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Garden Success Begins with These 5 Steps

Mechele R. Dillard's picture

Gardening can be a real money-saver for those who grow veggies too expensive to buy at the grocery store, but a good plan can be the difference between success and failure.

Growing one’s own vegetables and herbs is becoming a popular endeavor in this world of organic foods and self-sustaining activity. And, as the reported recently, even small spaces, such as apartment rooftops and limited-space backyards can be sites for gardens. But, if you plan to make a garden, especially if you’ve never grown your own veggies, there are some basic questions you should be asking before getting started.

If you are growing your own veggies for the first time—or even if you are just starting anew—considering these five steps before you begin can get you off to a solid start to having a successful growing season. Consider these steps:

  1. Make a plan.
  2. Find a site.
  3. Prepare the soil.
  4. Plant your crop.
  5. Take care and maintain.

Within each of these steps, there are questions that you should be asking and answering as you go forward.

Make a Plan

Ask yourself some questions as you get started. For example:

  • Are you going to grow your garden in a plot or in containers?
  • How big will your garden be?
  • If you choose a plot, will it be directly in the ground on in a raised bed?
  • Which vegetables and herbs would you like to grow? Are the growing conditions in your area favorable to these items?
  • Will you do more than one season—early, mid, late—of crops?
  • Do you have the tools you need to get the job done?

Find a Site

Without a good site, your veggies and herbs will not grow, no matter how dedicated you are.

  • Select a site on level ground with a minimum of six hours full sun each day.
  • Look around your potential site; are there any shrubs, trees, or other objects that can block sunlight? Also, their root systems can potentially interfere with the growth of your own in-ground garden.
  • Easy water access is a must. It may sound simple enough to haul water before you actually start doing it, but if you make it difficult on yourself to get water to your garden, in all likelihood you will not do a thorough job of it throughout the gardening season.
  • Consider the local animal population; will you need to fence your garden area?

Prepare the Soil

  • Your soil should be loose, deep and crumbly.
  • Water should not stand in the garden area after a rain.
  • A simple testing tool can be purchased to learn your soil’s pH level; such tools can be a great guide in determining what plants will grow well in your soil. If you are growing directly in the ground, you may want to take a sample of your soil to your county extension office and have it tested for nutrient levels and anything that could make it unsafe to garden in, such as high levels of lead.
  • The ground will need to be prepared and turned before planting can begin. For some examples of methods of turning the ground, visit University of Maryland Extension.

Plant Your Crop

  • After deciding just what you want to grow and determining if these veggies are good for the area and soil in which you are growing, you can either transplant or plant from seed. Some veggies are better to start indoors, and small seeds are more difficult to space correctly than larger seeds.
  • Seedling transplants can be purchased, or you can grow your own from seed if you plan ahead.
  • Make sure you check just when your particular plants should be planted in your area; some may prefer early planting, some may be better for planting later in the season, even fall!
  • Be sure you have the room to properly space the plants you want to grow to get the best yield and to have the healthiest plants as they develop.

Take Care and Maintain

  • Fertilize properly.
  • Water properly.
  • Weed as time goes by.

Gardening is a lot of work, but it also has a big payoff in the end! It is not only great to know where our food comes from and just how much work goes into putting food on our tables every day, gardening can be a great family project for parents and kids to share.

For more tips on starting your own garden, visit the University of Maryland Extension, which is partnered with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide the public with resources related to home gardening, nurseries, horticulture, composting, and landscaping.

Read more about small-space gardening at

Image: University of Maryland Extension


Great article. Most extension services will also test your soil for you cheaply or free.

Thanks, James! Yes, local extension services are great, but I fear they are underutilized by most of us. I have a pH tester, cost me about $10, I think. It came with a list of desired pH levels for common veggies and flowers, so that is great. And, it also tests the soil to see if it needs fertilizer, so that is very helpful at times. I do enjoy giving the garden a go each year, and freezing/canning what we cannot eat!

Submitted by shirl (not verified) on
so much to learn! and so much fun. at least to me it is fun...esp. now that i have raised beds for all but the green beans and corn:) w/the raised beds, i feel like i have a little more control on the soil, weeds, and caring for the plants. when we only had a row garden, i just could not keep up w/the weeds! but w/just a few rows to battle the weeds:), i do much better. love the article:)

Yes, I have a raised bed and I do some stuff in pots ... my potatoes are in pots this year, and they are growing like crazy! But, you're right: Weeding is much easier in raised beds and containers. When we had a ground garden, the weeds just took over ... our cucumbers and squash were almost impossible to find amongst them! And, personally, I feel safer w/ the raised beds--I was always afraid I would reach into all of those weeds--because I simply could not keep all of them down--and draw back a snake!

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