How to Care for a Food Garden

There is nothing like growing your own food, or at least a part of it. You'll enjoy the freshest fruits, vegetables, and herbs you can get, and there's a sense of satisfaction from knowing where your food came from. Many food plants are easy to care for. Here's how.


  1. Image titled Care for a Food Garden Step 1
    Plan your space. Choose where to plant what according to the micro climates in your yard. How much sun does each place get? How much wind? Does an area tend to be especially wet or dry? The hot, south side of a building or fence will benefit a very different set of plants than a low, wet spot in dappled shade.
  2. Image titled Care for a Food Garden Step 2
    Group plants with like requirements together. It will help with the watering if plants with similar water requirements are nearby.
  3. Image titled Care for a Food Garden Step 3
    Grow a variety of crops. A large number of identical plants invite more pests and diseases than a variety of different plants.
    • Your garden is a great place to experiment with more than just a couple of veggies.
    • Squash, melons, cucumbers, pumpkins, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, peas, beans, and corn are all fairly easy plants for beginners.
    • Asparagus and artichokes are perennial plants. Properly cared for, they will return year after year.
    • Fruit trees, grapes, and different sorts of berries also grow year after year.
    • Herbs, such as basil, rosemary, oregano, and thyme can be used to season your other plants.
    • Many flowers, including chives, hibiscus, fuchsia, roses, and nasturtiums, are also edible[1]. Try garnishing your next salad with some nasturtium blossoms.
  4. Image titled Care for a Food Garden Step 4
    Grow what you like. There is no point in growing rows of radishes if you don't like radishes.
  5. Image titled Care for a Food Garden Step 5
    Grow a reasonable amount to eat or can. A single zucchini seed can keep a moderately sized household busy all summer. Another zucchini seed can survive nicely for a year on a shelf in a cool, dry place. A good rule of thumb is to aim for at least five meals' worth of any given crop. If something was a great success, you can always plant more next season.
  6. Image titled Care for a Food Garden Step 6
    Rotate crops. If you are planting the same thing from one year to the next, plant it in a different location. Try a different variety, too. It helps to keep pests and diseases from doing too much damage.
  7. Image titled Care for a Food Garden Step 7
    Prepare the soil. Dig in plenty of compost or manure. It takes work, yes, but it improves the structure and fertility of the soil. It also improves the drainage characteristics.
    • If you choose to add chemical fertilizer, do so in moderation. Over-fertilizing can burn plants and encourage rapid growth that makes plants susceptible to disease and pests.
    • Consider building a raised bed, especially if the soil you have is very poor or doesn't drain well.
  8. Image titled Care for a Food Garden Step 8
    Plant according to your seasons and zone. Know your climate and the requirements of your plants. Seed packets and catalogs can help. Don't plant cold-sensitive seeds too early in spring and don't plant cool season crops at the height of summer. Some crops may never grow well (or at all) in your particular climate, so read the instructions and experiment with various things.
  9. Image titled Care for a Food Garden Step 9
    Start your seeds. Take a garden shovel and make a line that stretches across the garden. Sprinkle the seeds into it and lightly cover over them. Depending on the seeds, you can also poke holes at intervals.
    • Read the seed package or other instructions specific to your crop. Seeds need to go at different depths and spacings.
    • Try hills or clusters. If this is a garden you'll be looking at, you could even interweave foods with flowers.
    • Know which seeds will transplant and which won't. Starting your seeds in pots can help you get a jump on warm weather or simply get them off to a healthy start.
  10. Image titled Care for a Food Garden Step 10
    Inspect your plants. If you start with a seedling from a nursery, take a good look at that seedling before you bring it home. It does not need to be large (in fact, smaller seedlings may become better established in your garden), but it should not be root bound and it should be free of diseases and pests. Don't take it home if it isn't in good condition.
  11. Image titled Care for a Food Garden Step 11
    Water regularly. Unless you're getting plenty of rain, that probably means at least daily until the seeds sprout and for the first few weeks until roots are established. After that, it depends upon your climate and the crop.
    • Over-watering can drown plants or lead to "damping-off" in seedlings.
    • In dry climates, a generous application of mulch can help to keep water in.
    • A drip system or soaker hose can spare you having to wander around with a hose. Remember to put it on a timer or at least set a timer so you don't forget to turn it off.
  12. Image titled Care for a Food Garden Step 12
    Thin the seedlings. Many seed packets encourage you to plant extra seeds and then thin them.
  13. Image titled Care for a Food Garden Step 13
    Support climbing plants. Beans and peas and grapes certainly require support. Tomatoes prefer it, and many squashes and melons can grow up a trellis to save space.
  14. Image titled Care for a Food Garden Step 14
    Fertilize the garden. Start about 5 days after they sprout they should be about 3–5 inches (7.6–12.7 cm) tall. You can add a bit of bagged fertilizer to plenty of water, use a slow-release fertilizer according to package directions or, if you prefer the organic approach, you can top-dress the garden with more compost. Remember, don't over-fertilize. It can scorch plants and cause excess growth at the expense of health and production.
  15. Image titled Care for a Food Garden Step 15
    Control weeds. A weed is any plant growing where you don't want it, and it might very well include plants that you want someplace else in your garden, such as poppies, mint, or ivy. Weeds in your food garden will compete with your plants for water, light, and nutrients.
    • Hand pull weeds close to your garden plants.
    • Hoe the weeds. Try a scuffle hoe. Its blade slides back and forth near the surface of the soil, chopping off the tops of weeds without disturbing too much underneath. Even weeds won't make it if you chop off their tops too many times.
    • Try to pull or cut weeds before they go to seed and make more weeds for next season.
    • Apply mulch, especially on pathways and areas away from plants. A thick mulch slows the growth of weeds and makes it easier to pull what does grow.
    • Use weed killers in moderation (if at all). The surface of the soil doesn't need to be spotless all summer, and organic controls are best. Some weeds are growing resistant to chemical herbicides. No weeds withstand pulling or repeated hoeing.
    • Add weeds that haven't gone to seed to your compost pile or let them dry out and use them as part of the mulch in your beds. Weeds that you remove from your garden remove nourishment with them.
  16. Image titled Care for a Food Garden Step 16
    Control pests. Since this is a food garden, you will probably want to take it easy on the chemicals.
    • Keep the garden healthy. Most plants naturally resist disease and pests if properly cared for. That means enough but not too much water, adequate spacing and light, and proper nourishment in moderation.
    • Rotate crops from one year to the next.
    • Don't demand perfection. Don't worry too much if a couple of leaves or fruits get chewed on.
    • Remove and do not compost leaves, plants, or branches at the first sign of disease. You can often halt the spread of diseases, fungi, and the like.
    • Water in the morning, especially if excess moisture is a problem. If your schedule only permits evening and you have not automated watering, water the ground and leave the foliage dry, or water early enough in the evening that the leaves can dry fully. Check the moisture level before watering.
    • Invite beneficial creatures. Wasps, bees, birds, bats, spiders, ladybugs, ducks, and many other creatures can all help to keep the insect population in check, but only if they themselves are not threatened by your other controls.
    • Use traps targeted for problem pests. Place an upside-down flower pot near your garden or prop up an old board on sticks or other supports. Check it after dark and crush and remove any snails or slugs hiding there. [2]
    • Try insecticidal soap (you can make it yourself[3] or neem oil [4] as less toxic alternatives for garden pest control.
  17. Image titled Care for a Food Garden Step 17
    Harvest your food. This is why you grew the garden, wasn't it? Besides reaping the rewards of your efforts, harvesting makes many plants produce longer.
  18. Image titled Care for a Food Garden Step 18
    Save seeds for next year. Some plants "come true" (produce a plant similar to the parent) and some don't. In general, you can save seeds from heirloom and other non-hybrid varieties, but look it up, if you aren't sure. Saving your own seeds saves yourself having to buy as many for next year.
  19. Image titled Care for a Food Garden Step 19
    Prepare for winter. Depending on your climate, you may be able to get a cool season crop in on the way to winter (or even during it).
    • Clear warm-season plants that have died back.
    • Clean up the garden. Dropped fruits and dead foliage can harbor diseases and pests from one season to the next.
    • Overwinter perennial plants.
    • Prune plants and plant bare root starts while things are dormant.


  • Keep a notebook noting what varieties you planted, where you planted them, when you planted them, how you (and the weather) treated them, and how well they did. It will help you to notice the best ways to treat your yard.
  • Adjust your watering schedule according to the weather. The best rule is to check whether the soil is wet an inch or two deep. Soon, you'll know how often to water for different conditions in your garden and your climate.
  • The best control for pests and diseases is to plant a variety of plants and keeping them healthy. Some plants and some years may be better than others. That's part of the process.
  • Your plants need fresh sunlight so choose the place of your garden wisely.
  • It's said that the best fertilizer of all is the gardener's footsteps. Pay attention to your plants and they will thrive.
  • Apply soil amendments like compost and manure in advance to give them time to settle in and mix with the soil before you plant.
  • Food gardens can be very attractive. Look for resources on kitchen gardens or potagers to see examples of food gardens that are designed for looks as well as function.


  • Always apply chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides according to package directions, if you choose to use them.
  • Be aware that garden chemicals pose a threat to children, pets, and beneficial organisms. Store them safely and use them with great caution, if at all.
  • Try not use the water on the side of your house. Use well water instead as it is much healthier.
  • If you plant flowers as food, make sure that you choose them carefully and treat them as food. Don't spray them with pesticides if you plan to eat them. *If you can't be sure that a flower wasn't sprayed (such as if you bought it from a supermarket), don't eat it.

Things You'll Need

  • Soil that receives several hours sunlight per day
  • Water
  • Seeds to plant and/or seedlings to transplant
  • Compost or fertilizer
  • Mulch

Article Info

Categories: Growing Vegetables