Starting a Vegetable Garden: Five S's to Success

By National Gardening Association Editors

If you're new to gardening and are inspired to grow some vegetables, here are five important "s" elements — you'll want to consider:

Five S's to starting a vegetable garden

  • Sun. Fruiting vegetables (e.g., beans, tomatoes, peppers, squash, eggplant, cucumbers, etc.) need at least 6 hours of direct sun a day. All others can make do with as little as 3 to 4 hours of sun, but more is almost always better. Trees, buildings, and other structures in your yard may cast shade on your garden. Check the amount of shade and sun on your proposed site, and remember that it will change as the seasons change.
  • Soil. Test your soil to determine its fertility needs. Add amendments as recommended. Also determine how well the soil drains. Be sure to let the soil dry out in spring before working.
  • Site. Build the garden close to a walkway or house so you're encouraged to visit it frequently. Make sure there's a water source (faucet) close by. Protect the garden with a fence or barrier if cats, dogs, or wildlife are an issue.
  • Size. Start small — a 10' by 10' garden (100 sq. ft.) is a manageable size. Use fences, trellises, containers, and hanging baskets to save space and get more production from your garden.
  • Selection. Grow crops you like to eat! Plant a variety of vegetables, flowers, and herbs. The more diversity, the fewer problems you'll have with pests. Look for varieties described as "disease-resistant."
Improving Your Garden Soil

To grow the best vegetables you need good soil. It's worth taking the time to test your soil's pH (a measure of its acidity or alkalinity) and amend it as needed before planting. If your soil is too acid or alkaline, plants can't take up the nutrients they need. You can raise pH ("sweeten the soil") with lime, and lower it with sulfur. At a minimum, though, plan to add compost; it improves both drainage and the soil's water-holding capacity. Compost also adds nutrients and boosts soil life. You can purchase a soil test kit from most regional Cooperative Extension offices or garden centers. You can also purchase compost from garden centers or make your own (learn how at

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