Planting a Vegetable Garden Step by Step


Planning : How big should your garden be?

The first thing to decide is to consider the size of your garden and how many vegetables you are trying to produce. A good rule of thumb is that a plot size of 16 x 10 feet can produce enough vegetables to feed a family of four for one summer with extras for canning and neighbors. Be careful not to plan bigger than your time for upkeep will allow. A 100 x 160 foot garden is either a full time job or 100 x 160 ft weed bed-Yes- you do reap the rewards from your labor, but it is best to have a plan. Better to be proud of a well maintained small garden than overwhelmed by something larger than your time will allow. (Trust me I own a nursery) Far better is to make a list of your favorite vegetables and narrow it down to the ones that taste best fresh or cost a lot to buy in the shops. Plan to create a few vegetable beds each year, expanding as you become confident and find the timesaving shortcuts that work for you. Defining good paths (using materials such as woodchips and weed block fabric) will pay back many times over in the time saved maintaining them.

If the area you are going to use for your vegetable garden is new then the next decision is if you will be doing raised beds, traditional rows, square foot gardening etc.

Choose the garden location

Vegetable gardens and most flowerbeds require at least 6 hours of full sun each day. Vegetable plants depend on sunshine to flower, no flowers- no vegetables. Be careful not to plant around trees, they grow shading your garden and rob your vegetable garden from much needed nutrients. If you do have some partly shaded areas in your garden (less than 6 hrs) Plant leafy greens and rooted plants there, they can tolerate, and prefer cooler areas in your garden.

 Choose a level spot -- either natural or terraced -- that has well-drained soil. Thick grass or vigorous weed growth usually indicate soil drainage and nutrient levels that will support healthy garden plants.

 The location of your vegetable garden should be conveniently located to a water source. Make sure that you can get water to your garden daily, if needed. A drip or soaker hose is ideal because it keeps the foliage dry, which helps prevent disease. Sprinklers are not ideal for vegetable gardens, if you must use a sprinkler...water in the early mornings so that plants dry before the heat comes in. Tomatoes are especially temperamental to overhead watering.

You may also want to be near an electrical supply for electric gardening tools or a garden shed for ease of access to hand tools and supplies.

Consider fencing your garden if your property is home to wildlife. If you have deer, don't consider ..JUST FENCE! You can always plant herbs and marigolds to discourage rabbits and rodents.


Decide What, When and Where to Plant

  It's always a good idea to have a plot plan written down on paper. Avid gardeners can save this in a journal to improve techniques the following season, save space, and to rotate year by year. Planting the same crop in the same location year after year can encourage pests and disease, and eliminate vital nutrients as different plants take up different nutrients and also leave nutrients behind. I like to divide the garden into five areas for crop rotation: Corn, Cool Season Veggies, Cucurbits, and Tomatoes and Peppers.

 When planning your veggie garden decide where to plant Perennial Plants such as rhubarb, berry patches and perennial herbs if you want to incorporate them. These plants can be a permanent addition and will need annual maintenance but will come back up year after year. These should be located on the edges of the garden for room for expansion and division and to keep out of the way for annual tilling and turning.

Perennial Garden Plants are plants that will come up year after year in your garden include:

Blackberries, Boysenberries, Garlic, Mints, Oregano, Raspberries, Rhubarb, Sage, Strawberries, Thyme

Next plan cool season veggies that are quick to harvest first. Calculate when those veggies mature so you can replace them with warmer season plants to save on space and maintenance.

Cool Season Vegetables that can be started two to three weeks before last frost:

GET THESE PLANTS IN BEFORE JUNE 1st, as even on a cool summer they will be hard to find.

Root vegetables such as Beets, Carrots, Chives,  Leeks,  Parsnips, Radish, Rutabaga, Shallots and Turnips. These are sewn directly into the Garden

Bulbs and roots that can be planted at this time include Onion sets, Potato sets, Rhubarb and Asparagus.

Cole Crops such as Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Kale and Kohlarabi, are usually set out as transplants 2-3 weeks before last frost in spring or sewn directly into the garden in early Fall for a late fall crop.

Other cool season Vegetables Such as Chard, Cilantro, Collards, Endive, Lettuce, Mint, Mustard Greens, Turnip Greens, Thyme, Spinach, Oregano, Parsley, and Peas can be purchased as transplants for a head start on the season or sewn directly in the garden.

Plant Summer Vegetables after last frost

When is last frost in Colorado? As a rule of thumb, meteorologist tell us to use Mothers Day. But in higher elevations even this late date can be a crap shoot. I will tell you to look at a detailed 10 day forcast for your zip code on Mothers Day, make your best guess between then and June 7th and the earlier date you predict-the more important it will be for you to be ready to protect tender plants. Colorado can be a challenging State to predict weather and you want the plants in as early as possible for a longer and more productive harvest.

Most Summer Vegetables with exception of Tomatoes and Peppers can be started by seed and directly sewn in the garden, however to help lengthen harvest season and avoid the need of gambling with mother nature, most growers prefer to get a head start with transplants already started. Corn is best sewn directly as it does not transplant well. Tomatoes and Peppers do NOT have a long enough season to be sewn directly in Colorado, and must be planted from started plants preferably of flowering age by June 1st.

Summer vegetables Include Basil, Beans, Corn, Cucumbers, Dill, Eggplant, Gourds, Tomatoes, Peppers, Squashes, Melons and Pumpkins.

Planting of summer squash next to gourds can result in some funky and unusual vegetables I like to call Pumkinzinis, these should be planted further apart to prevent cross pollination. Also remember Larger sprawling plants like Melons and Pumpkins need lots of space and are best suited for larger gardens

Corn is best planted in blocks, instead of rows I usually take several of the garden rows in a square for this purpose. Corn grows tall late in summer and can help other plants stay cool from scalding heat from the south western hot evening sun. It also can be a nice companion plant to provide a growing support for beans.

With all of that in mind you can see why this is best planned out on paper.

Remove competing plants and weeds

 Remove existing lawn by slicing under the sod with a spade and cutting it into manageable pieces. Add the pieces to your compost or use it to patch bare spots elsewhere. Kill weeds, Pull them out by hand, or chop them with a hoe or mattock and rake them up. Rototillers are great- but you will be tilling again after you remove the debri you will need to till in some compost. If time permits, you can smother grass and weeds with old carpeting or black plastic anchored to the ground. For best results, leave the covering in place for several weeks of hot weather.


Add Ammendments


Living in the West has always meant being in touch with the land. Successful Colorado gardeners learn how to take advantage of the favorable plant growing properties of our soils, and how to moderate the less favorable ones through soil preparation. It may be a surprise to discover that the most important thing to add to any Colorado soil isn't fertilizers - it's organic amendments. Examples of organic amendments are compost, peat and manure. To amend soils, add a two to three inch layer of organic material over the surface of the soil and mix into the top four to six inches. SEE COMPOSTING.

 Front Range clays have the advantages of holding water well and being naturally fertile. Their tendency to compact is less favorable for plant growth. Organic amendments shoulder aside tightly packed clay particles to make space for the air so critical to plant root growth. On the opposite side-Sandy Front Range and mountain valley soils drain freely, eliminating plant growth problems from too much water. Organic amendments added to sands act like a sponge to hold enough water for plant growth. Organics also hold fertilizer nutrients - another item often lacking in sandy soils. Rocky, well-drained, mountain soils benefit from organic amendments in the same manner.

With lawns and perennial plants you have a one time opportunity to amend before planting. With annual plantings like vegetables, you can amend the soil every year. Take advantage of opportunities to amend soils with organic material, then carefully regulate the amount of water applied for best plant growth. By doing both, you will realize the greatest results from your gardening efforts.


Turn the Dirt and make your rows

Work the amendments into the top 6 to 12 inches of soil by turning with a spade shovel,  mixing with a rototiller or garden fork. Pulverize the soil and get a smooth, level surface by raking as soon as possible after turning. This helps to firm the soil, break up clods, and leave a smooth surface for seeding. Soil left in rough condition for several days after turning in the spring may dry out and form hard clods, making it much more difficult to prepare a good seedbed. So be sure to leave enough time to finish the job properly or you will be redoing it at planting time. I find tilling the garden after harvest in fall, Covering in winter, and then tilling in compost before spring helps reduce weeds. With larger gardens this method will save alot back breaking labor in the heat of summer. You can prepare a small garden plot for planting by using a spade, shovel, or spading fork to turn the soil. Where the soil is clay and level and likely to stay wet, use a hoe, rake, or tiller to pull the soil into raised rows that are 10 to 12 inches across on the tops. Let the sides slope gently to the walkways to provide good surface drainage. You may want to leave enough room between rows to use a garden tiller.

Conventional row spacing is 36 to 40 inches apart, but spacing depends on a number of factors: equipment, garden size, and vegetables being grown. Rows for vigorously vining vegetables like watermelons, cantaloupes, pumpkins, and winter squash are usually 6 to 8 feet apart.

In general itís a good idea to define garden beds 4 feet (1.2m) wide and as long as you want them to be with a 2 foot (60cm) path between them. This is about as wide as you can go before it becomes uncomfortable to lean into the middle of the bed (youíll appreciate this when weeding) without treading on the soil (best avoided as it compacts the soil structure). If you have children around then itís useful to clearly mark the edges and building raised beds is a good way to do this (also good if you have heavy or waterlogged soil as they drain well.)


Plant the rows

Direct Seeding:

Most seeds have their planting depth, spacing, germination and harvesting times on the back of the seed packet. Its important to note that seeds only need a small amount of soil to cover them. Usually twice the size of the seed. So a 1" pumpkin seed can be planted 2" deep, where a spec of a radish seed needs to be almost pushed in with a light covering. Too deep and the seeds wont germinate. After sewing tamp the soil firm as to not wash away the seeds when watering.

 With seeds the important thing here in Colorado is to keep the ground moist, which can be challenging and is usually best done by hand watering or a sprinkler using a gentle spray so you dont wash the seedlings away. Water to a depth of 6-8" to encourage deep rooting. Be sure to monitor the days events and how your newly tilled ground reacts to the climate..a windy day may dry out the soil and the garden may need to be watered twice a day until the seedlings are deeper rooted. You may find that a lot of compost and clay hold moisture and puddles and need to let a new garden drain before adding more water. Once you've gotten familiar with your garden, you can get a good idea on when you need to water.

Its Best to Direct seed Carrots, Radishes, Turnips, Corn, Peas, and Beans. 

Planting Transplants:

Colorado has short unpredictable seasons. Planting plants already started has many benefits and for some plants our growing season is simply too short to grow them any other way. These plants include Cantalope, Tomatoes, Peppers, Tomatillos, Pumpkins, Watermelon, Spring planted Cabbage, Brussel Sprouts, Broccolli, and Cauliflower.

Other plants that are easily transplanted and can be purchaced or started indoors for a longer harvest include Cucumbers,  Squash, Eggplant and Herbs.

 Carefully remove the seedlings from container, if in a peat pot (biodegradable pot) I like to peel this pot away so the roots can touch the soil even though directions say otherwise. Tomatoes can be planted deeply. Otherwise plant at the same depth as was growing in the container making sire all roots are covered with soil. Water well after planting.



 Choosing your watering method depends on the time you have to dedicate to your garden.

 I believe the best method is to hand water early morning and check again in the evening. But honestly! Not many people have that kind of time or dedication, and for the people who do- lets face it! Life happens! A back up plan is necessary to supplement busy days and unforseen life circumstances.

 Overhead watering with sprinklers is best done only while germinating seeds. Once summer comes in I recommend watering from below. Overhead watering contributes to leaf scorch, run off, pests and disease. If you do choose this method- water in the early morning so plants dry before the heat sets in to prevent fungus.

Soaker hoses are great choices (the hose is porous and weeps water) These hoses can be weaved through rows and connected to timers and faucets without much thought or difficulty. The benefits over this is that it works where ever you place it.

Another good option is Drip irrigation. If done properly idrip irrigation can be especially useful for reducing water consumption, as water is delivered directly to the plant through a tiny hose (called a spagetti hose) attached to a larger PVC hose that can weave through the rows. The above ground plumbing is fairly straight forward, inexpensive and easy to install and attach to existing water sources and timers. Down side is where ever you poke holes to leak water is where they will be if your garden plan changes next year, so does your irrigation.


 Mulching (along with soil preparation) is what turns a failing gardener into a sucessful one in Colorado. Mulch is material placed on the soil around plants. In a vegetable garden organic mulch such as fine woodchips, straw,  or grassclippings with NO SEEDS make the best mulch. A good bagged mulch is usually made of fine grade woodchips and looks like black dirt that holds down well in the wind. Straw must be seed and weed free (hay has alot of weed seeds-dont use it) and once watered and matted down also can hold down well, as do grass clippings.

Mulch helps prevent weeds, keeps the soil well insulated, holds moisture and reduce watering needs, prevents soil compaction, protect against soil erosion in heavy rains, and as they break down improve soil texture. They also keep your walkways dry and look attractive. In an expertly planted garden all plants are started indoors or purchased- black plastic will cover the rows before seedlings (young plants) are transplanted. Poke holes or cut slits in an X shape to make room for the seedling and plant then cover with mulch. If using this method drip irrigation is imperative so the spaghetti hoses can be slipped under the plastic.

If not using black plastic, be sure to mulch and use a weed preventer AFTER soil temperatures have warmed and seedlings are up. In June.











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