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How to Grow a Successful Vegetable Garden

I love using the fruits and vegetables I grow in my garden in new recipes. Not only is gardening fun, but it also saves money!

Eat Healthier By Growing a Vegetable Garden

As your mother told you when you were young: "Eat your vegetables so you will grow up big and strong." Eating healthier means eating more fruits and vegetables, and growing your own vegetables makes it even better. Growing a vegetable garden is not as difficult as many people make it out to be. Some people try to overcomplicate things. Here are some tips for growing your own vegetable garden.

My husband and I have grown a garden every year for the last 25 years. There are seven basic things that are needed to grow a successful vegetable garden. Once you have mastered these basic needs for your area, you just let nature do the rest.

I think one of the biggest mistakes people make when trying to grow a vegetable garden is making a bigger garden than they can properly tend to. Start small and as your garden becomes successful you can enlarge it the following year. This article covers all of the basics to get you started, including:

  1. Light
  2. Soil
  3. Planting
  4. Water
  5. Mulching
  6. Spacing
  7. Fertilizer
Mustard greens are an easy and healthy vegetable to grow.

Mustard greens are an easy and healthy vegetable to grow.


Vegetable plants need plenty of sunlight. Plant your garden in an area where it will get at least six hours of direct sunlight each day. Leafy vegetables such as lettuce, mustard, and spinach greens can get by with less sun, so plant your garden accordingly. If part of your garden is going to get less light than the rest, plant the leafy vegetables in that area and plant the vegetables that put on “fruit” where they will get the most sunlight.

Young onions, mustard greens, and potatoes growing in my garden

Young onions, mustard greens, and potatoes growing in my garden

2. Soil

Plants need nutrients to grow well. They get these nutrients from the soil. Where you live will partly determine what nutrients your soil has and what you may have to supplement. The first thing you should do when preparing a garden is to check your soil. This is very important. You cannot grow a good garden without good soil. It’s as simple as that!

There are various extension centers that will do this for free or perhaps for a small charge. We take a soil sample to the Oklahoma State University extension center and they send it off to be tested. The soil sample is nothing more than a small scoop of dirt from various places in your garden area, placed in a bag. They will mail you a report telling you what nutrients your soil needs.

This year we need to add some nitrogen and potassium. You can purchase what is required from your local nursery or agricultural center. Add these nutrients to your garden area by simply sprinkling them over the garden and tilling them in.

Loosen Your Soil

Now that you have the proper nutrients in your soil, you need to loosen the soil so the plant's roots will be able to grow and take hold. If you have a considerable amount of clay in your soil as most of us here in Oklahoma do, you should add some type of organic matter to your soil to keep it loose, such as compost or mulch.

You can purchase mulch at your garden store or you can use hay, mulched leaves, and even some kitchen remnants such as coffee or tea grounds. Different types of manure, such as cow, horse, and even chicken or rabbit manure work well. We have a mulching mower and each year we run the mower over all the leaves in the yard and use these as well as some hay. Till all of this into your soil and be sure you have tilled it until there are no large clumps in the soil.

Potato plants

Potato plants

3. Planting

Planting your seeds can be as easy or as hard as you want to make it. I like the easy way! Mark off the area you want to plant using stakes and string. This will create straight rows. Create a burrow in your garden by simply dragging a spade or shovel through the soil along your string line. The burrow only needs to be about two to three inches deep.

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Walk along the burrow dropping the seeds as you go. What you are planting will determine how far apart you want to plant your seeds. You don’t necessarily have to place each seed an equal distance from the previous seed. You can always thin out your plants if they get too crowded.

If you are planting vegetables that grow in clumps or hills, such as squash or potatoes, you will want to give them enough room to spread out. Now go back and cover the burrows with soil and give them some water, but be careful not to wash the seeds away.

A Healthy Garden

Be sure all your plants get plenty of water.

Be sure all your plants get plenty of water.

4. Water

Not enough water is probably the biggest downfall of most gardens. This is the main reason I mentioned not making your garden larger than you can properly take care of. Your plants are busy growing roots. If your soil is hard and dry, the roots are not going to be able to grow.

Keep your soil moist enough that your plants can get the moisture they need. Be sure your garden is level so that there no places that will pool water around your plants. If the roots remain wet or soggy too long they can rot. If you find places that are washing out and creating pools, simply drag some soil up to fill in.

If you use some type of sprinkler system, be sure that the water is getting out to the edges of your garden. I prefer to use my sprinkler for a couple of hours and then go around the edges, watering by hand.

We use a mulching mower on our leaves and cover the garden with them.

We use a mulching mower on our leaves and cover the garden with them.

5. Mulching

One of the best things we have done to improve our garden is to add mulch. The size of your garden will determine how much mulch you will need. Buying enough mulch to cover your entire garden can get expensive. We purchased a lawn and leaf vacuum sometime back and use that to make our own mulch.

I have found that using dead leaves makes the best mulch. Mulched leaves don't seem to wash away as easily as other mulches. The lawn and leaf vac attaches to our mower and when we mow for the first time of the year, we save all the leaf mulch to use in the garden.

Try to keep the mulch at about one inch deep and mulch the entire garden, not just around the plants. This will also keep the weeds from growing in your garden. This has saved me more time, work, and water than I can possibly tell you!

6. Spacing

Once your plants have begun to grow, you may want to thin them out a bit. If the plants are growing too close together, they will be competing for water, nutrients, and sunlight. Keep your plants thinned out as they grow. I like to keep mine, what I call “shoulder to shoulder." Don’t let one encroach on the next one's space.

As the plants grow they will still begin to crowd each other. If you feel like there are some too close together, pull one of the plants out. In the beginning, this was so hard for me to do, but I found that the plants do much better and are more disease tolerant when they are not crowded together.

7. Fertilizer

It doesn’t hurt to add a bit of fertilizer from time to time. The best time is when the plants are beginning to put on their “fruit." This is when they are using most of their energy. If you have some remaining fertilizer that was recommended for your soil, that would be the best to use. However, if you used it all when you started your garden, the same fertilizer that you use on your lawn will work fairly well, such as a 10-20-10 fertilizer.

However you apply your fertilizer, using a fertilizer spreader or by hand, be sure that you don't leave any fertilizer on the leaves of the plant as it will burn them. Over-fertilizing can burn the roots, so spread your fertilizer sparingly and water thoroughly. I will fertilize again after their production has slowed down or the leaves of the plants start to turn a little pale in color.

Grow Your Own Treasures

A successful vegetable garden is basically easy to grow, but you are going to have some trial and error periods. Don’t be disappointed if you don’t have the best-looking garden around right away. It’s always a learning process but the fresh vegetables you will enjoy will always be worth it. I can't wait to go out to my garden each morning! Picking in my garden is like treasure hunting to me. I can't wait to see what new little treasure I will find each day!

3 Chemical-Free Strategies to Prevent Weeds


Sheila Brown (author) from Southern Oklahoma on June 07, 2013:

Hi Imogen! It is a bit pricey, but I would not hesitate to buy another if I needed to. It makes cleaning the yard so much easier and using the leaves as mulch, not only in my vegetable garden, but also in my flower gardens, has made the vegetables and flowers grow better with out near as much of my time.

Imogen French from Southwest England on June 07, 2013:

thanks for the tip SGBrown - I have a lot of deciduous trees in my garden, so maybe this would be a good investment :)

Sheila Brown (author) from Southern Oklahoma on June 07, 2013:

Hi Imogen! My vegetable garden was not always this neat. I used to spend most of my time weeding. We bought a DR lawn and leaf vac and now I vacuum up all the leaves in spring and the vac mulches them and we spread them all around the garden. I was amazed at the difference good mulching makes! Check out my hub on the DR Lawn and Leaf Vac review. It's really one of the best things we ever bought. I love my garden vegetables and this makes gardening sooo much easier! Thank you for your kind words and comment, it is always appreciated! :)

Sheila Brown (author) from Southern Oklahoma on June 07, 2013:

Hi Audrey! My hubby makes the rows and helps me seed. I water, fertilize, weed, pick, wash, can, and cook! He eats! LOL Oh well, I love it! Thanks for the kind comment! :)

Imogen French from Southwest England on June 07, 2013:

A good article with some very useful tips - and I wish my veggie plot was as neat and spacious as yours - I'm having trouble keeping up with the weeding at the moment! It is very satisfying to grow your own, though, the veg is definitely much tastier, fresher and healthier than shop-bought produce. And like you say, it isn't that difficult :)

Audrey Howitt from California on June 07, 2013:

Such a great hub! My husband plants and I weed--

Sheila Brown (author) from Southern Oklahoma on January 04, 2013:

Hi Dr Cil! Putting enough compost on the garden has made such a huge differance! That and finding out what nutrients the soil was lacking improved our garden 10 fold! I'm glad you found my hub useful. It is nice that you help you mom with her garden. I hope the two of you enjoy the garden this coming spring! Have a wonderful day! :)

Dr Cil on January 04, 2013:

Great hub, lots of good information for gardening. I liked the suggestion of compose. I will help my mother with her garden this year so this information will be very helpful!

Sheila Brown (author) from Southern Oklahoma on May 24, 2012:

Hello Smireles. You are very welcome!I am glad you found my hub interesting. Thank you for reading and commenting, it is always greatly appreciated! Have a wonderful day! :)

Sandra Mireles from Texas on May 24, 2012:

Thanks for the tips. Interesting hub.

Sheila Brown (author) from Southern Oklahoma on March 29, 2012:

You are very welcome! :) I hope that hub helps you and I am happy to be following you back. Have a wonderful day! :)

Susan Ng Yu on March 29, 2012:

Thank you very much! :)

Sheila Brown (author) from Southern Oklahoma on March 29, 2012:

Hello again Susan. :) I have never grown vegetables in containers, so I am afraid I would not be much help there. Here is a link to a fellow hubber who has written an article on just that. I think this may help you. I have never put a link in a comment box before, so I hope this works! Good luck with your container gardening and have a great spring! :)

Susan Ng Yu on March 29, 2012:

Very helpful, thanks. I'm thinking of growing vegetables in containers since I don't have a garden. Do you have any tips? :)

Sheila Brown (author) from Southern Oklahoma on March 07, 2012:

Hello Kevin. Thank you for your kind comment and linking to my hub. I will be happy to link to yours as well. Have a wonderful day and may God bless you as well! :)

kevins blog52 from southern Indiana on March 06, 2012:

This Is a very inspiring hub sgbrown, and We are a lot alike, great minds do think alike.voted up and useful.I will link you to my hub if that's OK we can help each other get more traffic. God bless

Sheila Brown (author) from Southern Oklahoma on March 01, 2012:

Hi Kristen. Call your extension center or even an agri product company and they will tell you who to contact, if they don't do it. That is the very first thing I would do. Thank you for your kind comments! I hope you have a wonderful spring! :)

Kristen Haynie from Scotia, CA on March 01, 2012:

This is a wonderful hub! This will be my second year growing vegetables. I'm surprised at how easy it is, as long as you give your plants the nutrients they need! This hub is very helpful to new gardeners like me! I had no idea that you could send soil in to be examined. I will try that. Thank you for this advice!

Sheila Brown (author) from Southern Oklahoma on February 21, 2012:

Hello again nighthag. Gardening is not at all a hard thing to do. You just need to help mother nature along a little. I am glad you found it useful. Thank you for your kind words! Again, have a great day! :)

K.A.E Grove from Australia on February 21, 2012:

Being a first time gardener I find I am reading everything i can get my hands on, Thanks for a great easy to understand read that takes away all the intimdation of starting my own vegie patch :)

Sheila Brown (author) from Southern Oklahoma on February 21, 2012:

Hello nityanandagaurang! Thank you very much for visiting my hub. I appreciate your kind words and recommendation! Have a wonderful day! :)

nityanandagaurang on February 21, 2012:

For beginner who want to grow vegetable in the garden,for them this hub is best.I am included in it.You have written such nice hub,i will recommend it to everyone sgbrown.Useful and voting up.

Sheila Brown (author) from Southern Oklahoma on February 20, 2012:

Hi Lesley! Always love to hear from you! Yes, it really is pretty easy to grow a garden. I think most people fail to water properly because they get their garden too big. Thank you for your kind comments and vote! Have a great day! :)

Movie Master from United Kingdom on February 20, 2012:

I agree with your first sentence, growing vegetables is a lot easier than some people realise, I think there is a tendency sometimes to over complicate gardening.

Thank you for your great advice and a wonderful hub.

Voting up and useful.

Best wishes Lesley

Sheila Brown (author) from Southern Oklahoma on February 20, 2012:

Hello Deborah-Diane. Thank you for stopping in and commenting on my hub. It is always greatly appreciated! Have a great day! :)

Deborah-Diane from Orange County, California on February 19, 2012:

Great advice for gardeners!

Sheila Brown (author) from Southern Oklahoma on February 19, 2012:

I was going to go into weeding the garden, and just decided not to. Hopefully people know that they are going to have some weeds. Thanks for visiting my hub. Have a great day!

Demas W Jasper from Today's America and The World Beyond on February 19, 2012:

"One year of weeds is worth seven years of seeds." Don't give up on weeding the garden. All that sun, soil, water, and fertilizer, can make the weeds grow as well or better than the vegetables. Their "fuit" is seeds, and they will grow there for the next seven years. A little regular weeding keeps them under control.

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