where Can I Access Water?

Let me tell you there is nothing worse than designing your garden space and putting it into action all before realizing, “Oh wait a second, I don’t have easy access to water.” This is crucial and needs to be thought out as you are choosing your location.

Depending on your location, you may need to water every day when your plants are seedlings or during dry spells. If you decide on putting in a larger garden do you have easy access to a hose that reaches the space? Or are you thinking of going smaller and may only need a watering can?

In the following section you will start to have a better idea of what type of bed suits your needs, but as you think about it go into it with a watering plan in mind. 


Watering Can

   3. Choose a Bed Type.

Making this decision allows you to develop your style of gardening. The different styles have pros and cons so go through the list and find what best serves your needs.

Raised Beds 

You are creating a bed that is built up from the surface level of the soil. These beds can be anywhere from a few inches to several feet high. It all depends on your needs and how much money you would like to put into the space.

If you are on a budget, soil that is already at the location can be formed into mounds and this can serve as your raised bed. The downside is that there is the potential for the mounds to erode and you will have to form them again in the future. 

The other option is to install a frame that is a more permanent fixture. The soil will stay in place so you can improve it every year. Another positive side to this is if you have back issues, you can build a bed high enough so you don’t have to bend over. This is more costly, but may be worth it if it allows you to garden more easily. These are also a great option if you have poor drainage in your location. 

Raised Beds


Is space a factor for you? Containers may be the way to go. These are a great option for individuals with apartment balconies, small backyards, or an overall lack of access to a bit of earth.

Another great attribute to about containers is that they can be moved easily and you can grow just about anything in them. You do need to be more mindful in regards to watering and fertilizing. The soil tends to dry up faster in containers than on the ground. 

Finally, the only access the plant has to nutrients is the fertilizer you give it and it can bleed out every time you water. For both reasons, it’s good to have a plan in place to keep your plants healthy.

Pallet Boards

This is another great option for people who are limited on space.  With pallet boards you can create a vertical garden while being incredibly stylish. All you need is a bit of landscape fabric stapled to the back and potting soil to fill in the space. Then you grow the plants in the openings at the front. 

You could also lay the boards flat on the ground and make already installed raised beds. All they need is soil placed in the middle. Be sure to pick up ones that have not been treated as the chemicals may leech and will be absorbed into your plants.

4. Transplants or Seeds?

When you are a newbie gardener, I think the best way to start out is with transplants. These are vegetable plants that you can pick up from your local nursery for a modest price. 

Transplants are wonderful in that they are already several inches high so they can out-compete weeds with a little mulch. You can recognize the plant in the garden because you are familiar with it and it cuts down on the patience necessary for seeds to pop up.  Overall, it makes the experience a lot easier for a new gardener.  

seedling transplants

There are some plants, though, that like to be direct sown and are fairly easy to grow. Try growing lettuce, radishes, spinach, beans, or chard if any are vegetables you enjoy eating.  Be aware that if your beds have pervasive weeds you need to stay on top of the weeding until your plants are big enough to be mulched. 

Overall, the variety of different seeds available is exhaustive and can be a ton of fun picking and choosing what you would like to grow. Go through the first year of growing a garden and then branch out into planting seeds if you feel up to the challenge. When you decide to buy them, look for companies that sell seeds specifically for vegetables suited to your region. You will be amazed how much better a plant grows when it is genetically adapted to grow in a specific area.

5. Pest Control

No matter where you live, you are going to have to think about pests in the garden.  Everything from animals as large as deer eating your lettuce to small little aphids trying to suck your tomato plants dry.  

Physical Barrier  

At this point, even in urban areas, there are a multitude of critters like squirrels, birds, and deer that would love nothing more than to snack on your precious veggies. If your area is not already protected by fencing, you may want to consider putting a barrier in. Deer can be a real nuisance and if they are prevalent in your area a 6ft tall or higher fence may be required to keep them out. 


If smaller critters are the more likely culprits to act, netting may be sufficient to keep them at bay. Keep your eyes out over the season and notice if any teeth marks start chomping away at your veggies. The best thing to do is act quickly and you can deter them from further interference with your garden. Many times the veggies grow back if they are given the chance to recover. Plants are quite resilient!

Tiny Pests, Big Problems

You are always going to have to prep yourself for the possibility that your biggest battle may be from the smallest creatures. Fortunately, nature has a way of helping us with this. If you look at the big picture, 97% of insects on the earth are either beneficial to the garden or benign which leaves only 3% that are a potential nuisance.


When I say that an insect is beneficial, it means that they can end up killing the undesirable bugs for us or act as pollinators for our veggies! We just need to provide a home for them.


Beneficials love grown up grassy areas, logs, and native flowers. You can be intentional with a little wild side to your garden. Some companies even sell “insect lodges” to place in the garden which act as homes for our insect super heroes.  As much as we can help the beneficials, they will help us so design this space with these critters in mind. 


hornworm garden pest

It’s inevitable that some undesirable bugs will appear. You may notice aphids and hornworms on your tomato plants and start calling out to the beneficials “Where the heck are you guys??”.  Be patient. 


A plant is designed to withstand a few nuisance bugs –give them a little credit here they’ve genetically adapted over millions of years to do just that– and the beneficials are waiting for a signal released by the nuisance bugs to let them know they are there! Think pheromones. 


If you do notice that your plant seems to keep getting worse with an infestation it may be time to look into an organic pesticide solution based on the specific pest you are looking to get rid of in your garden. Also, be a detective in your garden space and ask yourself, “Why didn’t beneficials show up to the plant’s rescue?” Make improvements to your space based on your findings so you can save time and money!


Crop Rotation is Your Friend!

Another great way to manage pests (and bad pathogens) in your garden is to have a crop rotation plan in place. Crop rotation means planting the same species of crop (or species in the same plant family) in one location every 3-4 years. Some people recommend a longer period spaced out depending on the variety of the crop.  The company GrowVeg does a great job of breaking down this process for you in the colors of the rainbow. 


Crop rotation is also a great way to ensure that your crops maintain soil health.  Plants utilize different nutrients from the soil.  Varying the planting doesn’t strip all the nutrients from the soil at once. In fact, some vegetables can fix nutrients in the ground for the next crop to utilize.


A great example of this is to plant legumes before brassicas. Legumes take nitrogen from the air and store it in the ground for the heavy feeding brassicas to take up when they are planted afterwards. This cuts down on fertilizer costs for you!


6. Save Your Energy–Space Out Your Planting Schedule

As you create your crop plan, consider staggering the crops throughout the growing season. This allows you to harvest them at different times so you are not overflowing with any one particular crop. It also cuts back on the task of planting your whole garden all at once, which in some cases can be quite exhausting.


succession planting

Believe me, the opportunity to stagger planting and harvesting is well worth it. All it takes is a little planning. Spreadsheets, calendars, and even gardening software are all great ways to help with the planning process. Find what works best for your style.


7. Compost

Compost is another key to a long lasting, productive garden. Compost adds organic matter to the soil which helps improve your soil structure and feed the soil. This allows your plant to extract water and put down good roots and also feeds the microbes that turn around and feed your plant!

Make your own compost easily by starting a pile in your backyard! If you are tight on space, there are commercial compost bins that you can place on your porch. This is a much better use of your kitchen scraps rather than throwing them away in the trash.

ready compost
Compost ready to be used.

8. Fertilizer

Let me first start this off by saying, if your soil is healthy, the need for fertilizer on your plants is minimal. How do you go about finding out if your soil is healthy? By getting a basic soil test done with your county. A basic soil test will also include the nutrient levels and ph in your soil.


For all of you out there who are not chemistry geniuses the soil pH is the acidity level of your soil. Why is this important might you ask? The acidity level affects a plant’s ability to take up nutrients. Most plants like a neutral acidity level, but some like it higher in either direction. All the fertilizer in the world won’t work if your acidity levels are off.


soil testing

There are many resources for you to find out how to read your soil test, but many times your state’s extension office will provide you with everything you need. Their websites are filled with valuable information.

Types of Fertilizer:


This type of fertilizer comes from animal sources such as manure or fish emulsion or plant sources such as kelp or seaweed. Each type of fertilizer provides different levels of nutrients so be sure to look at the label to know what you are purchasing. These sources tend to be slow release and provide the plants with the nutrients they need for up to 6-8 weeks. These fertilizers help the soil and the plants.



Fertilizer of this variety is often man made and quick to release. If applied to heavily it can burn your plants and can strip the soil of nutrients if too much is applied. This should be used only in the event that your plant needs a quick boost of nutrients in the event that it is not doing well.


too much fertilizer

9. What to Plant and When

The What

When you start a garden, the best thing to keep you motivated is to plant things you enjoy eating. Take inventory of what vegetables and fruits make up the majority of your grocery list. These are some of the first ones you are going to want to see if they can be grown in your area.


If you have a specific plan for your plants like “ I want to grow a pasta garden” then you would plant things that you would put in your pasta such as tomatoes, basil, and onions.


The When

Your house is located in something called a “zone”. A quick google search of your city will tell you exactly what zone you are located in. You can also head down to the local garden store and ask for this information.


Your zone has certain temperature patterns and indicators that say a lot about how well a plant will do during a certain part of the year or whether it should be planted at all in your area. Find out your zone and, once again, your state’s extension office may have a growing calendar that you can follow. This is an easy guideline that can get you started. Here is an example below of the front page of a growing calendar that I use for my area in Maryland from our extension office:


Sample Growing Guide
Sample growing guide that I use provided by the University of MD ext. office.

To Help You Out Here Are 10 Easy Beginner Veggies to Plant:

  1. Bush Beans

  2. Lettuce

  3. Tomatoes

  4. Spinach

  5. Beets

  6. Radishes

  7. Chard

  8. Squash (Winter and Summer)

  9. Peppers

  10. Peas

10. Mulching and Weeding

You have gone through all the trouble of planting for your crops so to make life easier on you put some mulch down to suppress weeds. Weeds will still pop up (which you can just pluck when you see them), but with a good layer of mulch the weeds won’t be as prolific.

Mulch can be anything from straw, leftover grass clippings (use in moderation), and even old leaves. The protection around your plants has the added benefit of locking in moisture as well as keeping the plants cool or warm depending on the season. 

Mulching vegetables

If you notice your plant is not doing as well as you think it should and notice a lot of weeds around it, they could be the cause. Weeds compete with your plant and use the nutrients in the soil for themselves. We want our plants to get as many nutrients as possible. Weed at least once a week, but your layer of mulch should cut back on your work dramatically.


That’s it! You’re Ready to Start! A Few Final Thoughts…


Gardening is a lifelong skill. Your education in this area will never end which makes it such an exciting activity. Stay strong as you learn to battle pests, improve your patience with weeds, and accept that you cannot control the weather.

You will naturally begin to share more with your neighbors and friends as your garden overflows with abundance building a community you never anticipated. You will be more in tune with the ebb and flow of nature and get to know many new insect friends in the garden. Your creativity will burst forward as well. The various colors, shapes, and sizes of plants make for a diverse set of tools to create a beautiful landscape.

I hope this guide provided you with everything you need on how to start a vegetable garden. Gardening is a truly enriching experience and I wish you all the happiness in the world as you get started. Happy Gardening!!