AMES, Iowa – For beginning gardeners, it’s important to select a favorable location for the vegetable garden. A favorable site will help ensure a successful vegetable harvest, according to horticulture specialists with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.
The primary considerations when selecting a site for a vegetable garden is the amount of sunlight, soil type and other factors.
Vegetables grow best in well-drained, fertile soils. A well-drained soil is one through which water moves quickly. Vegetables grow poorly in heavy clay or poorly drained soils. Poor soils can often be improved by incorporating organic matter, such as compost, into the soil.
What about slope?
The vegetable garden site should be fairly level to avoid erosion. If a slope is the only available location, run the vegetable rows across the slope to form contour terraces. This should help minimize soil erosion during heavy rains.
Another important consideration when selecting a garden site is the amount of sunlight. Select an area in full sun. The garden site should receive at least six hours of direct sun each day. Avoid shady sites near buildings, trees, or shrubs. If the best garden site is in partial shade, plant vegetables that tolerate low light intensities, such as leaf lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard and kale.
Convenience is another consideration. A vegetable garden near the home and a water supply is easier to maintain. A convenient location also simplifies harvesting.
What size is best?
The appropriate size for a vegetable garden depends on the desired types and amounts of vegetables you wish to grow, available land and the amount of available time you have for garden maintenance. Vining crops, such as cucumbers, muskmelon and sweet potatoes, require a large growing area. In contrast, beets, carrots, onions and leaf lettuce can be grown in a small area. Don’t underestimate the amount of time necessary for routine maintenance. Weeding will need to be done on a regular basis during the growing season. Watering may be necessary during dry periods. For many beginning gardeners, a 100 square-foot area (10 feet by 10 feet) would be a manageable size for a vegetable garden.
Iowa State University Extension and Outreach has numerous publications on vegetable gardening. Examples include “Where to Put Your Vegetable Garden,” “Planting a Home Vegetable Garden,” “Planting and Harvesting Times for Garden Vegetables,” “Suggested Vegetable Varieties for the Home Garden” and “Container Vegetable Gardening." These publications and others can be downloaded (under Yard and Garden) from the Iowa State University Extension Store website, https://store.extension.iastate.edu/