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Starting a Vegetable Garden: Secrets to Success

If you're new to vegetable gardening, here are some guidelines and tips to help you get started right.

Sun. Choose a spot for your garden in full sun -- that means at least 6 hours of direct sun in the middle of the day. This is especially important for "fruiting" crops like tomatoes, peppers and squash. A few crops, like lettuce and spinach, will grow with just 3 or 4 hours of direct sun, but in general choose the sunniest spot possible for your garden.

Soil. Next to sunshine, the most important factor in growing vegetables is healthy soil. Be sure the soil drains well (water doesn't puddle after a rain). Most garden soils benefit from the addition of organic matter, especially compost. Organic matter improves drainage as well as water-holding capacity and provides some nutrients, too. Read more about soil preparation: Improving Garden Soil.

Location. Choose a spot that's as convenient as possible. You'll want to visit your garden daily to check progress and pull a weed or two. You'll also need a water supply.

Consider raised beds. Raised beds warm up and dry out sooner in spring and allow you to focus your soil-improvement efforts on the growing beds. They reduce soil compaction, too, since you can avoid walking in the beds. You can purchase raised beds, build your own from wood, stone or pavers, or simply rake soil into flat-topped mounds.

Grow in containers. Most vegetables and herbs adapt well to growing in containers and many are attractive, too. Grow peppers on a sunny deck or basil near your kitchen door, for example.

Mix vegetables with ornamentals. If you have flowerbeds in full sun, consider tucking in some attractive vegetables and herbs -- beets, chard, lettuce, peppers, basil, sage, for example. Make sure any pest control sprays are safe for use on edibles.

Be realistic. It's tempting to want to plant some of everything, but remember that a garden requires maintenance. It's best to start small -- say, a 12' x 12' plot -- and plan to increase the size in subsequent years.

To get a jump on the growing season, you can start many types of plants indoors; here's how: How to Start Vegetable Seeds Indoors.

Shop for Vegetable Seeds