Simple and Effective Vegetable Gardening Tips for Beginners

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These vegetable gardening tips make gardening easy if you’re a beginner! Are you ready to start your first garden but not sure where to start? These practical gardening tips will be a big help for you!

vegetable garden with wire vertical trellis and green plants

Vegetable Gardening Tips for Beginners

Growing a home vegetable garden is very rewarding. Gardening offers benefits such as access to fresh and healthy produce, reduced food costs and a smaller carbon footprint. Your own fresh vegetables beat grocery store vegetables every single time. Plus, knowing how to grow your own food is a good skill to have.

I’ve got all my best gardening tips from planning and preparing to maintaining space and harvesting for you in this post. Many of these lessons I learned the hard way so you don’t have to.

mulched vegetable garden beds with red barn in background

Prepare Your Beginner Vegetable Garden

If you’ve never had a vegetable garden before, there are several steps to follow to prepare your garden site. You’ll need to decide where you want your vegetable beds, understand your soil type and climate, and decide what to plant. It sounds daunting, I know, but these vegetable garden tips will walk you through each major task.

Choose a Sunny Spot for Happy Vegetables

Vegetables need at least six hours of direct sunlight daily, so choose a spot for your garden that gets plenty of sun. If you live in an area with intense sun, such as the Southwest, choose a location that gets plenty of sun but also has shadier spots for cooler vegetables.

Make sure the soil is well-draining and not too compacted.  If it is, consider using raised beds or container gardening to improve drainage, reduce soil compaction, and make gardening easier.

Do you have access to water? Trust me. You do not want to lug a watering can to your garden and water plants one by one. Choose a garden location that has easy access to water and a good garden hose.

Finally, if at all possible, don’t build your veggie garden in a windy spot. Try to locate areas protected from high winds, as winds will dry out and stunt your plants in the summer heat.

woman kneeling holding soil in her hands for testing

Test Your Soil

One of the best vegetable gardening tips is to test your garden soil each year. Fertile soil is the foundation of your garden, so make sure it’s rich in nutrients and well-draining.

If you have an established garden, but it is producing less each year then test it again. I like to test each year to check nutrient levels. Add fertilizes or amendments depending on your test results.

Amending your soil means to add organic material like compost or aged manure to improve the soil quality and replace nutrients. Mulching your established plants also keeps organic material in your soil.

Test your soil at your local County extension agencies for a minimal fee. In Iowa, samples can be submitted to Iowa State University for $8. Box stores offer basic tests, but the Extension office will be able to review your results with you and give advice based on your location and results.

Once you understand your local climate and soil type, you’ll be more confident in your gardening choices. Certain plants thrive in specific environments and soil types. Understanding what you’re working with gives you a much higher success rate in your vegetable garden.

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brassica seedlings in coir pots

Learn Your Frost Dates

Just as it is important to understand your soil, it’s also important to understand your frost dates and growing zone. This is probably one of the biggest mistakes for beginner gardeners.

Use a first and last frost calculator to plug in your zip code and learn about your hardiness zone. Pay attention to both the first frost date (usually in the fall) and the last frost date (usually late spring). The summer months between those two days are how long you have to grow your garden.

For example, even though I really love a big, juicy watermelon, there is just not enough time to grow my favorite variety in my zone 5 garden. Either I have to start with seedlings or I need to grow a different variety that has time to mature before we get our first frost.

Warm-weather plants like tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and eggplants should be planted later than cool-weather plants, like lettuce, leafy greens, radishes, and potatoes. Knowing which vegetables to plant when is one of the most important factors in a garden for beginners.

Related reading: How to Extend Your Growing Season by Using Row Covers

bug free cabbage thanks to covered raised garden bed

Design Your Garden Plan

When you’re starting your garden, it’s nice to have a layout. Remember, plants will grow tremendously in size. They are a cute little seed right now, but soon they’ll be taking up lots of space.

Create a garden layout on graph paper to help you visualize what the garden will look like once the plants have grown in.

Start small and manageable

Gardens take a lot of work, and the work increases exponentially with the size. You can grow a lot of food in a small vegetable garden if you have a good plan. Even a 4×8 or a 4×4 raised garden bed produces quite a bit of food.

Starting small is also a good garden tip for beginners – you don’t want to get scared off from trying again in the future. I love the square foot planting method to maximize my garden space.

Starting small also means it’s easier to manage. You’ll grow in your confidence and comfort in identifying issues with plants and understanding the basics without becoming overwhelmed.

peas growing on a trellis

Decide Which Vegetables to Plant Where

If you’re truly a beginning gardener, I recommend starting small, and choosing easy to grow plants. Build your knowledge base this first growing season and then jump into more complicated plans and plants next season.

If you’re ready for gardening tips that are a little more advanced, I recommend you plan for your harvesting plans as well. Will you preserve any vegetables for the winter? Do you want to try your hand at water bath canning, dehydrating, or freezing veggies? If so, add extra high-yield plants to put away for the winter.

Make sure to include companion planting in your garden design. Flowers and herbs protect your young plants from pest infestations. With companion planting, certain plants benefit each other by repelling pests and/or housing beneficial insects.

As I mentioned above, consider how much sunlight your vegetables need. Do any of them need a bit of shade or are they all happy in full sun? Do some of them need sandy soil? Take all of these factors into consideration when you’re designing your garden.

Remember, I also have a free garden planner download for my blog subscribers! Get instant access to my Subscriber Library by signing up for my email list.

simplifylivelove garden planner free printable
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Grow What Your Family will Eat

It’s easy to get caught up in the beautiful seed catalog and order many different types of seeds, but keep it simple the first year. If you don’t like zucchini, there’s no reason to plant it.

If you aren’t interested in preserving food for later, but want a fresh salad from your garden, plant a massive bed of greens and leaf lettuce.

Also keep in mind how many of one vegetable you’ll need to make a full meal. For example, it takes quite a few peas to get enough for a side dish. If you’re short on space, you might want to skip the peas and plant a more compact vegetable that your family will enjoy more.

Still trying to decide which types of vegetable plants to grow? Look at the meals you make every week. If you order pizza every week, plant tomatoes, peppers, basil, oregano, and onions.  

Growing your own vegetables that you enjoy in your salads will make a complete home-grown meal. You’ll have the added benefit of using those tomatoes, peppers, and onions to make spaghetti sauce and even salsa to enjoy on cold winter nights when you want to be warm on a sunny beach.

Using graph paper or an online garden planning tool, sketch out a layout for your garden. Add in a raised bed or three, pathways, retaining walls, or a trellis to add visual interest and functionality to your garden. 

Related reading: Our Favorite Easy Vegetables to Grow Over and Over

girls with a table full of carrots

Gardening Tips for Planting

Plan on succession planting and also to rotate crops as you plan out your garden layout.

Rotating crops is a method of growing different families of crops in the same field over different seasons or years. This process helps to maintain soil health and fertility, prevent pest and disease buildup, and increase crop yield.

The basic idea behind crop rotation is to avoid growing the same crop type in the same field year after year. Different plants have different nutrient needs and deplete the soil of other nutrients. By rotating crops, you can allow the soil to recover and replenish the nutrients that were used in the previous season. This also helps reduce the buildup of pests and fungal diseases affecting specific crops.

tractor bucket full of sweet corn (1)

For example, you might plant corn one year and then switch to green beans the next year. You’ll plant garlic in the third year, and peppers in the fourth year. In the fifth year, lettuces are grown in those beds, and the cycle starts over. By rotating the crops, you’re giving the soil a chance to recover and replenish nutrients that were depleted during the previous growing season.

In addition to improving soil health, crop rotation reduces the need for fertilizers and pesticides, be they conventional or organic, which can be costly or negatively impact the environment. Rotating crops is a beneficial practice for improving your soil and vegetable quality and the nutrition your family eats while benefiting the environment.

seed-saving-box

Schedule Gardening Chores

Make a schedule to track what needs to be done in your garden. This can include common garden tasks like

  • planting
  • watering
  • fertilizing
  • harvesting

This helps you stay on track and avoid forgetting important tasks or scheduling vacations when all the cucumbers or green beans have reached maturity.

It can also include less common tasks like cleaning up after pets. If you have a dedicated area of artificial turf for your pet to use as its bathroom, add a daily reminder to clean that up as well.

Follow the Planting Directions on the Seed Packet 

Timing and depth are essential and they are generally noted on the back of the seed packet. Following the seed guidelines will ensure that your plants have the best chance of sprouting and survival.  

Depending if you’re planting the seed into your garden, which is called direct seeding, or planting seedlings will change when or how you’ll grow your seeds.  You’ll find that information all written out, and sometimes the packet will include additional tips or advice with a link to a website.   

woman's hand planting carrots

Save Money By Planting These Seeds Directly in the Garden

Some plants do fine when you plant them as seeds. And some you must plant as seedlings. Knowing the difference will make a big difference in your success and can save you a lot of money too. Seeds are a lot cheaper than seedlings. The following ten common garden vegetables can be planted directly from seeds and they will do great.

Follow the instructions on the back of the seed packet and plant them at the right time of year using proper spacing and depth. Remember to water your garden after planting the seeds as seeds need water to germinate. 

  1. Carrots
  2. Corn
  3. Cucumbers
  4. Beans (pole beans & bush beans)
  5. Peas
  6. Lettuce
  7. Radish
  8. Spinach
  9. Watermelon
  10. Zucchini / Squash

Vegetables to Start as Seedlings

The following six plants are best if you plant as seedlings. They have a longer growing season and must be well-established to bear fruit. Make sure to plant them according to best spacing and depth requirements as well. You’ll want to water your plants well after planting to make sure the plant roots have everything they need to really take hold. Most plants need an inch of water a week to thrive, so pay attention to rain and water your garden as needed.

  1. Tomato plants
  2. Peppers
  3. Broccoli
  4. Cauliflower
  5. Cabbage
  6. Brussels Sprouts
spoon garden plant markers

Don’t Forget to Label Your Plants

However you decide to plant your garden, make sure you label what you plant! I can’t tell you how many times I couldn’t remember what I planted where in my garden space! The only way you’ll know what you’re harvesting is if you label or write it down.

Related reading: 20 Cute & Easy DIY Garden Plant Markers To Make

nasturtium seedlings

Where to Buy Vegetable Seedlings

Starting seeds is a lot of fun and can be very rewarding, but buying healthy plants at the store might be easier and more practical if this is your first time gardening. It could be cheaper in the long run too because starting seed correctly is a little bit tricky.

I like to buy seedlings from local greenhouses rather than big box stores. The owners are usually more knowledgeable. The plant selection is chosen specifically for my growing zone, too.

If you can’t find a local greenhouse, then try home stores such as Home Depot or Lowes. Grocery stores often have flower seedlings, but they don’t offer vegetables in my area.

If you do want to start your own seeds, consider winter sowing in milk jugs or soda bottles as a cost-effective and easier way than starting seeds in the house.

Related reading: When to Start Seeds Indoors

How to Harden off your seedlings

Harden Seedlings off Before Planting

If you do start your own seedlings, you have to harden them off before planting. Hardening seedlings is the process of gradually acclimating them to outdoor conditions before transplanting them into the garden. It allows the plants to begin dealing with the harsher sun, wind, rain and temperature fluctuations of the outdoors with the benefit of a safety net inside under their grow lights or in a greenhouse.  

An easy way to harden them off is to start the process about two weeks before planting them outside. Begin hardening them off by moving the seedlings out to a sheltered area for a few hours each day, gradually increasing the time they spend outside each day. 

Protect the seedlings from direct sun, wind, and rain during the first week. Increase the time they spend outdoors gradually over a week or two until they spend the full day outside. 

Plant Your Vegetable Garden

Once you’ve prepared the soil, planned a garden layout, and selected your seeds and seedlings, it’s time to dig in the dirt. Get out your shovel and any other tools you need.

Remove any plants, weeds, or debris from your garden beds.

Make sure you have easy access to all areas of the beds. 

Add organic matter if needed to keep your soil healthy, fertile, and moist.

Loosen the soil with a garden fork or tiller to a depth of at least 8-10 inches but you can grow vegetables in only a few inches of topsoil too. Loosening the soil improves drainage and makes it easier for plant roots to penetrate the soil.  

Use a rake to smooth the soil and create a level planting surface. Then create planting rows or furrows, depending on the type of plants you are growing to maintain straight rows and make it easy to sow seed or plant vegetables.

Follow the directions on your seed packets or seedlings to get them into the ground.

wheelbarrow of garden compost next to yellow and green bins of organic material with garden fork leaning on composter

Maintain Your Vegetable Garden

Once you’ve prepared your garden beds and planted everything, it is time to maintain your garden through the growing season. You will want to keep an eye on diseases, pests, and water needs.

Water Your Garden Consistently

Vegetables need consistent moisture to grow well, so water them regularly. Consider investing in soaker hoses as drip irrigation makes the watering process more efficient and easier. 

using a rain barrel to water a garden

Water plants deeply at the base to avoid getting the foliage wet, as this can promote disease. It is always better to water your plants in the morning so they’re hydrated to deal with the hot summer sun.  

Pay attention to signs of drying out. If your plants are wilting, water them well with plain water and follow it up the next day with a deep soak with compost tea or a well-rounded fertilizer.

Too much water can be just as harmful to plants as under-watering. Ensure to only water when necessary by tracking how much rain your garden has received. 

Related Post – 5 Genius Ways to Make Watering Your Garden Easier & More Eco-Friendly

Natural Strategies for Weed Control

It’s not enough to hoe between the rows… it’s more important to keep the weeds from around the plants which will choke them and rob the plants of nutrients. And that involves hand weeding.

veggie garden using mulch and cardboard as natural weed control

Mulch Your Vegetable Garden (Again)

Mulching your garden is one of the easiest ways to prevent moisture loss, suppress weeds, and regulate soil temperature. All plants benefit from mulch, so include it in your garden. Straw, grass clippings, and wood chips can all make good mulch.  Sometimes you can even find free mulch and have it delivered too!

Use the Right Tools

Having the right gardening tools can make your work easier and more efficient. Investing in good quality tools, like a sturdy shovel, a sharp pair of pruners, and a durable garden hose, can make all the difference in how easy it is to plant, manage, harvest, and especially water the garden. 

Keep your Tools Clean

Having good tools is a waste if you’re not regularly cleaning and maintaining your gardening tools to keep them in good condition. This can also help prevent the spread of plant diseases between plants.

Wipe your tools down with alcohol after pruning diseased plants so you do not spread disease or pests.  Using vegetable oil to wipe down tools as needed will keep them rust-free and in good working order. You’ll also want to store them out of the weather so they last a lifetime and don’t fall apart due to rust. The end of the season is a great time to sharpen tools and store them for the winter.

colorado potato beetle potato bugs

Control the Pests

Bugs can be good and bad, so it’s important to be vigilant to find them. Getting rid of the bad bugs with the least invasive method possible helps the good bugs stay alive. Good bugs, like ladybugs, bumble bees, and daddy-long-legs, help keep the bad bugs at bay. Bugs {and birds, too} can be really helpful, so learn the difference, encourage good bugs in your garden, and often watch for bad bugs. 

Keep an eye out for pests and diseases, and take action as soon as you notice any problems. Many organic methods exist to control pests and diseases, such as handpicking, companion planting, or using organic pesticides.

There are many natural remedies for common gardening problems, like using garlic spray to repel pests or using coffee grounds to fertilize plants. These remedies can be effective and safe for the environment.

Related Post – 10 Effective Organic Methods of Pest Control for Your Vegetable Garden

older farmer in sunhat and overalls making a natural garden trellis

The Best Fertilizer is a Gardener’s Shadow 

This sage piece of advice comes to you courtesy of my dad. He knows that the more time vegetable gardeners spend in their gardens, the better off it will be. Even if you can devote only a quick 10 minutes in the early morning and another 10 minutes in the afternoon, your garden will do better than if you ignore it for three days.

Every time you go to the garden, you see stuff that needs to be done – weeds that need to be pulled or bugs that need to be squashed. The more often you make it out to your garden, the better your garden will do! 

wire mesh garden basket

Garden Harvesting Tips 

Harvest your vegetables when they are ripe, which will vary depending on the variety. Don’t wait too long; some vegetables can become overripe and lose flavor and nutrients.

Spend Time in your Garden

Make sure you walk your garden daily to check for bugs, weeds, and other problems and to help you see what’s becoming ripe and to plan what you’ll use it for in your meals. You’ll learn more each morning drinking your coffee over the season than you’ll get from a magazine subscription.  Tending a garden takes devoted time each day so make sure you can spend at least 10 – 30 minutes a day with your plants (depending on the size of your garden) caring for, watering, and harvesting.

Keep a Garden Journal

If you want to continue gardening, learning from your mistakes is important. Keep track of what you plant, when, how it grows, and how well it harvests.  Write down which type of vegetable did the best or worse or even which tasted the best. A Garden Journal is also a great place to track the rainfall your garden receives so you water correctly. Finally, it will help you plan future gardens to feed your family and stock your pantry with the foods and flavors you love. 

garden harvest bowl with flowers, beans, squash, and fresh eggs

Be Patient and Enjoy the Process 

Gardening can be unpredictable, so don’t be discouraged if a plant doesn’t grow as expected or if you encounter unexpected challenges. Vegetable gardening takes time and effort, but eating fresh veggies you grew yourself is so gratifying! Don’t be discouraged if you face challenges along the way, and enjoy growing your own food!

About Michelle Marine

Michelle Marine is the author of How to Raise Chickens for Meat, a long-time green-living enthusiast, and rural Iowa mom of four. She empowers families to grow and eat seasonal, local foods; to reduce their ecological footprint; and to come together through impactful travel.

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1 Comment

  1. I love your story! I have lived in 2 countries and drive with my 3 kids across the us and Mexico I am starting my first garden on land I bought last year I use solar for electric catch rain water ( in small spurts California) I want to live off the land as much as possible eating food I’ve grown for my family will be extremely rewarding for myself.