How to Start a Vegetable Garden


Several varieties of the same vegetable meet different cultural needs and have  characteristics. See more pictures of vegetable gardens.

Most vegetables come in many varieties. After giving thought to the vegetables you want to grow, you're ready to decide which varieties to grow. Seed catalogs, for instance, offer a large number of different tomatoes that can be totally bewildering: big ones, little ones, cherry ones, green ones, canning ones. Some are disease-resistant, some are not; some are hybrids, some are not.

It's worth taking the time to consider why there are so many varieties of one vegetable. A variety is simply a botanical change in the original plant. These changes may be as obvious as a change in the color, size, or shape of the fruit. Other changes, such as improved disease resistance, better flavor, or compact growth, may be less obvious. Hybrids are bred for success. A hybrid may be the result of breeding two different pure lines. A pure line is a plant that has been selected and bred for a certain desirable characteristic, such as the size of its fruit or its ability to resist disease.

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With so many varieties available, it can be difficult to choose the right one. Information on varieties may be obtained from seed catalog descriptions or from your local Cooperative Extension office. Another indication of the most reliable varieties for your area is All America Selections. This nonprofit organization develops and promotes new varieties of vegetables and flowers. If a variety is listed in your seed catalog as an All-America Selection, it has been tested by growers all over the country; you can be sure it's a good bet for your garden.

Each vegetable variety has its "days to maturity" listed in the seed catalog or on the seed packet. This number indicates the average number of days needed from germination or transplanting to harvest. Using a calendar, see how the dates fall for the crops you're thinking of growing. The days to maturity must fit comfortably into the number of frost-free days in your region. If your season is too short for a particular variety, look for one that matures in a fewer number of days. Deciding when to plant involves more than just avoiding killing frosts. It also means pacing your planting so you get the maximum yield from a limited space. This takes careful planning. Some crops can be harvested gradually, others nature all at once.

Keep reading to find out more about getting your garden started -- on the next page, you'll learn about pacing your planting, succession planting, and companion planting.

Want more information about vegetable gardens? Visit these links:

  • Starting a Vegetable Garden: Learn how to get your vegetable garden started, from planning your plot to planting seeds and sprouts.
  • Vegetable Gardens: Find out everything you wanted to know about vegetable gardening.
  • Vegetables: Pick out your favorite vegetables to plant in next year's garden.
  • Gardening: We answer all of your general gardening questions in this section.

Where to Plant a Vegetable Garden

Planting several varieties of the same vegetable is a good way to pace your harvest.
Planting several varieties of the same vegetable is a good way to pace your harvest.

There are several strategies that can help you get your vegetable garden off to a good start.

Pace Your Planting

One way to pace your harvest is to plant several varieties of the same vegetable that will mature at different rates. For instance, two or three weeks before the average date of last frost plant three different varieties of carrot. This can extend your production period over two to three months.

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With succession planting, you can plant early-harvest crops and then replant the same plot with a new crop.
With succession planting, you can plant early-harvest crops and then replant the same plot with a new crop.

Succession Planting

You can save garden space and get two or more harvests from the same spot through succession planting. After early maturing crops are harvested, replant the space with a new crop. Early cool-season crops can be replaced with warm-season crops. Start off with a fast-growing, cool-season crop that can be planted early: lettuce, spinach, and cabbage are good examples. Warm-weather crops, such as New Zealand spinach, chard, corn, and squash, can then replace the earlier plants. Finally, in the fall make a planting of cole crops (for example, cabbage, broccoli, or cauliflower) or put in root crops such as turnips or beets.

Companion planting increases your usable garden space by placing short-term crops between plants with a longer harvest time.
Companion planting increases your usable garden space by placing short-term crops between plants with a longer harvest time.

Companion Planting

Another way to increase the use of your planting space is through companion planting. This is done by planting short-term crops between plants that will take a longer time to mature. The short-term crops are harvested by the time the long-term crops need the extra room. A good example of this is radishes or lettuce planted between rows of tomatoes or peppers. By the time the tomatoes and peppers need the space, the radishes and lettuce will have been harvested.

Want more information about vegetable gardens? Visit these links:

  • Starting a Vegetable Garden: Learn how to get your vegetable garden started, from planning your plot to planting seeds and sprouts.
  • Vegetable Gardens: Find out everything you wanted to know about vegetable gardening.
  • Vegetables: Pick out your favorite vegetables to plant in next year's garden.
  • Gardening: We answer all of your general gardening questions in this section.