Beginner Gardening - The BIGGEST Garden Planning Mistake

Do you feel that?

The air getting a little bit warmer. The days getting a little bit longer.

With the light of Spring at the end of the tunnel, I know I'm not the only one beginning to dream about the season ahead and put my garden plan in place.

However, as I reflect on my early seasons as well as those we've helped, there is one VERY common mistake that happens all too often.

Today we're going to not only discuss what this problem is, but also what impact it has on your garden and how to avoid it. 


As we close in on Spring, the excitement for the gardening season is paramount.

We dream about those warm summer days and vegetable garden full of vegetables living in rich compost and worm castings.

Picture of Mind & Soil (Mind and Soil) garden full of vegetables growing in worm castings

This excitement is carried into our garden planning and seed starting, at which point we sow an abundance of seeds. We need to make sure we have enough to fill the garden right?

And then a few weeks later we have trays of seedlings thriving in their Worm Castings Seedling Mix nearly begging to be transplanting into their forever homes in the garden beds.

Healthy seedlings growing in Mind & Soil (Mind and Soil) Worm Castings Seedling Mix

We couldn't not transplant them all right? Plus, they're all pretty small right?

So, we eagerly pop all of the seedlings into the garden beds - and it still looks a bit empty. So we find a few more to fill it up.


But then a few more weeks pass and with the direct sun on our plant babies, they begin to go through a serious growth spurt.

Next thing we know, uh oh, the garden is JAM PACKED!

And while there are a number of potential early-season mistakes, this is the most common Garden Planning mistake we see by beginner gardeners. As shared by the folks over at The Spruce:

A newly planted garden, spaced properly, is going to show a lot of bare soil. Seeds of vegetables like lettuce, carrots and beets can be planted closely and thinned as you harvest. Plants that may be set out as seedlings, like tomatoes and peppers, or large or bushy plants like corn and beans are going to need a lot more space at maturity. Packing these vegetables in too closely will inhibit sunlight and air circulation which will likely lead to disease and lower yields.

In the excitement for the season ahead, we end up getting carried away with how much we try to fit into the garden - not realizing the impact insufficient space can have on our garden. 


There are two primary impacts of poor garden spacing that can have damaging affects on even more of our garden:

  • Airflow & Disease: As the plants fill in, the space that was once between them quickly gets crowded by foliage which cuts off any airflow around the plants. As the airflow between the plants diminishes, a humid environment is created - which just so happens to be the ideal environment for many garden diseases. Powdery Mildew will set in on Squash and Cucumbers, while Blight will quickly ravish Tomatoes and Potatoes (as a matter of fact I lost a whole crop of tomatoes a few years ago to late-season blight!)
  • Stunted growth: With all of this foliage growth in the first months of being in the garden, some of the plants will grow larger than their brothers and sisters planted directly beside them. When there is not enough spacing, this creates a shade canopy over the smaller plant and drastically slows down its growth. So now, we have a plant baby in the garden that isn't getting the sun that it needs - but is doing even more damage beneath the surface. 
  • Nutrient Stealing: While it struggles to get the sunlight above to grow, its roots beneath the surface continue to take up nutrients from the compost and worm castings in the soil. This puts the large plants at competition for the same nutrients beneath the surface and potentially robs them of receiving the requisite nutrients to thrive as they put on their peak-summer growth. 

Powdery Mildew in the garden due to poor spacing and air flowPowdery Mildew on a squash in the garden due to low air flow and humid conditions. 

So while our intention was to squeeze a few more plants into the garden to increase our bounty and harvest, in reality it is likely that we have actually done the opposite - which is why it is so important to properly space the plants while doing our vegetable garden planning.


This single best way to ensure proper spacing for vegetables in the garden is by using the Square-Foot Garden method. This method was introduced by garden pioneer Mel Bartholomew in the late 1900s and is the simplest way for gardeners to ensure each of their plants have sufficient space to thrive.

It is for this reason that in our Planning the PERFECT Vegetable Garden Guide we use the foundations of square foot gardening in our space planner.


To apply the Square Foot Gardening Method you simply need to follow the following steps:

  1. Determine Vegetables: First, you must determine which vegetables you want to grow. My recommendation for this is to always grow what you love to eat and what you are intrigued or fascinated to grow.
  2. Draw your garden space: Next, you need to draw your garden space out and break it down by square-feet. The easiest way to do this is to use graph paper with each line representing 1ft. As such, a 1ft x 1ft box on the paper represents 1 square foot (this is why our Garden Planning Guide includes Graph paper directly within it!). 
  3. Space Planner: Use the space planner to determine how much space each vegetable needs. For instance, some plants such as Kale will require a 1 square foot box to their own. On the other hand, with some of the smaller plants such as Basil we can actually plant 4 individual Basil plants in one square foot. And lastly, our large plants such as Zucchini's will require more than one square foot due to how much they sprawl (in this example, a Zucchini requires 4 square feet). 
  4. Add your Vegetables: With your space drawn, the last thing you need to do is add your plants into your drawing with the correct amount of space.

Before you know it, your drawn out garden will not only be full with vegetables you love to eat but each of them will have the PERFECT amount of space needed to thrive.

To help ensure you Plan the Perfect Vegetable Garden for this coming season, you might also enjoy this video that goes deeper into the topic:

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