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How to Plan and Plant a Vegetable Garden

BY: DAN DELAGRANGE | 3.30.2017 |

By the time the fresh air of spring hits, you're probably ready to get outside and experience all the things that were off limits during winter's dark chill. One of these activities is gardening. And while it might seem easy to just go outside and start planting your fruit and vegetable garden, it's not as simple as burying seeds, watering them, and waiting. Keep reading through our guide to buying and planting veggie seeds to help ensure your garden keeps your cornucopia filled all season.

Where You Live Matters

Before you start digging and planting vegetables, consider your geography. Certain plant species will thrive or struggle depending on wherever it is you live. A good resource for determining which vegetables are best suited to your environment is the USDA plant-hardiness zone map, which divvies the country into 11 zones based on each one's annual extreme-low temperature. Check out this table to get a gist of each zone's climate and which veggies have better odds of flourishing there (there are a few fruits here, too, for those who want a more diverse garden): 

ZONE AVG. EXTREME-LOW TEMPERATURE (F°) EXAMPLE CITY SUITABLE VEGGIES AND FRUITS
1 -60° to -50° Fort Yukon, AK artichokes, cabbage, apples
2 -50° to -40° Fairbanks, AK celery, radishes, raspberries
3 -40° to -30° International Falls, MN beets, turnips, plums
4 -30° to -20° Fargo, ND snap beans, spinach, cherries
5 -20° to -10° Denver, CO sweet corn, onions, strawberries
6 -10° to 0° Cleveland, OH broccoli, cucumbers, blueberries
7 0° to 10° New York, NY asparagus, brussels sprouts, nectarines
8 10° to 20° Atlanta, GA okra, pumpkins, peaches
9 20° to 30° Houston, TX eggplant, tomatoes, watermelons
10 30° to 40° San Diego, CA summer squash, leeks, pomegranates
11 40° to 50° Key West, FL sweet potatoes, bell peppers, limes

Planning Tips

Know What You Want

Unless you're trying to start your own roadside farm stand, the point of growing produce is to later eat it. That said, grow stuff you'll actually want to eat. It's noble to pack a plot full of kale for your soups and salads, but if deep down you'd rather snack on tomatoes, go with those instead.

Think About Plant Yield and Cost Effectiveness

You'll also want to think about which veggies will save you the most. When it comes down to it, not all vegetables and fruits are really worth growing in a simple backyard garden. Broccoli, for example, doesn't provide much for the planting space it requires, so you're probably better off sticking with the grocery store for it. Tomatoes and lettuce, on the other hand, are examples of veggies that'll keep your crisper stocked without taking up much garden space.

Consider Your Time Investment

Some fruits and veggies are a little more finicky than others, which means they require more dutiful care. Blueberry bushes need acidic soil to thrive. Eggplant is a little more susceptible to pests than other veggies are. And onions are pretty particular with the amount of sunlight they get. Other edible plants, like cauliflower, simply have a long growing season. Think about how much time you're willing and able to commit to tending to your fruit and vegetable garden and whether that matches the plants you want to grow.

Planting Tips

Change Up Your Spacing

It might seem natural to plant your veggies in neat rows, but changing things up space-wise can help make your garden even better. Staggering certain plants or clustering them together saves you space and can ultimately fill your garden with a higher yield. Just be careful not to crowd plants too closely—some varieties won't grow to their potential if they're not given enough room.

Look into Garden Beds

Looking for another space-saving, yield-boosting technique? Look no further than raised garden beds. They naturally pack plants a little closer together, first of all. And since you can fill them with soil that's looser and more nutrient rich than the ground you'll be walking all over to tend to your plants, they also encourage healthier growth.

Grow Vertically

Yes, growing veggies on trellises, poles, and fencing does save room, but that's not all. Vertical growth means your plants get a little more air, which can make them more resistant to disease.

Use Garlic to Control Pests

Controlling pests is a struggle every gardener deals with. A secret weapon you can add to your toolbelt (while simultaneously giving yourself some planting practice) is garlic. Garlic naturally drives pests such as ants and beetles away, so setting up a defensive wall of garlic bulbs in the soil around your veggies can help keep them a little safer.