Site Location for a Vegetable Garden

The first step in having a successful vegetable garden is proper site selection. Three main things to consider when deciding where to locate your vegetable garden is whether or not plants will have access to sunlight, fertile soil and water. Most vegetables need at least six hours of full or direct sunlight per day for optimum growth. Obviously, you want to avoid areas such as next to large trees and buildings that could block needed sunlight from plants causing future issues.

Another requirement for producing an abundance of fresh vegetables is good soil. If the soil is hard, rocky, soggy, or nutrient-poor, the vegetables will be, too. In general, vegetable garden soil should be well draining and loose with plenty of organic matter. Poorly drained, fine textured soils such as clay or soils that are too coarse like sand are not ideal. A soil with a high clay content will drain slowly, having the potential to cut off the oxygen supply to plants roots. On the other hand, if the soil is too sandy it may drain too quickly before plants are able to take up the proper amount of much needed water.

If you have a large coffee can you can check the drainage of your new garden site by demonstrating a percolation test.

Percolation Test Photo: C.Robertson Swarthmore College

Percolation Test
Photo: C.Robertson
Swarthmore College

Dig a 4 inch hole that is wide enough for the can and cutting out the bottom of the can. Firmly place the can in the hole so that nothing can escape around the outside edges of the bottom. Fill the can up and watch the water level for an hour. If less than 2 inches drains you have a poorly draining location and 5 or more inches drains then your soil drains a bit too quick. If you don’t have a coffee can you can still dig the hole and fill it with water just bear in mind that some of the water will travel laterally in the soil.

Even though a heavy clay soil like most of our soils here in the delta may be less than ideal for growing vegetables, practicing proper management strategies can help make these soils more optimum. Increasing the organic matter content of a clay soil makes it easier to work, and improves the internal drainage. Increasing the soil’s organic matter content can be done by adding manure, composted leaves, sawdust, bark, etc. Since pH and fertilizer needs vary by type of vegetable, it is important to have your soil tested to help you make the proper adjustments.

Last but definitely not least, your vegetable garden should be located close to a water source. Whether it be in row crop situation, home horticulture or vegetable gardening, water usually the most limiting factor effecting yield.  Vegetable gardens usually use about 1 – 2 inches of water per week during the growing season. Locating your garden near a water source gives you few excuses for letting the garden stress during the heat of summer or in dry weather conditions. Adequate soil moisture is important for seed germination, uniform growth, and productivity. Easy access to a garden hose means less lugging-around of watering cans, and it also helps if you decide to install soaker hoses or a drip irrigation system.

Onions irrigated by drip irrigation. Photo (Michigan State University Extension)

Onions irrigated by drip irrigation.
Photo (Michigan State University Extension)

Other factors to consider is how much produce will be needed to fulfill the needs of family and friends. Places that have been overlooked could have potential weed problems in the future. Try to steer clear from locations with morningglory, nutsedge, and bermudagrass. Also don’t forget to flag off or fence in a site to keep pets and children from playing in the garden. If there is a wildlife that frequents the area, the use of an electric fence could be the best option. Don’t hesitate to contact your local county extension office and ask questions or advice.