How to Pick the Best Location for a Vegetable Garden

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From sun requirements to soil type, here are the important things to consider when choosing a location to grow your own food.

Growing our own produce has got to be one of the more empowering things we can do. It creates the most eco-friendly, least costly, freshest, healthiest, and most delicious food; and importantly, gives the home gardener control over how what they eat was produced. Farmer's markets are great for people who have access to them, but many do not and having a garden is a good antidote to having to rely on big ag and a convoluted food system.

And when faced with potential food insecurity, the ability to go to the backyard or a community garden and pick dinner from the ground is a comfort for which there are few comparisons. There is a reason that self-sufficiency has become so popular.

If you already have a garden, then you are one step ahead already. But for anyone looking to start now, there are good places and not-so-good places to stake out your plot. Here's a primer on what to consider.

Selecting the best location for a garden

Determine how much room you need

First you need to know how much space you want. The Farmer's Almanac recommends a plot of around 16-by-10 feet (or smaller) for a good beginner garden, filled with crops that are easy to grow: "A plot this size, based on the vegetables suggested [next] can feed a family of four for one summer, with a little leftover for canning and freezing ..." I have found that 100 square feet is a great beginner size.

Make room for these easy vegetables

The Almanac recommends these 10 common, productive plants that are pretty easy to grow. (You can contact your local Cooperative Extension to learn what plants may thrive in your area and other tips based on your locale.) As noted above, a 16-by-10 foot plot (or smaller) will easily accommodate these.

  • Tomatoes
  • Zucchini
  • Peppers
  • Cabbage
  • Bush beans
  • Lettuce
  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Chard
  • Radishes

Look for the sun

Observe your outdoor space and see where the sun is throughout the day. The ideal location will provide eight to 10 hours of direct sunlight a day. "The more sun exposure the better," says Michelle Infante-Casella, agricultural agent at Rutgers Cooperative Extension.

Avoid slopes

If you only have highly sloped land, you can still make it work – but water will run off and you risk erosion. That said, a slight slope can be fine, especially a south-facing one since it warms up more quickly in the spring. .

Aim for open space

A forest garden may be lush and dense, but for your everyday backyard vegetable garden, find a spot that is not surrounded by a lot of other vegetation. You want to be sure that air can circulate freely to discourage mold and mildew; that said, you do not want a spot so windy that it will knock your plants over.

Make sure there's a good water source

Your plants will obviously need water, so make sure you are selecting a spot for which clean water is convenient and easily accessible. Bonus pro tip from Infante-Casella: "Water your garden during morning hours so leaves will dry quickly; wet foliage will encourage plant diseases from fungi and bacteria that may harm plants."

Assess the soil

©. Library of Congress

© Library of Congress

If you have reason to believe your soil may have been contaminated, you can get your soil tested. And in general, you want to avoid spots where the soil may be prone to contamination, like near sidewalks where de-icing chemicals may be used or places near road runoff. (Oh for the days when one could transform the road verge into a victory garden! See photo above.) Vegetable gardens do best in well-drained soil that doesn't accumulate puddles after heavy rains. And soft soil allows the roots to penetrate more easily.

Consider proximity and easy access

In my fantasy backyard there are winding paths which reveal a series of secret vignettes and little gardens along the way. Which might be good for a children's story, but for a well-functioning vegetable garden, it's best to pick a spot that is close to your residence, and in my opinion, that you can actually see from home.

Infante-Casella confirms this point, noting that, "Having a garden in close proximity to your home will encourage more time caring for the garden. More weeds will get pulled, more vegetables harvested, and plants will be watered more often if you can see the garden."