Vegetable Garden Layout

A wide-bed vegetable garden layout wastes less space in paths than a row garden does

The vegetable garden layout that will work best for you depends on how much space you have, which areas have all-day sun or partial shade, and what specific crops you plan to grow. And of course, your personal sense of style and aesthetics!

I would suggest keeping your garden small if you are just starting out, and avoiding anything fancy like circle gardens or winding paths. They look cool, but keep in mind you may need to drag hoses around and need to get in there with a wheelbarrow at times. Start out simply, and get fancy after you get the hang of it.

I do my garden layout with a pencil and paper every spring, with my map of last year’s garden in front of me. This helps me determine where to plant which crops, because it is very important to pay attention to crop rotation when working on the vegetable garden layout. There are also computer programs out there that can be fun to use, but before we get to that...

Rows, or Beds? How Much Sun?

Your vegetable garden layout is determined in part by which technique you’re going to use. Did you build raised beds (or plan to) and want to figure out what to plant where? Are you going to do “Square Foot Gardening”? Are you going to dig double-dug raised beds? Or maybe you just want to dig up a bit of ground in the backyard, and not do anything fancy. Cool.

And an even more important thing to consider is how much sun your space gets throughout the day. Do you have areas that only get partial sun, or are even all shade?(There's a chart showing shade-tolerant vegetables below)

Explore the links above if you are not yet sure which technique you want to use. They each have advantages and disadvantages. The good old rototilled, parallel row garden is less popular now because the technique wastes a lot of space, water and other inputs (half the space is pathways). I have used the French intensive, double-dug raised bed method of gardening for decades, and I love it. (There is a YouTube video at the bottom of the double-dug raised bed article, if you want to know more.)

Online Garden Planning Tool

Once you decide on which technique you’re going to use, you can either get to work drawing it out to scale with your paper and pencil, or use a computer program. GrowVeg.com offers a 30-day free trial of their vegetable garden layout software. It is fun to dream with this program when it is winter and you can't actually go out and garden.

If this is your first year gardening, one of the great things about the GrowVeg.com is that it automatically uses the correct plant spacings. 

A single carrot plant obviously takes up a lot less garden space than a single zucchini plant, and knowing proper spacings is very important when figuring out how many plants to buy from the nursery, or how many seeds to plant.

I've gotten now to where I just intuitively know now about how much garden space I will need for the amount of zucchini or collards I'm going to want, and leave that much linear space in the garden plan. Then when I actually go out and plant, I follow the recommended plant spacings on the seed packet. I don't have to draw in each individual plant on my vegetable garden layout plan.

Make sure to lay out areas for beds and paths, and make sure your paths are wide enough. I like 18” wide paths, which when plants get large and sprawl still leave me enough room to walk between beds without stepping on things

Never walk on your garden beds after they are loosened in the spring, because you will compact the soil and make it difficult for plant roots to spread out. Plan your beds so that they are just wide enough for you to comfortably reach to the middle of the bed from the path on either side. If you are short like me, that could be as narrow as 42” wide. If you are tall, you may be able to make your beds as wide as 60”, because you will have a longer reach.

When siting your vegetable garden layout on your land, try to pick an area that gets at least 8 hours of full sun a day, and more if possible. Fruiting crops like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant need as much sun as they can get, while leaf crops can tolerate some shade. See the chart below for more specifics.

Shade Tolerance Chart

Veggies Needing Full Sun Veggies Tolerant of Some Shade
Tomatoes Lettuces
Peppers Swiss Chard
Cucumbers Collards
Onions Radishes
Carrots Peas
Corn Broccoli
Squash Spinach
Eggplant Cauliflower
Melons Beets
Most Herbs Beans

Laying Out the Actual Vegetable Garden

You now need to take your vegetable garden layout off the page and onto the ground.

Once you decide where your garden will go, you will need some stakes, some twine and a tape measure to lay out your beds. Orient your garden beds so that you can drag a hose up the path between beds, rather than across a bed. Even if you have automatic sprinklers set up, there will be times you will need to water by hand. I have to water by hand in early spring before the irrigation gets turned on.

Drive a stake in one corner of your garden space, and measure out whatever width bed you want. I'm a short person, so my beds are only 42" wide which allows me to reach into the middle from either side without stepping on the bed and compacting the soil. If you're tall, you may be able to go as wide as 60". Measuring and staking helps to keep your beds even and parallel.

Drive in another stake across of the bed (at 42-60" depending on your reach). Then mark out another 12 to 18 inches from there for your path, and drive in another stake. Keep marking this way until all your beds are laid out along one side of the garden. Go to the other side of the garden, and drive in stakes at matching intervals.

Run twine between the stakes down the long edge of the beds, so that you can clearly see where your beds and paths are going to be. Dig or till only the beds, there's no need to dig the paths. Don't forget to dig-in compost when you're preparing your soil. Even if the soil is poor, enough compost will get it back in fine shape within of a year or two.

What to Plant Where

Plant your tallest crops, like corn and indeterminate tomatoes, on the north side of the garden. This will keep them from shading out smaller plants. And don’t grow the same crops in the same place two years in a row, because different crops pull different nutrients out of the soil. Corn, for example, feeds heavily on nitrogen. Rotating crops and adding fresh compost every year will allow the soil to rebalance. Crop rotation also helps reduce plant disease.

I like to plant different crops together in the same bed, like carrots and tomatoes or romaine and spinach. Some plants have other plants they like or dislike, and taking advantage of this is known as companion planting. Companion planting also confuses the bugs.

Two Great Books

French intensive raised bed gardening:
How to Grow More Vegetables by John Jeavons

Square Foot Gardening, and any type of framed raised bed gardening:
The New Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew

Have A Great Photo of Your Vegetable Garden Layout?

This site is all about sharing information and ideas, so if you have a vegetable garden layout that you'd love to show off, we'd all love to see it! Send us your photo and a description, and check back to see it posted here, on your very own web page.

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