Planning A Vegetable Garden: 15 Expert Tips For Home Gardeners

Planning a vegetable garden takes a bit of thought, but it’s worth considering all the key elements before you start.

raised garden beds
(Image credit: IRINA NAZAROVA / Getty Images)

Both newbies and seasoned pros can use help planning a vegetable garden layout. Those new to gardening might need more tips and tricks, while those with decades of experience might be stuck in a rut and could benefit from new vegetable garden planning ideas. So whether you’ve planted your veggie garden the same way for years or this is your first time trying out your green thumb, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Read on to learn how to plan a vegetable garden.

Why Plan Your Vegetable Garden Before Planting?

Whenever you undertake a big venture, it’s always a good idea to have a plan and gardening is no exception. Researching various vegetable garden planning ideas will help you fine-tune the final layout. Planning ahead of planting can save you time, money and frustration.

Tips for Planning a Vegetable Garden

The ABCs of planning out a veggie garden layout are to choose a site, take a soil test, amend the soil as needed, choose your crops and before you plant anything, put it on paper.

  1. Choose the Location Carefully - The real estate saying, “location, location, location” is fitting when it comes to planning a vegetable garden. You need to plan for irrigation, soil conditions, sun exposure, and protection from the elements.
  2. Make Sure There’s Sunlight - Most veggies, such as sun-loving vegetables like tomatoes and peppers, need 6-8 hours of sun per day. Cool-weather crops like leafy greens require partial sun.
  3. Look for Level Ground - For the most part, vegetable crops thrive best in well-draining soil. The components of your soil are part of this equation but so is a level ground area. Level sites are less prone to erosion than sloping, although a slight slope towards the south can aid in warming and drying of the soil for spring planting.
  4. Don’t Forget About Water Access - Remember, your crops will need to be irrigated so you need to consider the location of your water source when planning the vegetable garden. Closer to the spigot is ideal and means less work for the gardener in the long run.
  5. You Want Air Flow, But Not Excessive Wind - Another consideration is protection from the high winds. Your crops will need space between them to allow for airflow but not an inordinate amount of wind. Seek out a site that is protected as much as possible from areas prone to gusting winds.
  6. Start Small - The size of your vegetable plot is also important especially if you are new to gardening. Newcomers should start small; after all, you don’t want to overtax your abilities nor are you feeding the world. If you feel over your head caring for a large garden, you may feel like a failure and give up entirely.
  7. Take a Soil Test - A soil test is a simple way to ensure your soil is in the best condition. While it is a simple process, many gardeners neglect to test their soil and later find out that was a mistake. Take the time to have your soil tested. Then you can amend the soil so it’s fertile enough to grow food.
  8. Grow Vegetables You Want to Eat - While this may seem obvious to some, there are those who think more is better and are then stuck with an excess of unwanted vegetables. Grow what you will eat. You don’t want to end up composting your hard work or begging your relatives to take the crop off your hands.
  9. Put It on Paper - Laying out your garden on paper might be the most important step in creating a garden, veggie or otherwise. Putting it all down on paper allows you to revise and add or subtract crops or other elements of the garden. An eraser is so much easier to use than trying to reconfigure an already-planted garden. Your plan should include garden size, space between crops and rows, planting dates, and seeded and transplanted crops.
  10. Pick a Layout That Works for Your Space - There are a couple of things here. It’s good to be able to work within your available space even if it is tiny. Second, you can always expand, add or change elements or crops the next year. Use the space you have to its best ability; even small spaces which can benefit from more vertical plantings or container gardening. You also want a layout that works for you, not works until it becomes a burden.
  11. Give Plants Enough Room - Allowing airflow between crops is extremely important. It aids with pollination and inhibits the transfer of diseases.
  12. Leave Room for Walkways - Remember you have to be able to access your crops so walkways become extremely important. Depending upon the crop, you may need access from the front, sides or rear of the plant to harvest, check for disease or pests or to water or fertilize.
  13. Try Companion Planting - Companion planting is the age-old practice of growing different species of plants near each other to benefit one or both. This practice can benefit the gardener as well as the crop since some companion plants aid in pollination, keep roots cool, act as supports for vining plants, amend the soil with nitrogen, and repel
  14. Amend Soil Before Planting - Remember that soil test? The results of a soil test will help you to decide if and how to amend your soil prior to planning. A soil test can tell you about the acidity, macronutrient levels, soil texture and organic amount so you can amend accordingly.
  15. Transplants Are Best for Beginners, But Seeds Are Cheaper - Seeds are indeed the least expensive way to start a veggie garden and there are many more options to choose from. Seeds are also fun and rather miraculous to watch grow, but they can be finicky. Often they become leggy or otherwise less than vigorous. They may get shocky upon transplanting. Plus, some plants just don’t do as well starting from seed. If you want to play with seeds, choose easy-to-grow crops that can be planted directly in the garden with no transplanting such as green onions (scallions) or radishes. Plant simple early season crops. To increase your chances of a successful crop, spend a little bit more for healthy, disease-resistant plants from the nursery for difficult-to-start crops like tomatoes.

Think Past the First Year

While you are planning this year's garden, don’t forget to consider the successive years of planting. Draw a map showing exactly how your crops are placed. Make spring, summer and fall garden plans.

Place taller crops and those requiring trellising on the north side of the garden so they don’t shade other crops. Group spring crops together so you will have room for a secondary planting when the first matures. Put perennial crops along the sides of the garden where they will be undisturbed by working the soil for planting.

Consider Crop Rotation

Rotate crops from the same family such as peas and beans. Don’t plant these legumes in the same area more than once in three years. Rotating crops reduces the incidence of pests and diseases being passed to successive crops.

Try Perennials

Perennial crops are the most economical as they give a return crop year after year. Crops like asparagus or raspberries can be planted once and will continue to grow and increase production each year.

Amy Grant

Amy Grant has been gardening for 30 years and writing for 15. A professional chef and caterer, Amy's area of expertise is culinary gardening.