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Have you been wanting to start a vegetable garden but don’t know how or are intimidated to try or feel that you won’t have the time? I am here to reassure you that it is TOTALLY doable and anyone can try, even if you don’t have a yard!
Today I am sharing with you how to have a low maintenance vegetable garden with these 10 quick tips!
Low Maintenance Vegetable Garden
For me, gardening is therapy and has been a super rewarding hobby for many years. There are endless benefits to growing your own food – it’s more delicious, more nutritious, it’s organic and it saves money. But I know it can seem daunting to jump into – how will I have the time? How do I get started? What if I fail?
These are all valid questions, and I can’t tell you where to make the time, but I can tell you for me growing food is a priority for our family and therapeutic for me so I find the time just like I find the time to grocery shop or get my nails done. It’s self-care all around! Plus once the initial planting is done and everything is in the ground, maintenance on our 130 sq. ft. garden is only about an hour a week!
As far as how to get started and what if I fail – just jump in and, what if you succeed!? Sure it’s weird and different and uncomfortable to try new things but you just have to go for it, fear is an awful excuse not to try something new!
Anyway, I hope these tips help inspire, encourage and reassure you that a low maintenance garden is possible and you for sure can do it!
How to Keep a Low Maintenance Vegetable Garden
1. Keep it Small + Keep it Simple
Starting off with my biggest tip! KEEP IT SMALL!! I can’t stress this enough, especially for first-timers.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of, “How hard can gardening be?” and get overly ambitious and plant a really big garden. But getting ahead of yourself can lead to a lot of frustration and eventual failure, which can be super discouraging and detrimental to your confidence in keeping a garden. I don’t want that to happen!
You can do this, it does take work, but starting off in a small, simple and manageable way for you will build confidence and be so worth it in the long run, trust me!
When I say keep it simple I mean maybe start off by growing just a few different types of veggies. Remember that all veggies have different requirements as far as when to plant, spacing and watering so keeping the varieties to a minimum will definitely cut back on maintenance, overwhelm and confusion.
Even on a small scale growing food can be enjoyable and rewarding. Once you get the hang of a small garden you can always expand the next season little by little.
2. Make a Plan in Advance
Making a garden plan is a crucial part of keeping your garden low maintenance for the season. It keeps you organized, focused and in-check as the season progresses.
I like to start on my plan for the year in January/February, before I start buying seeds and plants. It requires some work and research up front but it’s worth it in the long run to keep anxieties at bay and the garden low maintenance.
When the time comes it’s definitely tempting to go crazy and you’ll end up buying more than you need, but having a plan in place first gives you a great foundation for a more manageable garden.
Quick Garden Planning Steps:
- Have your site in mind (choose a location with at least 8 hours of sun and close proximity to a water source)
- Get your soil tested to see if there are any major nutrient deficiencies (or do raised beds and purchase gardening mix)
- Define the space and size
- Know your hardiness zone and last frost date
- Choose veggies and do research on spacing and planting times
- Draw it out to scale including plants
- Consider equipment needed: fencing, irrigation, trellising, staking etc.
- Draw successive plantings on separate pages (we do three)
With all these questions answered and plans set you will be much better prepared to have an easy gardening season! For more on how to plan your garden check out my post HERE!
A great book to reference on planning is Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew.
3. Grow What You Eat
This may seem like an obvious one but when planning your garden, plant veggies you are actually going to eat. I would make a list of the vegetables you buy each week from the store and focus on planting your individual staples.
Perhaps your family loves salads, try a salad garden! Plant lettuces, carrots, radishes, tomatoes, a few cucumbers, and maybe even a few onions.
If you love salsa plant tomatoes, various peppers, onions and some cilantro to make a little salsa garden.
If you come from an Italian family that loves sauce plant a whole bed of San Marzano plum tomatoes so you can can and store gallons of sauce for the whole year!
Don’t like broccoli? Don’t plant it! Broccoli takes up a TON of real estate, why waste the space and effort?
I think you see my point! Planting things you actually enjoy will be the most rewarding return of your garden.
4. Choose Easy Vegetables
I wanted to list out some of my favorite, “easier” veggies to grow for a low maintenance garden. Variety definitely counts here, there are veggies that are more finicky than others so I’ll be leaving those off the list!
Here are some recommendations for low maintenance vegetables by season.
Low Maintenance Vegetables- Cool Season*
Try planting these low maintenance vegetables in cooler months (spring & fall) and according to your hardiness zone guidelines. These plants can offer multiple harvests when grown for the different seasons.
- Garlic – plant in fall
- Onions – plant in fall
- Annual herbs: parsley, cilantro
- Perennial herbs: rosemary, lavender, oregano, thyme, chives, sage
*I’m leaving off the Brassica family only because these plants get gigantic and take up a lot of space. You can certainly try these (broccoli. cauliflower, brussles, cabbage etc. if you have the space or big enough containers!).
Tip: Direct seed root veggies like beets and carrots directly into the soil, they don’t do well as transplants!
Low Maintenance Vegetables- Warm Season*
Try planting these low maintenance vegetables in warmer months (late spring) according to your hardiness zone guidelines. These plants you usually only get one harvest out of during late summer/fall.
*I’m leaving some popular veggies off of this list like cucumbers and zucchini/squash because they take up a TON of space in the garden, are more susceptible to pests and require trellising. That’s not to say they’re *not* easy and you shouldn’t try them, I’m just saying they aren’t low maintenance in my opinion!
Tip: Wait until soil temps are consistently above 60 degrees to plant these warm-weather loving plants, they will be much stronger in the long run if started off on the right foot!
5. Plant Perennials
In the long run having a perennial section of your garden will end up being less maintenance (you don’t have to plant them every year they come back naturally!).
There are fruits, herbs and a few veggies (I wish there were more!) that are perennial in my zone (6A) and I’m listing them below for you!
Perennial fruit options (these are mostly bushes and take up a lot of space) for zone 6A & nearby:
- Strawberries (need to be transplanted every 2-3 years for best harvest)
Perennial veggies for zone 6A & nearby:
- Artichoke (marginal)
Perennial herb options for zone 6A & nearby:
- Parsley – biennial
- Mint – always grow mint in a container!
6. Consider Raised Garden Beds
Raised garden beds are a great way to garden for beginners. You can buy raised beds or you can make your own – check out my tutorial on quick and easy DIY raised garden beds for under $45 each.
Raised garden beds are awesome because you can mix your own soil making it a nutrient dense, perfect-pH, well drained haven for veggies to grow. No soil testing, no amending, just start fresh with rich new soil!
There are so many benefits to growing veggies in raised beds including deeper soil for roots to grow long and strong, much better drainage, warmer soil temps and the ergonomic plus of not having to bend down as far!
7. Choose Starts Over Seeds
When planning your low maintenance vegetable garden you need to decide on if you are going to plant from seed or purchase starts. My recommendation for low maintenance? Go with the starts!
What are starts? Starts are simply plants that have been growing for several weeks already that you can buy from your local garden center or farm store. They are usually sold by the flat (32-ish plants/$15-20), the pack (4-6 plants/$2-4) or 4″ pot ($3-5).
Growing from seed of course is fun, rewarding, offers more variety and is more economical ($3 for 50 seeds usually), but it takes a much bigger investment of time and effort.
My reasoning is this: if you can afford it, why not leave the difficult and technical seed-starting business to the expert growers and save myself some time and hassle (and disappointment, let’s be honest, because we always lose some seedlings when we start from seed) in the long run? You are still saving money compared to buying the veggies themselves! Also if you’re “behind” or late in the season for seeds, purchasing starts is the best option so you can still harvest on time.
We do a combo of seed starting and purchasing starts for our garden. I get our starts from our family farm, Harvest Moon Farm and Orchard, which if you’re local (North Salem, NY) you can visit us and grab your own 100% organic veggies starts for your garden!
And then I seed all of our greens because they’re quick and easy! Plants like lettuces, spinach, arugula, kale, swiss chard, peas and beans!
For a full guide to seed starting, check out my post HERE!
Container gardening is so undervalued in my opinion! You can get a HUGE reward from very little space. Growing veggies in containers is easy, convenient and you’ll still get an abundant harvest.
Tip: Make sure you are choosing appropriate sized containers, this will require some research on your part. For example tomatoes get gigantic, you’ll want at least a 3-5gal. container per plant, their roots need LOTS of space. Same thing for the Brassica family veggies like broccoli or cauliflower. Or, choose newer draw cultivars that were specifically bred to grow in smaller spaces!
Lettuces and herbs on the other hand can survive relatively easily in small containers and are even fun to combine with edible flowers like pansies and nasturtium for a decorative but also functional planter.
Containers also minimize weeding work but they will need watering more often than plants growing in the ground.
You don’t have to grow your entire garden in containers, we actually choose to grow greens and herbs in containers on our porch and the rest of the veggies out in our raised beds. We like this because it keeps our everyday items close to the home for easy access!
9. Minimize Watering & Weeding
Let’s be honest, these two tasks are probably the least favorite of all garden maintenance, so here are some tips to reduce (not eliminate) their needs.
Choose a location near a water source: Number one thing here is to make sure your garden location is close to a water source. It might seem obvious but you don’t want to start prepping your area only to realize later there’s no water nearby!
Mulch the Soil Surface: Mulching your garden will save you big in two ways: watering and weeding.
After plants are in the ground or have grown several inches, you can put a layer of mulch down on the soil surface. Mulch helps hold in moisture and blocks sunlights from the soil surface which is helpful in preventing weed seeds from germinating. Plus, organic mulches break down over time, enriching your soil as they decompose.
Mulching helps reduce weeds, but you will still have to put some effort in weeding. Removing the weeds early when they are small is much easier than later when grow large.
Use Soaker Hoses: Stringing soaker hoses around your plants takes an initial investment of time and effort, but they do make a huge difference.
With just the turn of a spigot you can water the whole garden, talk about low maintenance! Plus they make it much easier to deliver moisture directly to the soil surface and roots.
Getting water to the base of the plant is an important concept to understanding about watering – the roots are the part of the plant that need water. Plants do not want their leaves soaked, in fact, if that happens in the hot sun it can sometimes burn their delicate foliage.
Adding a layer of mulch on top of the soaker hoses reduces water evaporation prolonging drinking time and helping you to water less often.
10. Involve the Family
One of the best things about vegetable garden is getting the whole family involved! It’s feeding everyone so why not cut down on individual work and make it a team effort?
The more you involve the family the more everyone will appreciate the food that comes out of the garden.
You can teach your children the wonders of nurturing plants from seed to harvest. Give them tasks in the garden. Showing them how to grow their own might even get them to eat more vegetables.
Right now my two year old just loves to eat the dirt but I’m hoping he can help with harvest time more this summer!
Great crops kid’s in the garden include radishes, sugar snap peas, cherry tomatoes, bush beans, carrots, herbs, and cutting flowers.
I hope you enjoyed this post and found these tips for a low maintenance veggie garden helpful! Please leave any questions or tips of your own below!