Planning a Vegetable Garden

While still firmly in the midst of a gray and brown winter, one way to look toward spring is to start planning for this year’s vegetable garden. There are many items to consider when planning a garden. Decisions made can directly impact the potential for disease and other pest issues, which can affect overall yields. Here are few areas to consider to get ahead of disease as you make your 2020 vegetable garden plans.

Planting Site

The best vegetable garden sites are sunny with adequate moisture and fertile, fairly well-drained soil. Avoid low spots, which can worsen soilborne disease, and shady locations, which can worsen foliar disease. Prior to planting, it is advisable to draw a map of where each type of plant will be planted. This allows consideration into site limitations and planning succession planting. Scale models of the garden space can be drawn on graph paper, or simple maps may be made in Microsoft Excel (Figure 1). Choose carefully where perennials are planted to make tilling more convenient for annuals. Taller crops, such as sweet corn or tomatoes, should be planted on the north or west side of the garden to avoid shading shorter vegetable plants. Retain these maps from year to year and refer back when planning your next season.

Figure 1: An example of a garden map made in Microsoft Excel. (Image: Kim Leonberger, UK)

Crop Rotation

If using the same garden site each year, avoid planting the same or closely related crops in an identical place each year. A three-year rotation is recommended, however, even a year or two out of a certain plant family can confer benefits. Crop rotation prevents disease-causing pathogens and some insect pests from building up in soil. Multiple vegetable crops are closely related and are prone to many of the same disease issues. Closely related crops are listed together below.

  • Tomatoes, Peppers, Potatoes, and Eggplant
  • Cucumbers, Pumpkins, Squash, Watermelons, and Muskmelons
  • Peas, Broad beans, Snap beans, and Lima beans
  • Cabbage, Cauliflower, Kale, Collards, Brussels sprouts, Broccoli, Kohlrabi, Turnips, Rutabaga, Chinese cabbage, and Mustard
  • Lettuce, Endive, and Salsify
  • Chives, Garlic, Leeks, Onions, and Shallots
  • Beets, Swiss chard, and Spinach
  • Carrots, Parsley, Celery, Celeriac, and Parsnip

Compost Piles

Compost piles should be turned at least once per month. Avoid adding fresh material to current compost piles as this new material will not break down in time for 2020 garden planting. All new material should be used to start a new pile, which can be used for the 2021 garden. Avoid composting diseased plants or produce, since home compost piles typically do not reach temperatures high enough to kill pathogens. Water should be added to very dry compost piles at turning to allow more complete decomposition. For more information on composting for the garden, see Composting Basics or Home Composting .

Gardening Apps

For the tech-savvy gardener, many mobile applications are available for both Android and Apple platforms. These apps can be used to map out vegetable gardens and maintain records from year to year. Several apps allow the user to enter information about cultivar, planting date, and plant growth. Some apps will provide an estimated date for harvest from this information. A few apps have been designed to diagnose common disease and insect issues. However, diagnosis of plant problems can be a challenging task, even with the assistance of an app. Thus, if plant problems arise in the garden, local county Extension agents are available to assist.

Keep Records

Each garden season is like a school year, with lessons to be learned. Whether by app or a physical garden journal, keep track of disease and pest issues as they occur, to help develop strategies to prevent or manage these issues. Also include varieties grown, how they performed, and common weather patterns. Best of luck for this year!

Additional Resources



By Kim Leonberger, Plant Pathology Extension Associate and Emily Pfeufer, Extension Plant Pathologist


Posted in Vegetables
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