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How to Grow a Successful Vegetable Garden

Find the right spot to grow your vegetables and enjoy fresh produce all season long.

Woman in vegetable garden
Tomatoes and peppers

Be creative with your plantings

You don't have to plant all your vegetables in one plot. If your only sunny location is in the front yard, you could plant a border of tomatoes and peppers along the front walk and set lettuce plants in a shadier spot out back.
Keep your garden away from the root zone of surrounding plantings

Be careful of neighbouring plants

If you must put your garden near trees and shrubs, your vegetable plants will compete for water, nutrients and light. Tree roots extend beyond their drip line, the outer edge of their leafy canopy. If you can, keep your garden away from the root zone of surrounding plantings. If that isn't possible, treat everything with extra water and fertilizer.
Test for good drainage

Test for good drainage

Plant roots need air as well as water. Waterlogged soil is low in air, which is why it's important to consider drainage when choosing a vegetable garden site. Heavy clay soils are usually not as well drained as sandy ones. Puddles of water on the soil surface after a rain indicate poor drainage.

One way to check your garden soil's drainage is to dig a hole about 10 inches deep and fill it with water. Let the water drain, then fill the hole again the following day and clock how long it takes for the water to drain. If water remains in the hole for more than three to four hours after the second filling, poor drainage will likely be a problem.


Improve too soggy or too dry conditions

The fastest way to improve soil drainage is to build raised garden beds  and fill them with amended soil. If your soil is really soggy, due perhaps to a high water table, drains buried in the ground may be the only solution.

Soil can also be too well drained. Very sandy soil dries out quickly and needs frequent watering during dry spells. Adding organic matter such as mulch to sandy soil will gradually increase the amount of water it can hold.

Find the right slope

Find the right slope

A gentle slope to the south is ideal, especially in colder climates. Soil warms up faster in spring, and the chance of frost affecting plants is lower. Cold air is like water: it runs downhill and settles in low spots. Frosty air will move past plants on a slope. However, too steep of a slope can cause erosion problems. On any sloping site, put rows across rather than down the slope to catch runoff. On very steep slopes, you may need to build terraces to hold soil in place.
A green garden

Protect your garden from wind

Winds can wreak havoc on tall crops such as corn and pole beans and can dry them out rapidly. If wind is a problem in your area, protect the garden with a windbreak - either several rows of plants or a fence. You will get maximum wind protection for your crops if you put them downwind at a distance three to five times the windbreak's height.
Vegetable plants

Factor in size and workload

Consider how much of each crop you would like to harvest. If the soil is in good condition, you can keep up with a 400-square-foot garden by devoting about 30 minutes each day at the beginning of the season and 30 minutes every two or three days throughout the summer to keep your garden producing and looking good.

Try to plan your garden so it's close to a water source and the house. If you intend to bring in more than two yards of soil amendments or additions such as manure, put your garden in a spot that can be easily reached by a vehicle.

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