Vegetable Garden Design – 2 Tips To Prepare Your Garden

Before you plant, it’s important to go through some form of vegetable garden design process.

This video will show you how.

This organic garden design step is often an afterthought, which is why so many gardens fail to meet the goals of their owners.

The process begins with writing down your goals, and then proceeds through a bunch of measurements and drawings to arrive at your vegetable garden design layout.

I don’t have time for that kind of detail today, but I at least need to decide the purpose of the garden and add a quick sketch onto my landscape plan.

You should think about how the garden should look and feel, how the space will be used, and how you can create an ecosystem right in your own backyard. For this organic garden, I want to:

  • Grow healthy food, especially herbs and greens
  • Control pests and weeds organically,
  • Create an inspirational haven, and
  • Improve the health of the planet while I’m at it.

In the Academy, you get a lot of help with how to choose your goals. You’ll look at aesthetic considerations, how to design a vegetable garden so it will be best used by everyone who lives there, and how to develop a thriving ecosystem.

And then you learn how to draw your vegetable garden designs, starting from a basic site plan right through several stages until you get to a final vegetable garden layout. Totally cool.

Today I just do some quick measurements and draw out the basics. Doing this helps you figure out a budget, how many plants to get, how to go about preparing the bed and so on.

Graph paper is really handy for this. Map out you existing yard, gardens, hardscaping and trees. Do some measuring to make sure it’s all to scale. Then make a few photocopies to play with.

It’s also important to learn a bit about your soil before making final plant choices, which is coming up in the next lesson.

Obviously this is just a quick introduction, but an important one. Do you have any questions about the vegetable garden design process? Let me know below.

Vegetable Garden Design Video Transcript

I’m so glad you’re gonna join me on this. We have a beautiful afternoon here.

And what I’m going to do is basically give myself this afternoon and into this evening to put onto video the basic steps I follow when putting in a new organic garden.

And one of the first steps is obviously – and it’s one that’s often skipped when people are doing it on their own – is to do a bit of a vegetable garden design. And before you can even do that, a step that’s very often skipped is setting out your goals for your garden.

So behind me here I have this what is primarily a vegetable and herb garden that I’ve put in this year. And that’s kind of the basis for the Smiling Gardener Academy that you may have heard me talk about this year.

So my goals for this have been to basically make a food garden, especially a lot of herbs and greens. I really like to have a lot of salads in the summer and a lot of medicinal herbs.

So my main goal was food. I also wanted to make sure I’m controlling pests organically, and controlling weeds, and I don’t want to have to do a lot of weeding.

I want to have a place that’s really inspirational to me, just like a haven where I can go and relax. It’s not gonna be a whole lot of work – maybe some work up front, but in the long run I wanted to enjoy it.

A big goal for me is thinking about the environment, trying to improve this little ecosystem I have here, capturing rainwater and all of that good stuff.

So in the Smiling Gardener Academy (as I’m filming this series of videos here, I’m getting ready to release the Academy, to put it out there). As I learn a little bit more about exactly how it’s gonna work, I’ll tell you more about it.

But certainly I go big time into setting goals in the Academy, which a lot of people want to skip, but if you just take an hour to set your goals, it’s so worthwhile. It really helps the backyard vegetable garden design process.

And your goals may be totally different than mine, which is fine. So we go into that. Now what I have here is, once you have your goals, you go through a series of steps to design a vegetable garden.

It can be as simple or as detailed as you want. I have something here, and this is nothing beautiful at all, and it doesn’t have to be beautiful because it’s just for me, but this is just kind of what I came up with. This is what I did this year.

This garden here is mostly food here. And what I’m gonna show you today is just that little bump at the top where I’m gonna extend my herb garden out a little bit.

It’s not big, but it’s perfect for showing you a little addition on there.

It’ll get some herbs in there that I don’t have yet, ’cause there are a few that I want. So even if you’re just doing a simple vegetable garden layout you wanna go out and do some measuring.

For example, when I started measuring this, I had this existing tree right here, and I wanted to know exactly where that was.

So I would measure it form the house and measure it from over here and do a little bit of triangulation on graph paper, as you can see, to really figure out the correct dimensions of everything here.

It really helps with the vegetable garden design process. You can see more detail there, some of the things I planted.

Obviously in the Academy we get way more into how to do this, but I just wanted to, the main thing I wanted to share with you today is, think about what your goals are gonna be.

And you can kind of put it into your aesthetic goals, like how you want the garden to look, but also how you wanna use the garden, and that might be food, but that could also be all kinds of different things.

And you wanna talk to everyone who lives in your house and see how everybody wants to use the space.

And then you get into your ecological goals, which is what can you do with capturing water, getting rid of toxins and all kinds of stuff that we go into in the Academy.

So take a little bit of time to set some goals when you’re designing a vegetable garden and then do some drawings. It’s great if you can do it on graph paper and just start out with your basic site and maybe even make some photocopies and start playing.

In the Academy I go through a whole bunch of stages of drawings, but here I just wanted to, just tell you that it’s a really good idea to do that, and that’s gonna help with budgeting and deciding how many plants to buy and where to start digging and all that kinds of stuff.

So that’s one of the first steps, and then I get into looking at the soil and that’s what I’m going to do in the next video.

And I kind of do those at the same time, because I need to learn about my soil before I do pretty much anything as well, so that’s coming up next.


  1. Bill on October 7, 2011 at 4:12 pm

    Thanks Phil! Do you practice or incorporate crop rotations into your design?

    • Phil on October 7, 2011 at 11:52 pm

      Hi Bill. I mostly plant in polycultures, so I just put everything all intertwined in a big mass of diversity. But certainly I have a dedicated bed for certain crops like potatoes and garlic that I move every year. That’s why it’s nice to make photocopies of the drawings of your gardens, in order to draw the plants in differently each year.

  2. Mary on October 8, 2011 at 11:58 am

    Thanks Phil, everything you do is top notch. I can hardly wait for the rest of these lessons.

  3. Weebiggen on October 25, 2011 at 12:15 am

    Does this affect the hay I am using for mulch on my garden?

  4. Rjoyce47 on November 9, 2011 at 2:17 am

    I have many questions….so many I need to just study!  But, my strawberry bed is a ph-6 soil kept  a slight acid where the plants thrive.  What other food crop might like to join this bed?

  5. Frank Febus on November 25, 2011 at 2:51 pm

    Phil,We have 8 milk goats and lots of manure. Question: how long do I wait to apply this manure/hay into my garden. Frank

    • Phil on November 25, 2011 at 9:39 pm

      It sounds like you know that you’ll definitely want to compost it rather than applying it fresh. If you have the ability to put it into a compost pile with at least as much hay as manure (even better is 2-3 times as much hay), you can turn that into compost inside 4 weeks during the warmer times of year, if you can turn the pile every week or so and get a good hot pile going.Or depending on the mix of ingredients, you might make a cooler pile that takes a few months to break down, which is fine as well. If you’re sitting on a lot of it right now, I would make a pile before winter, cover it, and put it on in the spring. Hope that helps.

      • Frank Febus on November 26, 2011 at 1:52 am

        We live in southern mississippi. The winters here are mild. I have spread the manure and hay thinly for a while now hoping that it would break down that way. I have also tried to heap it in piles with grass clippings etc. but I do not get any heat out of the piles. What am i doing wrong?

        • dontknowmuch on March 11, 2012 at 3:04 am

          spreading out your manure will not help because it defeats the purpose of a compost pile. they need to be piled up thickly in order to generate heat to break down. you are losing your heat spreading it out.

          • Phil on March 11, 2012 at 12:50 pm

            Sorry Frank, I missed your question the first time around. “dontknowmuch” is right – you need a pile at least 3 by 3 by 3 feet to generate enough heat. it needs to have the right mix of carbon and nitrogen materials, moisture and air content.

  6. ShonitaGarcia on February 17, 2012 at 7:27 pm

    Awesome start. Conceptualizing, prioritizing, and designing is helpful for making the dream a reality! The blueprint of a dream! Sweet!

  7. Ramani on March 14, 2012 at 5:54 am

    Thanks, Phil.I came across your site while trawling the web for organic solutions to problems of pests and fungus.Unlike most of your other readers, I am writing from tropical Colombo, Sri Lanka. Ours is a small, urban garden, enclosed by the L-shape of our two story house on two sides, and the back of a three story building of a university college on the third side.Given its location, I have concentrated on growing flowering shrubs and plants to attract butterflies and birds and distract the eye from the neighbouring college.The garden already had a large mango tree and two frangipanis (light pink and dark pink) when we moved in ten years ago, soon after which I planted another shrub – saraca asoca (the sorrow-less tree) – with complex clusters of yellow, orange and red flowers which bloom mainly during the first half of the year. But I have been able work seriously on transforming the garden only during the last two years and have made considerable progress.In designing my garden, I was guided by two things: (a) to open out the relatively small space by planting shrubs and plants with different patterns and sizes of leaves and flowers; and, (b) to divide up the garden into ‘rooms’ by planting flowers belonging to a certain segment of the colour spectrum in each ‘room’. So the flower beds on either side of the asoca has been planted with flowering plants bearing orange, red or yellow flowers (heliconias, crossandras and ixoras). The flowerbed extending further away from it towards the French windows of the drawing room have been planted with shrubs and plants bearing red, white or pink flowers. I have planted two varieties of erythrina variegata – which have red-organge and crimson red flowers along this side, and I plan to prune them to the height of tall shrubs.In contrast, the flower bed alongside the front verandah has been planted with ‘cool’ colours – white and purple pentas and white and blue plumbago. The bed beneath the pink frangipanis have been planted with  sassy pink heliconias and lilac pentas.I am having trouble with two kinds of pests – aphids and mealybugs, and two kinds of fungus – yellow rust and something I haven’t been able to identify yet – in my garden. I am also having trouble getting rid of a Thunbergia which I grew to screen out the college, and which sucked all the nutrition from the other plants and started popping up all over the place.So I am looking forward to more information on how to manage these issues, understand more about ‘what lies beneath’, and become more organic in my gardening methods, by following your lessons. Please excuse the long introduction.Thanks once again.

    • Phil on March 14, 2012 at 3:33 pm

      Hi Ramani. Thanks for the long introduction. It’s nice to hear about gardening in other parts of the world. It sounds like you will just have to keep pulling the Thunbergia as it comes up. If you can find the source of it and get the roots, that will help.Hopefully the remaining lessons in this series will give you some tools to decrease your plant predator problem. Ultimately, it will involve improving the soil and plants to a state of health that causes the predators to leave. It’s a process that takes some time. Hope to hear more from you this year.

      • Ramani on March 15, 2012 at 5:44 am

        Thanks for the advice on the Thunbergia, Phil. The roots run at least a foot deep, and under other plants!This morning after reading your response, I thought I will try to stress out the Thunbergia. So I upturned some clay pots (we get buffalo curd in them) over some of the hopeful shoots it is putting forth in the flower beds. I will let you know if frustration and stress weaken it and make it give up the ghost!Have a good day.

  8. Ellen Hendrix on April 18, 2012 at 11:54 am

    Thanks for the tips, Phil. I did a layout of my garden before I began to plant, but did not think of including surrounding structures and trees in the plan. I took note of them in regards to how they would effect sunlight, But now that the vegetable garden is in and I want to begin other beds around the yard, having a larger layout would be helpful.

  9. Judyrickjustice on May 21, 2012 at 5:41 pm

    Last year, my vines were in their third year, and I had a wonderful crop of grapes. By the time they were almost ready to pick, there was not ONE grape on the vines! This year I bought some of that plastic bird-netting. When do I put this netting on the vines?

    • Phil on May 22, 2012 at 1:06 pm

      Hi Judy, if you remember when the birds picked them last year, I would plan to put it on a week or two before that.

    • Bec on September 8, 2012 at 8:05 am

      i have seen people put paper bags over their grape bunches too, at the last stages of ripening. i would assume its eesential to do put them on when the bunches are dry, to prevent mildew from forming, it will also help the bunches to ripen quicker.

  10. Elizabeth on October 4, 2012 at 2:21 am

    I found this lesson to be very important. I didn’t realize how important planning would be to the overall success of the garden. thanks

  11. Sommeyah on October 13, 2012 at 2:38 am

    Genuine, non-judgemental (splg?).

  12. yandrapalli Kiranmai on October 29, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    its amazing lessons, i enjoy it

  13. daanyal noor on November 17, 2012 at 1:08 pm

    i am going to design my garden i need to

  14. Aussie Meg on December 8, 2013 at 7:46 am

    Great tips and ideas Phil. If anyone finds drawing the whole yard overwhelming, break it down even more to doing one section on some paper and then on another piece of paper later you can do another patch and then join the paper together for the whole yard.

    • Phil on December 9, 2013 at 11:48 pm

      Yes, that’s a good tip – definitely what I do myself.

  15. leandro on April 28, 2014 at 7:44 pm

    Hi ! I love cipress and roses and peonies, I can plant them near?

  16. Mark Curtis on May 13, 2014 at 5:40 pm

    Dude, I have tried to listen to two of your videos and can’t hear them, the sound is not working, the other ones were fine, this one is silent. glad you have the transcript. Not my sound card as all youtube videos work well. Hope you can fix this.Mark

    • Phil on May 13, 2014 at 6:21 pm

      Hi Mark, the sound is working for me. Wish I could offer some help, but I’m not sure what it could be.

  17. Whidbey harvester on June 17, 2014 at 6:00 pm

    Not sure if my question got in the system. Looking for ground material to put in between my raised & ground beds for walking on that will contribute to soil health. Considered wheat straw, ground covers and so forth. Any suggestions for the Pacific Northwest area?

    • Phil on June 18, 2014 at 10:29 pm

      Straw is good, leaves are good, and yes, ground covers are great too. For the latter, your best bet is to go to your local garden center or online seed catalog and they’ll have what’s right for your area.

  18. Bernie on September 24, 2014 at 6:36 am

    want to plant strawberries in a tropical climate. Can someone give me an idea on how to start

  19. dashing on October 6, 2014 at 3:35 pm

    I recently planted 400 tulips, 50 bushes, 100 Iris’s, early mid spring and late spring will be nice. Do they need to be on the dry side verses very little to moderate or frequent watering? Is baking soda a good insecticide ?

    • Phil on October 8, 2014 at 6:43 am

      I don’t water my bulbs much if at all. I’ve never heard of baking soda of an insecticide – more as a fungicide.

  20. Gina Bena on November 12, 2014 at 4:28 pm

    One of the things I am struggling with on our plan is planting an area where my little farmers, 9 and 7 can still play that will be hardy, possibly edible but not lawn. Apparently having no play space at all (according to my boys, who have a trampoline dug into the garden, a sand pit, a climbing frame and a swing set) is not an option. Lol. Any ideas? We are trying to move towards a permaculture forest garden type affair. This is so much fun.

    • Phil on November 17, 2014 at 8:52 pm

      Grass is actually the perfect solution for playing and sports. I know when it comes to ecological design, we love to move away from lawns and towards food, but from an ecological perspective, there’s certainly nothing wrong with lawns, and from a utility perspective, they’re very useful for walking on, and from an aesthetic perspective, they’re quite nice juxtaposed against the garden – so I’m all for a little bit of lawn.

  21. Daniel Self on December 12, 2014 at 3:34 pm

    Your academy sounds like a lot of good information. How do we get the information

  22. Nicole on December 26, 2014 at 4:26 pm

    I do always plan my garden, but it still ends up with low yields. I don’t know what I am doing is part of the problem, I guess. 🙂 One thing I did last year with planning is companion plants. I have an awful problem with squash bugs. They kill my squash, cucumbers, zucchini, and watermelon every year I plant those things, so last year, I planted radishes around those plants because I read that was a natural squash bug repellent, but by about July I started to see their eggs on the leaves. I spent hours pulling off the eggs with masking tape and throwing in them into zip-locs then the trash, but still in the end, all my plants died. What can I do? Is there a part of the planning that could help? Perhaps you’ll answer this in the lessons about organic pesticides (I used white vinegar and a drop or two of Dawn in some water, which wiped out the ones that were already there, but they still came back continually). Thanks for sharing your expertise. I’m excited to learn more.

    • Phil on December 29, 2014 at 1:46 pm

      Hi Nicole, the products I suggested to you earlier may help a bit. And then the bigger step is to improve the health of your soil. Obviously that’s a big process that I can’t lay out right here, but it usually involves soil testing, fertilizing, using compost and microbial inoculants, proper watering, etc – all things I discuss here on this site and in more detail in the Academy. If possible, you might want to move your garden to a different spot and work on improving the soil there. And it might be worthwhile to try a different source of seeds/plants.

  23. Joe on January 5, 2015 at 7:04 pm

    Phil, When starting a new garden that is currently covered as grass pasture, what is the best way to approach the turf? Remove it (hard)? kill it (grass killer, propane torch) ? I know that if I just till it in it will be a PIA to deal with the weeds and other unwanted growth. It’s compacted sandy loam and I’ll be getting the soil analysis back soon. My goal is to incorporate a significant amount of aged cattle manure when I do till, but I can’t decide how to deal with the 30 years of pasture grass. Thanks, I’m trying to budget in your academy currently

    • Phil on January 8, 2015 at 1:46 pm

      I’m not a big fan of tilling it, but if it’s a huge area, I know that often seems like the only option.My favorite way is to sheet mulch, which means cover the grass with a layer of cardboard or newspapers, then add your manure and other organic materials on top. The grass underneath will die back and improve the soil, unless it’s a really weedy grass like quackgrass, which is difficult to get rid of entirely, short of digging it all out. The big downside is that sheet mulching requires a lot of materials and time if you have a big area, but I always suggest that people start small anyway and just do a little more each year. The other downside is that it can take 6-12 months for that sheet mulch to be ready to grow much in the way of food – you can plant some things into it, but it’s hard to sow seed into it because it’s just organic matter, like a very low compost pile.Your other option is to remove the sod with a spade or sod cutter and be sure to compost it so you’re not wasting the organic matter and the topsoil. Then you can till if you like.

  24. Jules on January 14, 2015 at 12:13 am

    Thank you so much Phil. Your ideas are very encouraging. I am on the planning stage actually and this is just very timely. More sharings Phil. More Power.

  25. Louis Overs on February 7, 2015 at 12:44 am

    Hi Phil,i char orange peel then powderise it in a coffee grinder. whch would appreciate it the most?

  26. Ashok Bathija on February 8, 2016 at 2:58 pm

    Sharing a layout of raised beds from a roof top urban farm in my Mumbai, India, a concept promoted by Urban Leaves, NGO.

  27. Anthony on March 10, 2016 at 3:04 pm

    Hi phil I have a spot in my yard where i plan on putting my garden in but its on a little hill, bout 10 to 15% grade. The bottom of the hill gets soggy and the top stays dryer. Should I dig it all up and put burms in to level it as much as possible. Im not to sure if bringing in soil to level it is the best thing.? Thanks

    • Phil on March 14, 2016 at 2:46 am

      The most work, but also most helpful, would be to terrace it. The next option would be to dig in some swales to keep some of the water up higher, while still maintaining the grade. The third option would be to use plants at the bottom of hill that are accustomed to having wet feet, and use plants at the top that prefer the dryness.

      • Anthony on March 14, 2016 at 11:37 am

        Thanks phil! I cant wait to take your academy!

  28. Sylvia on March 22, 2016 at 12:16 am

    New to all of this but need some help becoming organic this a great article on pest control. Tho

  29. Mary Carver on March 22, 2017 at 8:04 pm

    Thank you, Phil! I have always looked on insects as the clean – up committee and as a sign that I had better keep the soil healthy, but the information on how the insects find the plants has refined my understanding immeasurably. I am very grateful to have been taught more about Nature’s plan and look forward to more informative lessons.

  30. Hubert Young on May 9, 2017 at 12:26 pm

    Hi Phil. I heard some where that Corn uses up a lot of nitrogen and that you should’nt plant corn corn in the same place every year. Is this true? Should I rotate my corn?

    • Phil on May 13, 2017 at 6:20 pm

      If your soil has enough nitrogen (much of which comes from having sufficient organic matter and an active soil food web), as well as good health in general, you can plant corn in the same place every year. Most people would say that there are benefits to rotating each year, but it’s not an absolute necessity. Indeed, there are farmers who have grown the same crops on the same land for generations without problems because they take care of the land. In short, if you’re taking care of your soil via some combination of organic matter, cover crops, microbial inoculants and organic fertilizers, you can be fine with corn every year.

  31. Stephanie Newman on May 10, 2017 at 12:53 pm

    Beginner Patio Gardner here! Love your organic gardening lessons!

    I purchased the ‘Beginner’ soil amendments and plan to use them in/on my potted plants and 52 plant pocket Garden Tower.

    I live near bay water of San Francisco, CA.

    Question: To derive the benefit from those items in the Beginner soil kit, I need to add the ingredients to the soil before planting and gently spray down the potted/garden Tower plants once a month?

    Temps here are mild. Very few days in 80-90s and rarely freezes.

    Any tips are appreciated!

    • Phil on May 13, 2017 at 6:26 pm

      The mycorrhizal fungi is only applied to the soil, and just once is all you need. The EM and seaweed are often applied monthly, mainly to the foliage. Hope you have a great year!

  32. Filipus on August 16, 2017 at 8:49 pm

    Thank you very much. I am learning now because of you. Thanks again

  33. Dennis Olivier on February 21, 2018 at 8:24 pm

    I have been planning what and where to plant vegetables for several years now. I use raised beds to plant in. Have several and they are at present full of snow. It will be a short while before I can plant and transplant to the beds. LED grow lights are the great ticket. Basement never gets below 65 degrees in the winter and never has gotten over 70 degrees in the summer. Great place to start plants. This year Tomatoes are going to be short in the planting unless I get more raised beds built. I live in the country and my soil is very depleted as the grass is even a bit stunted. I used wood ashes from my stove; spreading it thinly over my land and it seems to get greener where the ashes were spread.

    As to compost; I use wood chips and put it the gumbo clay soil we have. Six years ago when I started the beds I mixed the soil and wood chips 50 – 50. Everyone told me it was to many wood chips; it was the best tomato, cucumber year I have had.

    Keep up th good work and am looking forward to your informative news.

  34. Steve 2 Dean on September 14, 2018 at 8:04 am

    Thanks for this food for thought

Leave a Comment