Successful gardens are planned. They are carefully thought out and research is done to make sure all the plants in the garden get along and will grow together in peace.

All plants needing the same sun, fertilization and water requirements grow best when they are near each other. Some plants actually encourage others and there are those that are very uncooperative and stunt the growth of other plants. The soil needs to have the right pH levels to ensure a good crop and you have to make sure not to plant tall plants in the way of smaller plants to maximize sun exposure per day.

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

The most important decision to make, when planning a garden, is the location. Vegetables and Herbs need about 8 hours of sun per day. Most flowering plants also need a great deal of sunlight. Watch how the sun travels across your yard during the day, remembering that it will be different summer to winter. Once you find a spot that gets the right amount of sunlight per day, make sure that the area is well drained. No plants like to have wet roots all the time, so drainage is essential to the health of the garden. To check drainage ability of the area, place a water in a quart container and pour it in one area in the garden location. If it drains within a few seconds, the area is a good choice. If the water puddles and stays there for more than 3 minutes, drainage is a problem. If this is the only sunny area in the yard, do not dispair. You can make raised beds that will work well. You just have to add a layer of gravel over under the garden soil and the area will drain better. If the water stays and just doesn’t sink into the ground at all, you should find another place to build the garden.

SIZE IS EVERYTHING

A novice gardener should limit themselves to the size of their garden. A big garden takes a great deal of time to maintain and if you are not used to it, gardening can become overwhelming. A 10 by 16 foot vegetable garden is big enough to feed a family of four with a little left over for freezing and canning. Keep the garden small and have a little extra area around to expand in years to come.

TEST THE SOIL BEFORE DIGGING

Purchase a soil test kit at the garden center prior to digging up your soil. This test will tell you what the pH of the soil is and that can make or break a garden. A vegetable garden needs to be about 6.0 to 6.5. If it is too acidic, you will have to add sulfur to the soil and if it is too alkaline, limestone is added.

PLANTS TO BE PLANTED

While you are watching the sun’s progression when deciding on a location, notice on what side of the garden the sun hits first and last. Tall plants should be planted where the sun hits the last. This way, they will not shade the rest of the plants all through the day. This will be the back of the garden. Start planting tall plants at the back with gradually lower growing plants to the smallest plants in the front. When planning a vegetable garden, only choose plants you know you are going to eat. Choose easy to grow plants first and branch out once you get one year of gardening under your belt. A few tomatoes, a row of potatoes, some cucumbers, lettuce, carrots and beets might be all you need to get started.

RESEARCH

Research each plant to see how to plant them and what they need to grow well. Most vegetables grow good together. Cucumbers actually grow well with everything but potatoes, so keep them at opposite ends of the garden. Potatoes also inhibit the growth of carrots. Tomatoes grow well with peppers and basil. Lettuce gets along with everyone but broccoli. Planting some flowers in the garden also has its merits. French marigolds, planted around the perimeter of the garden will keep rabbits out.

Use graph paper to draw out your garden and plan where to put each plant. Keep in mind companion planting, water and fertilizing requirements and keep the taller plants to the back of the garden. Planning your garden will go a long way to a great harvest and keeping your garden healthy.