10 Tips for Planning Your Vegetable Garden

Vegetable Garden1. Decide What Vegetables to Plant

My first step in planning my garden is to decide which vegetables to plant.

This may seem obvious, but only plant vegetables you and your family like to eat and only plant the amount that your family can use - or that you can give away, can, or otherwise store for the winter.

Do you know anyone who plants tomatoes just because they're a popular garden veggie, even though they either don't like them or can't eat them? I do and maybe you do, too! Or how about those four zucchini plants that someone I know planted one year - and then they tried to give away the surplus. Oops. (No, it wasn't me!)

2. Decide Which Varieties to Plant

For each type of vegetable, I try to choose one variety that's good for fresh eating (either raw or cooked), one that stores well in the root cellar, and one that is especially resistance to the type of insect pests and diseases I have in my garden. Sometimes a single variety will meet more than one of these criteria.

Your criteria are probably different than mine, so it's a good idea to identify what qualities are important for you and then choose varieties that work for your situation.

3. Make a List of Vegetables to Plant

For each vegetable, I list the following:

The vegetable variety (for example, Red-cored Chantenay Carrots)
How many weeks it should be planted before or after the Last Frost Date in the spring (for example, 4-6 weeks before the Last Frost Date). You will find this information on the seed packet.
Taking the last frost date for my area, I count back (or forward) to the actual day for planting - and write that down, too.
Lastly, I write down the ideal soil temperature for planting that type of vegetable. This information should also be shown on the seed packet.
Listing Seeds to Plant Indoors

I make a separate list for seeds that I'm planting indoors. This list includes both the date for starting the seeds indoors and the date for transplanting them into the garden.

If I'm buying any seedlings (instead of starting the seeds myself), I put those on the list, too, so I won't forget to go buy them.

4. Design Your Garden

Draw a sketch of your garden and where you plan to plant each veggie. Some people use graph paper for this and draw to scale, so it is easier to tell how much space is being taken by each vegetable. But using a plain piece of paper can work well, too.

Check the seed packets so you'll know how much space to allow between rows and between plants.

If you prefer not to design your garden with pencil and paper, there are numerous software packages and websites that can help with this process.

5. Rotate Your Crops

When designing the layout of your garden, it's important to take into account where the various vegetables were planted in previous years.

It's generally advised to rotate your crops, so plants from the same family of vegetables are not planted in the same place more than once every three years. Some people wait five years, which is harder to do unless you have a fairly large garden or are only planting a few types of vegetables.

The two main reasons for rotating crops are 1) to help avoid insect and soil-borne diseases and 2) because different vegetables take different minerals from the soil. If crops aren't rotated, insect pests and harmful soil organisms tend to build up in the soil and, also, the soil can become depleted of important minerals.

6. Successive Plantings

When designing your garden, take into account the possibility that you may be able to successively plant more than one vegetable in the same spot during the season.

For example, when you're done harvesting your lettuce, you could plant a later crop of carrots in that same place.

7. Companion Planting

Some plants do well when planted next to each other and some don't.

When deciding which plants to grow in your garden and where to put them, consider whether they will be good companions to each other. You may also want to plant some flowers and veggies solely for their role as companions.

For example, I plant marigolds in quite a few spots within the garden because of their tendency to ward off insect pests and soil diseases. They also attract some pests, which then keeps those critters from bothering other plants.

Other examples would be planting basil near tomatoes to help the tomatoes grow better or planting radishes near squash, melons and cucumbers to deter insect pests.

8. Plant Hybrids for Pest & Disease Resistance

I used to plant only vegetable varieties that were open-pollinated, that is, varieties whose seeds would grow "true" to the original plant.

Now I've found that it's helpful to plant some hybrids that are resistant to the insect pests and diseases that tend to show up in my garden. If my garden gets severely affected by a certain type of pest or disease, this gives me a little insurance against my entire crop being wiped out.

For example, if powdery mildew hits my garden really hard, it could have a big effect on the productiveness of my squash, melons, and cucumbers. Having some hybrid varieties that are resistant to powdery mildew could save the day.

9. Consider the Plant's Need for Sun & Soil Type

Some vegetables do better when grown in full sun and some do better with a bit of shade. You can find this information on the seed packet.

Remember that plants that grow tall will shade other smaller plants behind them, so put those tall ones on the north side of garden, if possible. On the other hand, if you have plants that don't tolerate direct sun very well (such as lettuce), you can use tall plants to shade them.

So, when planning your garden, plant according to the needs of your veggies in regard to sun or shade. Also, be sure to pick varieties that are suited to your climate and soil conditions.

10. Buy Plant Supports Ahead of Time

For plants that use supports, such as tomatoes and peas, I find it best to put the supports in the ground before planting the seeds or, when transplanting seedlings, before they get very tall. Otherwise, the seeds may be displaced or the roots of the seedlings may be disturbed.

For this reason, I make sure I've bought or made all the supports I need before planting time arrives.