How To Plan Your Small Garden

Raised bed vegetable garden with flowers

If you had to guess, what do you think is one of the most common mistakes that beginning gardeners make?

If you guessed starting with a garden that’s way too big, you’re right!

Over the years I’ve met lots of gardeners who get excited about the idea of growing their own food and then dig up a huge section of their yard. Not a good idea! Although gardening isn’t rocket science, there are a lot of details to learn and it’s easy to get overwhelmed quickly – especially if you have a big garden. So, I often counsel my clients and students to start small the first year.

It’s much easier to keep up with a small garden during the busy summer season. You’re more likely to be successful, which means you’re going to have a lot more fun. And greater success will make you excited about continuing to garden the following season, and hopefully for many more seasons after that!

If you’re thinking about starting a small vegetable garden this year, here are my top tips for successful planning.


Choose Your Size
What is a small garden? I had a plot in a community garden for many years and the standard sized plot was 20’x20’. This was often too big for beginning gardeners. Half that size, 10’x10’, was a much more manageable size for most folks. Starting with one raised bed is also a good choice. A 4’x8’ raised bed will allow you to grow a handful of different vegetables and will be easy to manage. You can always add more raised beds in the coming years.

What Do You Want To Grow?
The first step in deciding what to grow is to look at your eating and grocery shopping habits. What do you eat and buy from the grocery store on a regular basis? What are your favorite weekly meals?

Deconstruct those meals to see if you can grow any of those ingredients in your garden. It sounds obvious, but if you grow what you eat you’ll get much more satisfaction (and savings) from your garden. (Read more about the questions you should be asking yourself in this post.)

Woman planting kale seedling

Start with Seedlings
There are different ways to plant vegetables in your garden. Some things are more commonly grown by starting with a seedling (a baby plant), and some vegetables are grown by planting a seed in the ground. Seeds often need more attention initially than plants, so I recommend that beginning gardeners use seedlings as much as possible in their gardens for the first year or two.

Buy Local
Each vegetable you grow in your garden comes in so many different varieties, shapes, colors and sizes that it can be confusing when you’re shopping for seedlings. Which variety should you pick for your garden?

The trick is to buy as locally as possible. Don’t go to your local big box store to shop for vegetable plants. Who knows where they were grown. Instead, visit your local farmers market. At the market, my favorite people to by plants from are CSA farmers. They’re selling the exact varieties they’re growing in their own fields and are usually pretty picky about selecting high performing and delicious vegetables. Plus, you can ask them about any variety you’re wondering about!

Read more about not making this mistake when buying vegetable plants.

woman relaxing in garden with vegetable harvest

Having an evening beer after working hard in the garden!

Immerse Yourself in the Experience
If you let it, gardening can become one of the most fulfilling and joyful parts of your life. There’s nothing quite like going out your back door to harvest a bowl of fresh vegetables for dinner! Take time to enjoy the sights, sounds, colors, and details of your garden.

One of the ways I do this is to spend early summer mornings with my camera taking photos of the tiny details that catch my eye. Set up a chair near your garden for resting and relaxing, drink you morning coffee on your back step while gazing at your garden, or set up some bird houses to attract more wildlife to your yard. When you immerse yourself in gardening it becomes more than a hobby…it becomes a lifestyle.

Check out these posts for more tips on planning your garden. 

How Much Food Will You Get From Each Vegetable Plant?

Free 10 Step Guide to Planning a Smart Spring Garden

Unique & Colorful Varieties to Grow This Year



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