Planning for a Vegetable Garden - March 12, 2008
Jeff Schalau, Associate Agent, Agriculture & Natural Resources, Arizona Cooperative Extension, Yavapai County

Vegetable gardening is a fun and rewarding hobby that results in healthy, fresh food on your table. Early spring is a good time to start preparing for your summer garden, especially if you are starting from scratch. In preparation, seeds can be started, compost piles created, but most importantly, selecting and preparing the best possible garden site is key to success. Below are some pointers for getting off to a good start.

The best vegetable gardening sites are in full sun. However, fruiting crops (such as tomatoes, squash, and corn) will produce adequately on 6 to 8 hours of full sun per day. Root and leafy crops (carrots, turnips, beets, leaf lettuce, chard, etc.) can tolerate some shade. Look for shadows cast on your potential garden site by buildings or trees. Also be mindful that shadows will change over the course of the year. Avoid planting on the north sides of buildings or under trees.

If weeds are present, then get after them as soon as you can. Prevent annual weeds from going to seed by hoeing them out prior to flowering. Perennial weeds like bermudagrass are more labor intensive and take a longer period to control. Glyphosate herbicide, when correctly used, is very effective at killing bermudagrass. However, it must be actively growing to achieve lasting control.

A nearby, reliable source of irrigation water is key to gardening success. If you need to install a new water line and live in a cold area, bury your pressurized water main 36 inches to ensure it will not ever freeze (this is a general figure for Yavapai County). You can also check with local building departments or Fire Marshalls for freeze depths. You should always install a backflow preventer to avoid potable water contamination. For year round use, consider installing a freeze proof yard hydrant. These steps will ensure a safe and reliable water source in your garden.

Fencing is another consideration. If you are out on the edge of town where wildlife is present, then you must determine which species you will be trying to exclude. Rabbits, gophers and javelina are our most common garden nuisance species. For rabbits and javelina, a sturdy four foot tall fence of chain link or woven wire with 2 feet poultry wire along the base is adequate. Gophers are difficult to exclude, but you may consider creating an underground barrier of hardware cloth. This should be at least 2 feet deep. For deer or elk, then you will need a much taller fence (8 feet). Woodrats can climb fences and are difficult to exclude.

A compost area is another good idea when vegetable gardening. It seems there is never enough compost for the garden and it recycles yard and kitchen waste. Many gardeners prefer compost bins to a simple heap. Bins can be constructed out if concrete block, sheet metal, recycled pallets, or other materials. The compost area should be near your garden. Donít worry as much about what the compost area looks like compared to what you put in it. Composting is an art that you learn over time given the raw materials you have available to you. I have written about composting in many previous Backyard Gardener columns. For more information, visit the web site or the Cooperative Extension office nearest you.

Avoid areas with extremely rocky or compacted soils. In these situations, consider using raised beds filled with imported top soil. These can be made of various materials depending on your budget and what you have available. Many gardeners like concrete block walls for raised beds. Rot resistant wood, such as redwood, can also be used. Most vegetable gardeners avoid CCA (chromated copper arsenate) treated lumber or creosote coated railroad ties around edible crops.

Starting a vegetable garden from scratch sounds like a lot of work Ė and it is. However, when the above factors are considered, you will have a convenient, functional vegetable garden space that will serve you for a long time. Happy gardening!

The University of Arizona Cooperative Extension has publications and information on gardening and pest control. If you have other gardening questions, call the Master Gardener line in the Cottonwood office at 646-9113 ext. 14 or E-mail us at and be sure to include your address and phone number. Find past Backyard Gardener columns or submit column ideas at the Backyard Gardener web site:

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Arizona Cooperative Extension
Yavapai County
840 Rodeo Dr. #C
Prescott, AZ 86305
(928) 445-6590
Last Updated: March 5, 2008
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