University of Maryland Extension

Planning a Vegetable Garden

Planning a Vegetable Garden

So, you're ready to start a vegetable garden and you want to get your hands in the soil right away! A little planning now will help prevent frustration later. Whether you plan to make an in-ground garden or raised beds or prefer to do container gardening on the deck, patio, or balcony, there are several factors to consider when selecting a garden site.

Selecting a Site for a Vegetable Garden

  • Your garden should be on level ground in an area that gets at least 6 hours of full sun a day (preferably more) with no tall objects or trees blocking sunlight on the south side. If you must garden on a slope, it pays to first create a terrace.

terraced wall
A terraced garden is a good alternative on a slope.

  • Easy access to water is essential. Locate your garden where it is accessible by water hose to an outside spigot or hydrant.
  • Avoid sites that border trees and shrubs. They may block sunlight and their root systems will interfere with your new vegetable garden. 
  • Know your local animal population and fence as needed. If deer are in your area, erect a deer fence before planting the first crops.
  • Make sure you have access to every part of your garden: include paths and space for water hoses, garden carts, or other tools and equipment.
  • A few simple hand tools will get you started -- shovel, metal rake, and a hoe for slicing and chopping weeds. Measuring tools are essential to lay out a garden.

three garden tools

Three soil prep tools: shovel or spade, mattock or pick axe, garden fork (not a pitch fork). Garden forks have sturdy tines that can help loosen and aerate heavy clay soil.

What Vegetables to Grow

  • Plant vegetables that you and your family like to eat, but try expanding your palate by growing vegetables that you aren't so familiar with too.
  • Contain the most nutrition (e.g., sweet potato, kale, pepper, broccoli);
  • Are most expensive to buy (e.g., garlic, leeks, herbs, heirloom tomatoes, Asian greens);
  • Are easiest to grow (e.g., bush beans, tomato, cucumber, pepper, summer squash, lettuce, and other leafy greens such as Swiss chard and kale). Refer to our page on Vegetable Crops for information on growing requirements.
  • Look for cultivars with disease resistance, especially if specific diseases have been a problem. Pay attention to the cultivars that are grown successfully by neighbors and become familiar with those recommended by the University of Maryland. Our publication (PDF) HG 70 Recommended Vegetables Cultivars for Maryland Home Gardens lists vegetables to consider planting when planning your garden.

Laying Out a Vegetable Garden

  • Group plants by the season in which they grow and how long they take to come to maturity. 
  • Plan to place taller crops on the north and west sides so they will not shade shorter plants.
  • Put your ideas on paper. Make a simple map of your garden plans on graph paper. Be sure to make all garden areas accessible so it is easy for you to water, fertilize, weed, and harvest. See an example of a (PDF) Year-One Garden Plan
  • Use online tools, that can be found doing a google search, to help you design your garden and make the most of your space.

garden planning tools
Use wooden stakes, hammer, measuring tape and string to lay out your garden plot and individual beds or rows.

plots pathways

Be sure to include pathways between rows and beds.

Additional Resources

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