Ten tips for a successful vegetable garden

May 05, 2009|By ANNETTE IPSAN

Growing interest in health, nutrition, safety and saving money has inspired many people to start vegetable gardens. But many have limited experience, so a review of the basics might be a helpful. Here are my top 10 tips for a successful vegetable garden.

1. Location, location, location.

Put your vegetable garden where it can thrive in a level spot with lots of sun -- at least six hours a day. Make sure it's also near a water source and away from the shade and competition of buildings and trees.

2. Keep it small.

You can have great variety and abundant harvests from a small space. An 8-by-8 foot garden can produce 80 pounds of vegetables. And it's much easier to manage and enjoy than a bigger garden. Limited for space? Try a container garden.

3. Improve your soil.

We are blessed with clay soil, which holds nutrients well but drains poorly. Improve your soil with compost that's home-grown or store-bought (such as LeafGro) to grow healthier, more productive plants. Get a soil test to find out what else your soil needs.


4. Have a plan.

Sketch out your garden. Put tall plants to the north so they don't shade smaller plants. Allow room for walkways. And plan to tuck in new plants when you harvest earlier crops to improve your total yield.

5. Buy good plants.

For beginners, transplants -- small plants -- are easier than growing from seed. Buy healthy, green, compact plants with no signs of insects or disease and roots that aren't tangled in their pots. Tomatoes and peppers grow best from transplants.

6. Try seeds.

Growing from seeds saves money and offers more variety. Lettuce, spinach, peas, carrots, cucumbers and beans are just a few easy-to-grow vegetables that grow well from seeds planted directly into a garden. Follow seed packet directions and keep the seeds well-watered until they sprout.

7. Water smart.

Vegetables need about one inch of water a week. Sometimes, Mother Nature accommodates that need with rain, but often you need to supplement her showers. Water deeply once a week for the best results. And consider water-saving devices like rain barrels and soaker hoses.

8. Outsmart thugs.

Thwart insect and disease problems with smart garden practices. Inspect your plants regularly to catch problems early. Avoid harsh chemicals that kill good bugs. Rotate crops and clean up plant debris in the fall.

9. Bully weeds.

Don't let weeds get the upper hand. Mulch beds with newspaper, straw or untreated grass clippings. Pull or dig weeds when they are young. And never, ever let weeds go to seed. One plant can have 100,000 seeds.

10. Manage wildlife.

Rabbits, groundhogs and deer find your vegetables as delicious as you do, so have a plan for controlling them. Fencing is often your best option, although some repellents work in the short-term.

Want to learn more?

Check out the University of Maryland Home and Garden Information Center Web site. It offers hundreds of free publications, fact sheets and plant diagnostic tools with photos. Go to and click on "publications" or "plant diagnostics" to get started.

Our Master Gardener volunteers just created a vegetable demonstration garden at the Ag Center to help teach people how to grow their own vegetables.

Visit the garden to see our lasagna (layered) garden, container gardens, compost pile and two square-foot gardens that demonstrate intensive planting. Or go to to see photos of our garden as it grows.

Annette Ipsan is the Extension educator for horticulture and the Master Gardener program in Washington County for the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension. She can be reached weekdays by telephone at 301-791-1604, or by e-mail at

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