University of Maryland Extension

Vegetable Garden Planning 2013

Lisa Gonzalez
Vegetable Gardening

Vegetable Garden Planning 2013

          Whether you are an experienced vegetable gardener or are gardening for the first time it’s never too early to start planning your garden.   Growing fruit and vegetables at home is easier than you may think.  It just takes a little bit of knowledge and some planning to successfully produce your own food.  Plants have specific needs for water, sunlight, space, temperature, nutrients and soil (aka dirt). Understanding the needs of the plants you want to grow and preparing your garden accordingly will help to ensure that you provide all that your plants need in order to grow and produce food.

In this article we will look at some essentials of vegetable gardening and how you can garden in a way that meets the needs of your food plants.  To get started with growing food you will need to think about these aspects of your garden:

  1. Garden location
  2. Soil
  3. Seeds
  4. Planting times
  5. Space
  6. Water

I.  Garden Location

The first step to planning your garden is to find the right location. Most vegetable plants require at least 6 hours of direct sunlight.  Before digging or building a raised garden bed it is important to make sure that your location gets at least 6 hours. If you have less than 6 hours of sunlight you can try growing lettuce which can tolerate a little less sun.

Next you want to make sure that you have access to water.  This may mean that you check to make sure your hose reaches your garden site. Of course you can always fill up watering cans and walk them over to the garden but on hot summer days this can get very cumbersome.

You will also need to keep an eye out for critters.  Bunnies and rodents may try to steal some food while dogs and cats that have access to your garden can leave droppings that make food unsafe for consumption. Assess whether you need a small fence circling your garden. 


II.  The Dirt on Soil

If you are planning to use existing soil from your yard it is important that you get your soil tested. Soil tests will let you know if there are any contaminants (like heavy metals). Test results will also tell you about the nutrient status and pH of your soil and let you know if you need to add anything to your soil. Here is a link to an order form and directions for taking for a soil test:

It is likely that you will need to supplement your soil.  Soil is sold bagged from any garden store.  If you are adding soil to the ground or a raised bed you will add “garden soil” and if you are adding soil to a container you will need “potting soil”.  Composted leaves are also a great addition to your soil and provide nutrients, organic matter and aid in creating a healthy soil structure.  (LeafGro is a local bagged leaf compost available at most garden stores in Maryland). It is important to make sure that the soil or compost you buy is appropriate for growing food. You can ask the garden store associate or you can look for a picture of vegetables on the soil bag as a clue that it is fit for use with growing food.

Lastly, soil is the place where the plant’s roots live. These roots have a few jobs including finding water and air for the plant. Therefore it is important to have soft and non-compacted soil. (Compacted soil is when the soil particles get packed tightly and close together kind of like clay would). With non-compacted soil you should be able to turn the soil with a shovel or hand tool with ease.  If the soil is hard and compacted the roots may have a hard time doing their job. You can fix this by adding compost or other organic matter to the soil and mixing it in. Also you may need to consider putting paths into your garden to avoid compacting the soil when you step.

III.  Seeds and Seedlings

The great thing about gardening is that you can choose exactly what you will plant. For example I have a Purple Ravens garden with purple cauliflower, purple string beans, purple carrots and purple potatoes.  I order my seeds from a seed catalog which gives the greatest variety of choices. You can order seeds from an online seed catalog or you can request that a catalog be sent to your house (just do an internet search for “vegetable seeds catalog”). You can also get seeds from most garden stores and even grocery stores.  Meyers Seeds is a locally owned seed company with a store in Baltimore.  Some vegetables are best started from seed while others are best planted from seedlings. Garden stores often sell these plants including cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, tomato, peppers and eggplants.

IV.   Planting Times

One of the keys to successful food gardening is to plant seeds and seedlings at the right time.  Some plants are cold loving (fall/spring) while others are warm loving (summer). Some plants can be planted as early as late February while others need to be planted in mid-May. Each plant is unique and understanding when to plant is really important.  Of course this all depends on weather patterns. 


Plant seeds indoors

Plant seeds outdoors

Transplant seedlings outdoors

Late February/

Early March

Cabbage, tomatoes,

Snow peas



broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, collards, lettuce, kale

Mid-late March: peppers, eggplant

Mid-march: Chinese cabbage, lettuce, peas, potatoes, spinach, turnips, parsnips, radishes

Mid-March: cabbage



Beets, carrots, Swiss chard, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuce, peas, radishes, spinach, mustard greens

Mid April: string beans

Broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, lettuce,



Lima beans, snap peas, cowpeas, pumpkins, carrots, sweet potatoes, beets, zucchini, yellow squash, sweet corn, melons,

Mid May: Eggplant, tomatoes, cucumbers,  peppers, sweet potatoes



Beans, cucumbers, melons, pumpkins, corn, winter squash,

Cucumber, zucchini, yellow squash, melons, beans

*This chart is for spring and summer gardens. You can grow fall gardens too! Check out the link below for more detailed information on planting times.

V.  Space

Each plant also has a unique requirement for space.  You will need to consider how deep their roots grow into the soil and how wide the plant grows.  It is essential that you plant seeds in the ground in a way that gives them the right amount of space.  If they don’t have enough space they will be unhealthy and may not produce food.  Luckily the back of a seed package will usually tell you exactly how to plant seeds with regards to space. They will tell you how many inches deep to plant and how much space to leave between seeds.  If you are planting in containers or flower pots you will want to make sure you pick a container that is the appropriate size for the plant.  You can find very detailed information for each plant including its space, temperature and nutrient needs here:

VI.  Water

Plants have unique needs for water. Some plants, like cacti, prefer a little bit of water every once in a while. Most house plants need to be watered every two weeks. Vegetable and fruit plants need much more water.  Each plant is different but most vegetables like about 2 inches of water per week. A good rule of thumb is to water your garden for about 10-15 minutes 2-3 times a week if there has not been any rain.  However, nothing beats good observational skills. Vegetable plants need moist soil that is not too dry but not soaking wet either.  Also you want to make sure that the water has penetrated down to the roots and is not just at the top of the soil.  You can stick your hand or a stick down a few inches into the dirt to make sure that there is water available for the roots. 

VII.  Where to find more information

Here are some great online resources for learning more about vegetable gardening

  1. Grow it Eat it Maryland: 
  2. Home and Garden Information Center (HGIC)
  3. HGIC youtube channel:
  4. Baltimore County Master Gardeners
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