Choosing a garden space is important

Last Updated: 
April 3, 2009

CORVALLIS, Ore. — Choosing a garden site is as important as selecting the vegetables to grow in it. Few people have a spot that provides ideal conditions, but following a few basic guidelines can make a difference.

All vegetables need sunlight and fertile, well-drained soil, and they will contract fewer diseases if the site has good ventilation. Place the garden so it will be convenient to plant, care for and harvest. Protect the site from invading insects or animals.

Information for this article comes from the Oregon State University Extension publication "Growing Your Own," a practical guide to gardening for first-time gardeners. Copies of a printed version (tabloid size, 11 x 17) are at county Extension offices.

Be creative. You might find that the perfect place to grow sweet corn is along the back fence, where it becomes a backdrop for your dahlias. Or the sunniest site for growing chard or beets may be along the sidewalk entry, where the planting becomes an edible edging for the front walk. Innovative gardeners will find spaces that fit their plants' needs.

First, select for sunlight. An open, south-facing, gradual slope is best, but if you don't have that, look for a shade-free place. All vegetables need a minimum of six hours, preferably eight, of sunshine. Less will cause the plants to be weak and spindly no matter how much tender loving care you give them.

Next, get to know the soil in your yard. Good gardening soil warms early in the spring, is loamy enough to provide oxygen to the roots of growing plants, holds water for several days and is fertile enough to grow a good crop of weeds. Early warming is related to drainage. Poorly drained soil remains wet and cold late into the spring, making it difficult to grow early-season vegetables.

If your soil is heavy and remains wet long after rain has stopped, consider using raised beds or installing some sort of drainage system. Raised beds not only drain better, but warm earlier. More information on raised beds is available in the "Building Raised Beds" article online.

Natural vegetation indicates the general fertility of your garden soil. The healthier the weeds or grass area already growing on the site, the better the soil is for growing vegetables.

Try to locate your garden away from trees and large shrubs. Roots from nearby woody plants will take nutrients and water away from your vegetables.

Avoid placing the garden where there is little air movement. A natural breeze helps prevent foliage diseases. Stagnant, humid, warm air creates ideal conditions for development of problems such as tomato blight, mildew on squash or mold on green beans. More information on plant diseases is available in the "Vigor a Key to Disease-free Garden" article online.

Place your garden where it will be easy to care for. If you have to drag a 50-foot hose out to water each time, it becomes a chore. Because Oregon's vegetable-growing season coincides with the dry season, you must water frequently.

The most useful garden site is near the kitchen – and the dinner table. Nothing beats the flavor of corn picked just 20 minutes before you bite into it.

Author: Judy Scott