The Questions People Ask Most About Veggie Gardening
Get the answers you need to grow lots of delicious veggies.
Confused about growing your own vegetables? It's totally normal! Don't worry; we're here to help. We've got expert answers below for the top vegetable gardening FAQs. So, browse, learn, and before you know it, you'll be enjoying the best vegetables you've ever tasted—straight from your own garden!
Where should I plant my vegetable garden?
When deciding where to plant vegetables, it's all about location, location, location. First and foremost, find a spot that gets at least 6 hours of direct sunlight a day (consider the corner of your backyard, the south side of your house, even a bright, sunny porch). Ensure the area has good drainage (meaning it doesn't puddle up after a good rainstorm) and easy access to a water source, so you aren't lugging watering cans or a hose all the way across your property. The good news is that you can grow vegetables virtually anywhere! Get creative by incorporating produce into your existing plant beds, or consider growing them in containers. Learn more about growing vegetables in containers right here.
When should I plant my vegetable garden?
It depends. First, find out your USDA Plant Hardiness Zone, then follow these veggie planting guidelines: Hardy vegetables, such as broccoli and asparagus, or greens planted from seed, can be planted 4 to 6 weeks before the last average frost date. Frost-tolerant veggies like carrots and radishes can be planted from seed 2 to 3 weeks before the last frost. But for tender vegetables, like summer favorites tomatoes and zucchini, you need to wait until all threat of frost has passed. When in doubt, consult the seed packet or plant tag for more info.
What are some of the easiest vegetables to grow?
In the spring, leafy greens like lettuce, radishes, and peas are among the easiest, while in the summer, prolific zucchini is a pretty sure bet. In the fall, circle back to those leafy greens to finish out the growing season strong. Learn more by reading Best Plants for Beginners.
Do I need to do anything to my soil if I'm planting in a new place?
For a brand-new vegetable garden bed, you'll want to make sure that any grass or plants that were there previously have been removed. You'll also want to rake or till the soil to remove any large rocks, roots, or clumps of soil. (Learn more about preparing garden beds for vegetables.) From there, you should perform a test to measure the pH of your soil. This might seem like something you can skip; but trust us, your vegetable garden will perform much better when the soil is within the ideal pH range of 6.5 to 6.8. Learn how to easily perform a soil acidity pH test at home right here. Once you know your soil's pH, you can work on improving it by adding lime or ash to boost pH or sphagnum peat to lower it. Finally, get your plants off to a strong start by mixing 3 inches of Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics™ All Purpose In-Ground Soil into the top 6 inches of your native soil to improve soil texture and provide a nutrient boost. Learn more about soil and its important role in the health of your plants.
Should I plant seeds or seedlings?
There are essentially three options when it comes to starting your vegetable garden: sowing seeds directly into the soil, starting seeds indoors, or planting vegetable starter plants. Starting with seeds will give you more bang for your buck but can be a little more challenging. (See how to start seeds indoors.) Starter plants may come with a higher price tag, but much of the hard work's already been done for you. For newbies, we recommend skipping the seeds and choosing starter plants, such as those from Bonnie Plants®. They have more than 70 growing stations around the country, so you know the plants you get from them are right for where you live.
How much and how often should I water my vegetables?
Being a veggie gardener just might mean you never get annoyed by rain again. But chances are, rain alone won't be enough and you'll need to supplement for best results. Help keep your plants healthy and happy by ensuing they receive roughly an inch of water per week, whether from Mother Nature, you, or a combination of the two. Stick your finger in the soil every day or two; if the top inch is dry, it's time to water. Learn about different watering methods.
How do I fertilize my vegetables?
It's important to keep your vegetables well-fed throughout the growing season. Plant food delivers nitrogen (N) to spur growth, phosphorous (P) to promote root development, and potassium (K) for overall plant health (including disease, drought, and pest resistance). Virtually every plant food contains some ratio of "NPK," which is listed on the package (12-4-8, for example). Plant foods may include other beneficial nutrients as well. With continuous release fertilizers, such as Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics® Edibles Plant Nutrition Granules, you apply slow-release granules directly to the soil. Or, you can apply a water soluble plant food, such as Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics® Edibles Plant Nutrition, when you water. Whichever form you choose, begin feeding early in the growing season (a month after planting if you're using Miracle-Gro® soil), then apply granules every 1 to 3 months (check the label!) or water soluble plant food every 1 to 2 weeks. (#lifehack: Set a phone calendar reminder so you don't forget to feed.) Get more basic plant food info.
What can I do to cut back on weeds?
For some, weeding can be therapeutic. For others, it's just plain annoying. Whichever camp you fall into, you'll want to reduce weeds as much as possible so they don't steal precious nutrients, water, and sunlight from your veggies. Win the weed war by applying a 2-inch layer of loose mulch, such as untreated grass clippings or straw, to block the sunlight weeds need in order to grow (and to help keep soil moist). Then, stay on top of quickly sprouting weeds by spending 5 minutes each day spying and pulling them. Another option: To help keep weeds from sprouting in the first place, apply Miracle-Gro® Garden Weed Preventer between the rows—just be sure to follow label directions.
My tomato plants don't look right. What could be the problem?
It's true: Weather and outside invaders can lead to a host of issues when it comes to your tomatoes—but trust us: It's worth the effort! Here are some common signs and what they mean:
- If your tomato plant's leaves are curling in, it's likely trying to conserve H2O. You can water your plant to restore moisture, but the leaves may not unroll. (Droopy leaves can also be a sign that your plants are thirsty.)
- Dark spots on the bottoms on your tomatoes likely indicate blossom end rot, caused by a calcium deficiency. Fight back by keeping soil consistently moist and feeding regularly with a plant food that contains calcium, such as Miracle-Gro® Shake 'n Feed® Tomato, Fruit & Vegetable Plant Food.
- Cracks on tomato fruits are likely caused by too-rapid growth or fluctuations in how much water they're getting. Help keep those cracks at bay by supplying a steady stream of moisture.
My plant stopped producing. How come?
There are plenty of reasons your vegetable plant may stop producing. For one thing, most types of veggies only produce for a portion of the growing season. For example, in many climates, peas grow in spring and then peter out, while most squash doesn't hit its stride until late summer or even fall. The plant tag can help you determine roughly when your plant will produce. A plant's production can also stall out due to extreme temperatures. Take the heat off your veggies by watering early and often and making sure they have proper nutrition—then be patient. Plants like tomatoes and peppers may stop producing at the height of summer, then start right back up again when temps cool off a bit. Another reason may be that you're not harvesting quickly enough. You can encourage many types of plants to produce more veggies by picking the ripe ones more regularly.
How do I keep pests and animals from eating my vegetables?
When it comes to unwelcome garden guests, you have a number of options.
- Pests and animals are often looking for easy targets, so use fences or netting to create physical barriers.
- Insect pests are drawn to stressed plants, so keep your garden watered well.
- Whenever possible, choose vegetable varieties developed with disease resistance (check the plant tag or seed packet).
- When planting, allow for adequate air circulation between plants, as overcrowding can create excess moisture and attract gnats, slugs, bacteria, fungi, and other unwelcome guests.
- When watering, aim for the base of the plant, not the leaves, as wet leaves encourage disease.
- If you see bugs like Japanese beetles or hornworms on your plants, it's best to don your garden gloves and pick them off ASAP. But keep in mind that not all garden guests are harmful—let beneficial insects like ladybugs, spiders, and bees be so they can help ward off damaging insects and pollinate your plants.
Why are there holes in my leaves?
It can be super frustrating to discover your beloved vegetables have become a backyard creature's snack. If there are holes in the leaves, the culprit is most likely beetles, caterpillars, earwigs, or slugs. To find out who's responsible, investigate your plant in the evening when these hungry critters are most likely to be active. Also, caterpillars are likely to leave droppings, while slugs leave a tell-tale slimy trail. When possible, remove pests by hand. If you decide to use a pesticide, choose one that says it's okay for use in the vegetable garden.
What can I do to protect my plants from extreme heat and/or drought?
Soaring temps and lack of rainfall can really do a number on your vegetable garden. There are a few simple steps you can take to minimize the impact of heat and drought on your summer veggies: Keep your garden well-watered (ideally in the early morning hours to reduce evaporation), apply a layer of mulch to help retain moisture in the soil, and make sure not to overapply plant food. For any fall veggies (such as broccoli or greens) you may have started, tie a shade cloth or sheet to poles (or even lawn chairs), and suspend it over your plants during the hottest part of the day.
How do I know when it's time to harvest?
Harvest time will vary by vegetable. Start with your plant tag or seed packet for general timeframes, but let the plant be your guide. In general, ripe vegetables are colorful, tender, and pull away from the plant easily. Harvest in the morning, when vegetables are at their crispest and juiciest. It's also important to remember that bigger is not always better. Many veggies will become tough and lose flavor if allowed to get too large on the plant. (I your neighbor has ever gifted you a giant zucchini, you know what we're talking about). Get specific details on how and when to harvest vegetables.
What do I do with my vegetable garden space at the end of the growing season?
When it's time to put your garden to bed for the winter, remove plant debris—and if it's diseased, be sure to bag it and put it in the garbage instead of adding it to the compost pile. Consider planting a cover crop, such as oats or rye, to prevent erosion and add nutrients back to the soil. You may also want to till your garden and cover it with straw to hinder weeds and keep soil in place. The end of the season is also a good time to re-test your soil and improve it as needed, so you can hit the ground running come spring.
If you have other questions that aren't addressed here, peruse our library of gardening advice or call us at 888-270-3714.