Planning and planting a vegetable garden

Do you dream of a harvesting a delicious lunch from your very own garden? Make it happen with our guide to planning and planting a vegetable patch.

A man crouching in an abundant vegetable patch beside a wooden fence

Your own vegetable garden: a bounty at your back door  

With just a few square metres to spare, you can easily grow carrots, potatoes and peas. And with a little planning, your vegetable garden could even supply your dining table all year round. Planting and maintaining a vegetable garden is not difficult, but it does take some time and commitment. We’ve put together a guide telling you what you need to know about planning and planting a successful vegetable patch.

Planning your vegetable garden: where and when to make it

Before you start on your vegetable bed, you should consider your garden and draw up a plan that reflects your growing conditions. This will guide you in your decisions about planting. We’ve put together some basic tips and ideas to help you select a good location for your vegetable garden.

Choosing the right location

A garden with a green lawn and wooden fence, with a wheelbarrow and plant pots in the shade of a tree in the background

Sun is key for tasty crops, so think about putting your vegetable bed in the part of your garden that gets the most sun through the day. You should also think about shelter, as many plants will not thrive in a windy spot. Small, low hedges or loose bushes such redcurrant bushes offer good protection from the wind and will shelter your vegetables without enclosing them completely. You can make your patch on an area of lawn or another unused space.

If you don’t have the open ground for a vegetable patch, you could opt for a raised bed instead: this will take up less space but does require a certain amount of manual skill.

A man planting seedlings in a vegetable patch beside a wooden fence

When should I make my vegetable patch?

In principle, you can make a vegetable patch at any time of year, though it’s best to avoid it when the weather is very hot, as well as when there is a risk of frost. As such, we recommend you create your vegetable garden in spring or autumn. The added advantage of tackling it in spring is that you can begin planting it straight away. If you make the vegetable patch in the autumn, there is a danger that the weeds will take over in winter, so you will need to clear it again before you can begin planting next season. February to March is the ideal time.

Planning and planting a vegetable garden: step-by-step instructions

Do you already have a few ideas and thoughts about your new vegetable patch? We will guide you through the steps needed to transform an unused spot into a vegetable bed.

These tools can be helpful

  • Measuring tape
  • Hammer
  • Wooden stakes
  • String
  • Spade
  • Rake
  • Digging fork
  • Pickaxe
  • Pen and paper

Step 1: select site and size

A man staking out the outlines of a vegetable patch on a lawn beside a wooden fence

You should grow your vegetables in the area of your garden that gets the most sun and is also protected from wind. Draw the outline of your bed using string and stakes or by scattering chalk to mark the sides. Vegetable patches are generally rectangular, and a width of around 1.2 metres means you can reach all the plants in the bed from the sides. A single bed should not exceed four metres in length – if you have more space for your vegetable garden, make several separate beds.

Remember to include paths between the beds wide enough to work from. The main path should also be at least 80 cm wide, so that you can take a wheelbarrow down it at planting time.

STIHL pro tip: If you are aiming to be fully self-sufficient from your vegetable garden, you should plan for around 40 square metres of growing space for each person living in your house. If you have a vegetable garden of this size, you will probably not need to buy additional herbs or vegetables.


Step 2: clear and prepare ground

A man staking out the outlines of a vegetable patch on a lawn beside a wooden fence

Use a hoe to remove all undergrowth and weeds from the area you have staked out. You can find out how to remove weeds thoroughly and for the long term in our handy guide. If your new vegetable garden is located on a lawn, you will need to lift off the turf and loosen the earth underneath, which is best done with a digging fork. If the area is very overgrown and compacted, digging it over properly will help. You could use a tool such as the STIHL KombiSystem with pick tine to do this. Clay soil, in particular, benefits from this kind of digging over before you start planting, as it allows water to penetrate more easily and ensures that the soil gets sufficient oxygen.

Be aware that digging over changes the structure of soil and can upset the crucial micro-organisms. To create a vegetable patch, thorough digging over with a cultivator is only recommended if the soil is too hard or too heavy and should result in loose soil that is immediately ready for planting. It is also important to remove any stones, as these can hinder the growth of roots and root vegetables later on.

A person wearing personal protective equipment cultivates soil for a vegetable bed using a STIHL KombiSystem with pick tine

KombiTool Pick tine

KombiTool Pick tine for the STIHL KombiSystem. The pick tine easily loosens even hard or heavy loamy soils. Ideal for recultivating, loosening or space-saving planting.

You can use boards, dowels or stones to create a border around your vegetable garden. This will keep the soil in the bed and protect against pests. You should make sure that the bed does not rise too high above the surrounding ground level, otherwise the edges will dry out.

Compost being shovelled into a bed of bare earth

Step 3: improve soil

Preparing the soil for your vegetable bed means adding compost or natural fertiliser directly into the ground. Bonemeal is one good way of adding nutrients to the soil. The type of soil improvement you use depends on the nature and condition of your soil. It’s worth doing extra research here, as well-prepared soil will support successful planting and a heavy vegetable harvest later.

Finish by levelling the soil surface with a rake.

Step 4: make a planting plan

Your vegetable patch is ready for planting and welcoming its new occupants home. Before you get the plants in the ground, it's useful to draw out a planting plan showing what to grow where; this will make planting easier. 

At the planning stage, it is important to consider which types of vegetables go well together. The best neighbours keep pests away from each other and do not go after the same nutrients. We have put together a table with companion planting ideas when planting a vegetable garden ↓.

Make sure you leave enough space between plants – crowded vegetables will not thrive. Seed packets will usually include this information.

Mark the necessary distances and the rows for your vegetable patch on your planting plan. You might find it useful to stretch string across the bed to make sure you’re planting in straight lines. Use a rake to make furrows for your seeds or seedlings. Specialist stores also sell row makers, which you can use to create perfectly even rows at the required distances.

Seedlings being planted in an almost-empty new vegetable bed

Step 5: sowing and planting

There are two different options for planting your vegetable garden: you can sow seeds or plant young seedlings. Both approaches have pluses and minuses. Seeds are usually cheaper, but seedlings are generally more resilient and can be harvested more quickly. Rare and unusual varieties are much easier to find in seed form.

Planting a vegetable garden: growing guide

Every vegetable has its own appeal. We have put together some tips and ideas for you that will help you design your vegetable patch so that you can schedule planting and grow your vegetables successfully.

Planting information and harvesting dates

Name Row spacing cm Planting distance cm Sowing or planting out time Harvest time
Cauliflower 40 40-50 April to August August to September
Broccoli 40 50 Sow April; plant out April to May June to October
Bush beans 60 5-10 Sow May to July July to October
New potatoes 60 40 Plant seed potatoes from April June to August
Lettuce 30 25-30 Sow March to July; plant out April to August May to October
Loose leaf lettuce 30 15-20 Sow April to August June to October
Chard 20 30 Sow March to June; plant out April to June June to August
Carrots 20 3-6 Sow end March to July May to October
Leek 30 15 April August to December
Radish 20 10-15 Sow March to August April to October
Red cabbage 50 50 Sow April; plant out May July to October
Tomatoes 60 50 Sow indoors from February; plant out May to June July to October
Onion 25 10 Plant sets end March or April August to September

Companion planting: what grows well together?

When planting a vegetable garden, it generally makes sense to cultivate a variety of crops. In fact, some herbs and vegetables make particularly good garden companions because they help protect one another from pests and contribute to growing successfully together. Equally, some plant pairings should be avoided because they may actually impair each other’s growth. We have summarised some of the key companion planting rules to help you plan your growing to best effect.

Plant Tips Goes with Does not go with
Broccoli Needs large quantities of water regularly Beans, peas, potatoes, lettuce, celery, tomato Garlic, onions, strawberries
Potatoes New potatoes can be harvested early in the year Cabbage, kohlrabi, spinach Tomatoes, pumpkin, celery
Chard Harvest outer leaves only Radishes, carrots, cabbage Spinach, beetroot
Carrots Harvest within 8 weeks Onions, leek, radishes, peas Leek, beetroot, new potatoes
Pepper Germinate indoors and plant out in a sunny location Parsley, celery, basil, leek Cucumber, potatoes, peas
Beetroot Harvest from September Onions, lamb’s lettuce Spinach
Tomato Often happier in a greenhouse than in a bed. Peas, basil Potatoes
Courgette Needs a lot of water and warmth Lettuce, carrot, beetroot, radishes, celery, onions Tomato, cucumber, potatoes, radishes
Onion Harvest only when leaves are yellow and withered Dill, lettuce, carrot, beetroot, strawberries Peas, brassicas

Other tips for your vegetable garden

We have put together a few more general tips so you can continue to enjoy your vegetable patch for a long time to come by keeping your soil healthy and minimising the risk of diseases affecting your crop.

Crop succession and crop rotation

Each plant draws a particular profile of nutrients from the soil, and understanding this should guide your crop succession choices. For example, potatoes should not be planted immediately after tomatoes, aubergines, peppers or chillies. By contrast, lettuce and peas thrive particularly well in soil from which potatoes have previously been harvested. Crop rotation is worthwhile not only to manage the nutrient composition of your soil but also because growing the same vegetable in one spot every year increases the risk of diseases and pests overwintered from the previous year.

We have set out a few recommendations for you here.

Crop succession during the season:

You should not plant vegetables from the same family of plants after one another in the same bed. Remember that green manure also counts as a crop.

Crop rotation – using multiple beds from year to year:

Plants with high, moderate and low nutritional needs and green manure should be rotated on an annual basis. If you grow heavy feeders such as potatoes, you should leave that spot fallow the following year and instead plant your hungrier vegetables in a bed that was previously used for plants with moderate nutritional needs (carrots, lettuce). Plants with low nutritional needs, such as radishes, should be moved to a bed in which green manure was grown.

STIHL pro tip: planting out onions correctly

Onions are a rewarding crop and easy to grow in a vegetable garden. We have a few planting tips that may help to make the work easier: if you plant onion sets when they are dry, moisture in soil can cause them to swell up and push their way out of the ground, so you may find that your onions “unplant” themselves. To prevent this, soak your onion sets in lukewarm water, preferably overnight, before planting them. First, make sure that the tip with the shoot protrudes clearly above the soil, then scatter a little soil over the top so that blackbirds do not pull the onions out of the ground. You should only buy onion sets with bulbs about the size of a hazelnut, as these are less likely to shoot later on. With many shallot types (elongated, often reddish bulbs), large bulbs produce the greatest harvest.

Close-up of a field of clover in flower

Green manure

Keeping your vegetable garden healthy means allowing it to rest from time to time. During these fallow seasons, planting green manure plants in your vegetable garden is a good way of providing the soil with valuable nutrients while also suppressing weeds. Clovers and lupins are good green manure varieties. Sow seeds for green manure in autumn; after harvesting, leave them over the winter, then cut them down and dig the cuttings into the soil, where they can provide goodness for bumper crops. It’s also worth planting green manure if you plan to leave a bed empty for an extended period.

Winter vegetables

Your vegetable garden need not go unattended during the cold season. Winter vegetables such as various types of cabbage or lamb’s lettuce are ideal for a late harvest. Our guide also explains how to winterproof your vegetable patch.

Maintenance and watering

If you rake your vegetable patch regularly, you will not need to water it too often. Raking affects the soil structure by causing less water to evaporate. Just how much water you need to provide depends on what you’re growing, as well as the weather, of course. Please note that it is generally better to water generously but less frequently than to water little and often. Collected rainwater is perfect for watering your plants.

We recommend leaving your vegetable garden to rest completely every three years so that it can regenerate. If it is constantly occupied by plants, the soil quality can deteriorate in the long term and the nutrients become depleted.

A leafy vegetable patch beside a wooden fence

Summary: planning and planting a vegetable garden

  • When planning a vegetable patch, you should choose a sunny location with some protection from the wind.
  • A width of approximately 1.2 m and a length of 4 m will allow for easy access to work in.
  • You can put your new vegetable bed on part of the lawn or in an unused area of the garden.
  • First remove overgrowth and turf from the surface. When loosening the soil, be sure to remove any stones and weeds you come across.
  • Depending on the structure and quality of your soil, you can add compost or bonemeal to improve it.
  • When selecting vegetables to plant in your vegetable patch, choose varieties that make good neighbours: not all plants grow well together.
  • Vegetable gardens are generally easy to care for, but they do benefit from a rest or sowing with green manure every three years.

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