Planning a New Vegetable Garden - February 7, 2018
Jeff Schalau, Agent, Agriculture & Natural Resources
University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, Yavapai County

Seed catalogs have been appearing in the mail and experienced vegetable gardeners are making plans. Its never too early to start preparing for your 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 a little bit more shade than this. Be mindful that shadows will change over the course of the year with the angle of the sun. Avoid planting vegetables in shady places such as 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 pulling or 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, the grass must be actively growing to achieve effective control this means you will need to wait until summer to apply it. This often requires irrigation and two or three applications of glyphosate during the growing season. For those that would rather not apply herbicides, recent research has been conducted at the Kerr Center in Poteau, Oklahoma outlining a four-year rotation of cover crops that suppresses bermudagrass (see links with the online edition). This method requires intensive management and will provide fodder for a future Backyard Gardener topic.

A reliable source of irrigation water is critical to successful vegetable gardening in Arizona. Many Verde Valley properties are irrigated using ditch-delivered water. Non-ditch served properties may require installation of water lines. You must bury your pressurized water main 18-24 inches to minimize the chances of freezing. You should always install a backflow preventer to avoid potable water contamination. For year round use, consider installing a freeze proof yard hydrant.

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, squirrels, gophers, woodrats and javelinas 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, squirrels and woodrats are difficult to exclude. For gophers, you may consider creating an underground barrier of hardware cloth. This should be at least 2 feet deep. Squirrels and woodrats can climb as well as dig and may require complete enclosure with poultry wire. Deer and elk can require an eight-foot tall fence.

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. Dont 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.

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 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. Visit this column on the Backyard Gardener website for links to additional vegetable gardening information.

Follow the Backyard Gardener on Twitter use the link on the BYG website. If you have other gardening questions, call the Master Gardener help line in the Camp Verde office at 928-554-8992 or e-mail us at and be sure to include your name, address and phone number. Find past Backyard Gardener columns or provide feedback at the Backyard Gardener web site:


This is a photo of one of my past vegetable gardens. The flowers brighten things up and invite beneficial insects (photo by Jeff Schalau).

Additional Resources

Ten Steps to a Successful Vegetable Garden
University of Arizona Cooperative Extension

Keep a Garden Journal
Backyard Gardener, January 4, 2012

Market Farming with Rotations and Cover Crops: An Organic Bio-Extensive System
The Kerr Center for Organic Agriculture

Follow the Backyard Gardener on: Twitter

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Arizona Cooperative Extension
Yavapai County
840 Rodeo Dr. #C
Prescott, AZ 86305
(928) 445-6590
Last Updated: January 30, 2018
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