Planting a vegetable garden is all about location, location, location. You might have great ideas, lots of resources, and the skills to match, but if you put your garden in the wrong spot, don’t expect good results. The better the location, the better the vegetables.
Sunlight is essential for most plants to grow. Nearly all vegetables and fruits and most herbs require at least 6 hours of full sun every day to photosynthesize and thus produce their produce. This is pretty much non-negotiable.
You have to know where the sun shines on your property so you can grow your plants in full sun. Sounds simple, right? But if you remember sixth-grade science, you know the sun’s path changes over the course of the year.
To figure out the best spot for maximum sun exposure, spend the day watching the sun move across your yard. If you do this in early spring before the trees leaf out, be sure to allow for the shade produced by the tree canopies. I can’t tell you how many novice gardeners are shocked to find that the garden they spent so much time preparing is in full shade by 2 P.M. after the leaves have grown.
How much space your garden needs depends entirely on what you want to grow in it. If you’ve always wanted to experiment with several varieties of corn, you’ll need land, lots of land. If having a steady supply of fresh herbs is the full extent of your plans, you can get by with a few pots on the terrace. Your garden style determines the square footage, or acreage, you need to achieve your goals. To help you estimate how much room you need, consider the space requirements of a few favorite plants.
In a perfect world, gardeners rely on rain to irrigate their gardens. But there’s no such thing as a perfect world. Southeastern Pennsylvania, where I live, recently experienced 3 years of serious drought conditions. And we’re not alone. Many parts of the country have on–going drought issues. Ornamental gardeners can add plant varieties that require less water, but vegetable growers have to resort to various methods of irrigation when Mother Nature is less than generous. Unless you own stock in a company that makes garden hoses, you won’t want to run miles of hose to get water to the garden beds. So it’s important to locate the garden close enough to a reliable water source.
If you have acres of land with no neighbors in sight, the location of your garden in relation to property lines is probably irrelevant. But most folks do have neighbors, and it’s important to consider the impact your garden will have on them. First, if you spend all your waking hours raising vegetables and you’re heavily into power equipment, be sure not to put your garden a few feet from your neighbor’s patio. Think about your garden as an attractive diversion for neighborhood children, and protect your interests by making it inaccessible to them. In a neighborhood where manicured lawns and well-tended beds are the norm, you might not want to locate your basic, utilitarian–style vegetable plot smack dab in the middle of the front lawn. (Some neighborhoods might have restrictions against this, too, so check with your neighborhood association, if you have one.) Also be considerate when it comes to smelly activities. Can you imagine your neighbor starting to greet guests to his daughter’s engagement party in his backyard, and your load of fresh manure is delivered at the same time?
Consider the placement of your compost pile, too. Well–constructed, healthy compost bins and piles shouldn’t have a bad smell, but they don’t always function as they should. Try to place your compost well away from downwind neighbors. It all boils down to using common sense and being considerate of others. If you play by those rules, you’ll find the right location for your garden.
Plants don’t do well in traffic, whether it’s four–wheeled or four-legged, so when you’re thinking of locations for your garden, you need to assess a number of important traffic factors, including vehicles, animals, and kids.
Most people don’t intentionally drive cars through their gardens. Unfortunately, sometimes cars stray off the pavement. If you place your garden too near a driveway, it could be damaged by a not–quite–tight–enough turn or an overestimated back-up effort. Snowplows can overstep the pavement, too, resulting in compacted soil and crushed crowns on perennial plants. Bikes, trikes, and wagons also pose a threat to gardens. To avoid death by vehicle in the garden, select a location well away from traffic patterns. This includes places where the kids have always thrown their bikes, the natural path you take from house to garage or shed, near a turn–around or back–up area of the driveway, or where the snowplows regularly push piles of snow.
If your property is small, you may not have much choice in where to put the garden. It’s either right here or nowhere. Larger lots, on the other hand, might have any number of sunny, childfree, dog–proof options.
Most plants prefer to grow in well–drained soil, so don’t set up your garden in the swampy part of your yard or at the end of the sump pump drainpipe. Without elaborate modifications and drains, a wet yard will never support a successful vegetable garden. Some properties have sections that are dryer than others. Sandy soils that drain very quickly dry out fast and might not retain enough moisture to satisfy the plants’ need for water. Chalky soils tend to be dry, too.
If the only land you have fits in this category, you’ll need to do some heavy–duty soil amending. However, if there’s another, less–desertlike location on your property, maybe use that instead.
Now that you know where to put your garden, it’s time to start planting! For more valuable gardening information, check out our quick guide, Compost: Your Guide to Making Black Gold. Good luck, and happy gardening!
From The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Vegetable Gardening by Daria Price Bowman and Carl. A. Price