How to Start an Outdoor Garden


Anyone can dig a hole and plop a plant in it. To develop a successful garden plot that will give you years of enjoyment, however, you must take the proper steps to prepare a bed that is in optimal shape for growing plants with nutrient-rich, well-draining soil that is devoid of competing weed plants, enough sun for your desired plants and a commitment to keep them fed and watered through the growing season.

Step 1

Observe your desired location for the garden with a critical eye. How are the grass and any other plant matter growing there? How much sun does the area get--the cooler morning sun, hot afternoon sun, all-day sun or mostly no sun at all? Does the ground get soggy after a rain and stay that way or does moisture drain away quickly with no problems? Understanding what you can't probably can't change about the space--the sunlight available--and what you can--the drainage and quality of the soil--will help you decide the right type of garden and plants that will work best there.

Step 2

Sketch out a general plan of your garden, using a notebook or graph paper. Put tallest plants toward the back if along a border or if the middle of the garden is freestanding in your yard. Plan your plantings according to your observations. An area that receives sun nearly all day will be good for vegetables and sun-loving plants, while a shadier spot will require shade-tolerant plants.

Step 3

Lay out borders with a curve, using a garden hose, or use string and stakes to stake out borders with a straight line.

Step 4

Remove sod with a straight-edged spade or, for larger jobs, a sod remover.

Step 5

Cut into the ground with a hand trowel, removing a 3-inch sample of soil. If your garden space is large, consider taking two or three samples from different areas and mixing the samples in the container for a more accurate result of your entire garden space. Place the sample in a clean plastic container to take to your local cooperative extension service or full-service garden center for soil testing.

Step 6

Amend soil by adding the amendments one at a time to soil, as suggested by the soil test. Use a spade to turn soil and amendments 18 inches deep until the soil is a loose, powdery consistency. A tiller may work best for larger jobs.

Step 7

Plant your seeds and seedlings as per their packaging in your desired garden design. Mulch with a quality mulch to help prevent weeds and retain moisture. Water regularly if needed.

Things You'll Need

  • Graph paper
  • Pen or pencil
  • Garden hose or string and stakes
  • Flat-edged spade
  • Hand trowel
  • Clean plastic container
  • Soil amendments
  • Spade
  • Seeds and seedlings
  • Fertilizer
  • Mulch
  • Water


  • University of Maryland Department of Agriculture: Starting a Garden
  • West Virginia University Extension: April is National Garden Month: Dig In
  • University of Delaware: Cooperative Extension Offers Tps for Starting Vegetable Gardens

Who Can Help

  • USDA: Cooperative Extension System Offices
  • Cornell Cooperative Extension: Companion Planting
Keywords: starting a garden, vegetable garden, beginning garden

About this Author

Bobbi Keffer attended Kent State University, studying education but soon found her true love to be in the garden. She prides herself on her frugal skills, re-using, recycling, and re-inventing her whimsical style in her home and garden.