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cucumber, tomatoes, peppers, green onions

New Vegetable Gardener — Where Should You Put Your Garden?

Vegetables grow best in full sun (at least 5-6 hours a day). The garden should be near a water source so you can maintain a moderately moist growing media (potting mix, soil or compost) throughout the gardening season. The garden should also be away from tree roots. Tree roots do not grow down in the ground like carrots. The roots spread laterally from the base of the tree, up to 3 times the diameter of the canopy of the tree. Finally, the garden should be near the house to allow more frequent observation. The sooner problems are recognized, the sooner they can be resolved.

Now you must decide if you will grow your vegetables in the ground using the soil you find in your backyard, in a raised bed, in a grow box or in another type of container. All are appropriate choices depending on your situation.

If you intend to grow in the soil in your backyard, it is important to check the acidity (pH) and nutrient content of the soil. You should do this about once every three years. Send soil samples to the Extension Soil Testing Laboratory, Wallace Bldg., UF, Gainesville, 32611. Cost of this test is $10.00 and you will be contacted by e-mail in about two to three weeks. Get a copy of the form at, and follow the instructions on page 2. Soil samples should be removed from several locations in your garden area at a depth of 6″; mix all samples from that garden area in a bucket and provide a pint of soil for nutrient analysis and pH. Do not include debris such as leaves, sticks or large stones in your sample.

Once you have the nutrient and pH test results, then prepare your garden bed. Add a 3” layer of good quality compost and till it into the top 6” of soil. Rake the soil bed smooth and water well. Then add 2-3 pounds of a vegetable garden fertilizer (such as 6-6-6) to every 100 square feet of garden space. The choice is yours to use a synthetic or an organic fertilizer as plants don’t care. Then water well one more time before planting seeds or transplants.

If you intend to use a raised bed garden, the best choice for the growing media would be a good potting mix, at least for the first garden. Raised beds are ideal if you have drainage issues resulting from compacted subsoils. See this EDIS publication: You will want to place a ground cloth material, double it up if necessary, under the raised bed for weed control. Cardboard may help but only for a short period of time. Treated lumber is cost effective in that it will last for many years. Use ACQ Ground Contact treated lumber, which is treated with new copper preservatives and approved by the Food and Drug Administration for food production. Cedar, redwood, and synthetic wood are also durable, but they are more expensive than ACQ treated lumber. Avoid using railroad ties, or old pressure-treated lumber purchased prior to 2004, for edibles because of the potential for food contamination from creosote and arsenic.

Growing vegetable in containers can be done very easily. Just match the size of the container to the size of the vegetable plant. The larger the plant, the larger the container needed. Containers must have good drainage. A good quality potting mix, mixed with about 1/3 quality compost by volume, will grow great vegetables. A liquid fertilizer at half strength works well for containers.

Where are you going to put your garden?