Vegetable Growing Tips For Beginning Gardeners

Here are some vegetable growing tips from the experts as the Home Garden Seed Association.

Growing your own food is an empowering experience — but only if you are successful. Here are a few vegetable growing tips to ensure that your initial food growing experience will lead to a lifetime of home-grown meals.

Start with the Soil! Good garden soil is crumbly and full of organic matter. It is home to an array of organisms, including helpful bacteria and fungi, and insects of all sizes. It retains water yet drains well. Grab a handful of your garden soil and squeeze it. If it holds its shape, yet crumbles easily when you drop it, you’re off to a good start. If it stays in a ball or crumbles as soon as you open your hand, add compost. This will correct poor drainage, and help your soil retain water and nutrients. Add about 3 inches (7.5 cm) of compost to your problem soil, and gently work it in with a garden fork.

Raised vegetable bed.

Start Small. Tilling up an area that is so large that you won’t have time to keep the weeds under control will lead you to feel discouraged. If you’re busy (and who isn’t!) start with a single raised bed or a 4 ft by ft (1.2 m by 2.4 m) plot. This is enough to plant a couple of tomatoes, basil, salad greens, maybe a row of beans. This may seem obvious, but plant what you want to eat, and concentrate your early efforts on those plants. A salad and herb garden is a good choice for beginners. As you become more comfortable with plant habits and growing techniques, you can add to your growing space.

Container vegetable garden.
Container vegetable gardens may be small, but they can be very productive! Photo: Chicco Dodi FC, depositphotos

If you’re Growing in Containers, Make Sure They’re Big Ones. It may look odd in spring to have a small tomato seedling in a 5-gallon (20-L) container, but by mid-summer, the roots of that fast-growing plant will completely fill the pot. Why plant in large containers? The larger the container, the less the likelihood that it will dry out if you skip a day of watering. Plus, as your plant grows large and productive, it will need the nutrients contained in the soil mix. This is true no matter what you grow in pots. Salad greens, peppers, tomatoes, and even cucumbers can produce a satisfying harvest in containers. Just make sure that you fill them with a water-retentive, well-draining soil mix. Such a mix is ideal for containers. Also, treat them every two weeks with a balanced, soluble fertilizer.

Filling pots with soil you’ve dug from your garden is a bad idea. It is much more dense than a container mix, and will not drain well.

Beets in the garden.
Each vegetable needs enough space to grow well.

When Sowing Directly in the Soil, Pay Attention to Spacing. Many seeds can be sown directly in the garden once nighttime temperatures are consistently above 50°F (10°C), including salad greens, beans and peas, root vegetables, and many flowers. Vegetable seed packets generally tell you how close your plants should be in the garden. Try to sow seed sparingly, following the packet instructions, and when your seedlings are about 2 inches (5 cm) in height, thin them to the recommended spacing. This is important with all vegetables and flowers, but particularly so with root vegetables. If grown too close together, carrots will end up tangled, beets will be spindly, and radishes will bolt prematurely.

Have a Ready Supply of Mulch, and Fertilize Regularly. Mulch does double duty in the vegetable garden. It helps keep weeds under control as it conserves soil moisture. Use mulching materials that will readily break down and over /me they will improve the soil as well. Half rotted straw, shredded leaves, pine needles, shredded paper, cardboard, or any combination of these are good choices for the vegetable garden. Wait until your plants are several inches (6 or 7 cm) tall and your garden is well watered. Then put mulch down around your plants. This doesn’t have to be done all at once. One or two-inch (3 or 5 cm) layers can be added over the growing season.

To ensure a good harvest, vegetables grown in well- drained soil should be fertilized every 3 to 4 weeks with a balanced organic fertilizer. This is particularly important with heavy feeders. That includes brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, etc.), tomatoes, eggplants, squash, and melons.

“There are no gardening mistakes, only experiments.”

— Janet Kilburn Phillips

Diversify! Flowers belong in or near the vegetable garden for a number of reasons. They attract pollinators, and they bring in predator insects that will help keep insects such as cabbageworms and aphids in check. A diverse garden is a healthy garden. Good, easy-from-seed choices to plant near or within a vegetable garden include marigolds, sweet alyssum, zinnias, bachelor’s buttons, cosmos, calendulas, nasturtiums, and California poppies.

The above article is derived from a press release by the Home Garden Seed Association ( which promotes gardening from seed – the easy, economical, and rewarding way to garden. Visit their website for gardening articles and information about their members and their activities. Members’ retail websites can be accessed through the “Shop Our Members Online” page.

Garden writer and blogger, author of 65 gardening books, lecturer and communicator, the Laidback Gardener, Larry Hodgson, passed away in October 2022. Known for his great generosity, his thoroughness and his sense of humor, he reached several generations of amateur and professional gardeners over his 40-year career. Thanks to his son, Mathieu Hodgson, and a team of contributors, will continue its mission of demystifying gardening and making it more accessible to all.

6 comments on “Vegetable Growing Tips For Beginning Gardeners

  1. Karen Muir

    Hello Larry, I have succeeded in growing tiny lettuce plants from seeds in my kitchen for the first time! However, I’m wondering whether or not they can be transplanted now as lettuce is supposed to be hardy. Is that only when you plant the seeds in the soil and it takes perhaps two weeks or more to emerge?

    • No, it’s quite hardy as a plant as well and will take a touch of frost if it’s very brief. At nights below 5 C (40 F), though, it’s best to cover it.

      • Karen Muir

        Thx! If you have any thoughts about whether there will be a late May or early June frost prohibiting the planting of tomato plants– mine are still very small, they would be very welcome!. Karen

      • Can’t say. I look to meterologists for hints!

  2. Grow what you like to eat too if space is limited. Fun to try new varieties and kinds of veggies too.

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