Start with healthy seedlings and careful soil preparation
Planting vegetables
Thomas J. Story
Brandywine tomato seedlings await their turn in the garden. See how to grow the perfect tomato.

Before actually digging your plot, draw a rough plan on paper. Be sure to place tall vegetables to the north, so they won’t shade short ones. Get some garden design ideas here.

Start with careful soil preparation; you’ll be repaid with faster growth and a substantially larger harvest. Remove any weeds from the plot and spread the soil with a 3- to 4-inch layer of compost or well-rotted manure.

If you’re planting a wide bed, scatter a complete fertilizer over the area, following package directions for amounts; if you’re planting in rows, apply fertilizer in furrows alongside the rows after planting. Work in amendments and fertilizer by hand or with a rototiller; then rake the area smooth.

If your soil is very poor or does not drain well, you may elect to grow vegetables in raised beds filled with a mixture of compost and good topsoil.

You can start vegetables either by planting seeds outdoors in the garden or by setting out transplants you have started yourself or purchased from a nursery.

Vegetables that require a long growing season―peppers and tomatoes, for example―need many weeks of warm temperatures before they produce fruit, and are best set out as transplants.

Other vegetables, including broccoli, cabbage, and lettuce, can be seeded directly or transplanted. And some vegetables, especially beans, carrots, corn, and peas, grow better when started from seed sown directly in the garden.

Choosing vegetable seedlings

Ideal seedlings are sturdy and stocky. Choose well-established, healthy green plants with at least four true leaves. Pepper and tomato plants should be wider than they are tall. Don’t buy seedlings like the three shown at left.

1. Roots growing through drainage hole indicate a rootbound plant.

2. Seedlings produce fruit prematurely when they have been in a small pot too long. They won’t be very productive during the rest of the season.

3. Tall, leggy plant has not received the light it needs to thrive.

Complete guide: Your edible garden