Vegetable Garden Layout Mistakes to Avoid

Every gardener starts the season with visions of plenty, regardless of plot size. But there are situations you really don’t want in your vegetable garden layout because they’ll reduce or ruin your bounty.

Maximizing Your Plants’ Energy

Be sure to design your vegetable garden layout to make the most of the sun, whose energy makes all those lovely fruits, veggies, and herbs possible. It is important to know the south side of your garden. You don’t want to make the common mistake of placing tall plants on the south side of shorter ones. That creates a huge disadvantage for the more petite players because they’ll be in shadows once all your seedlings take off. It’s difficult for any edible crop to excel without direct sunshine most of the day.

It’s a two-faceted thing, beginning with having rows running from North to South to allow your plants the full extent of sunlight from dawn to dusk as it moves across the sky. This gives them much more beneficial rays than an East to West row layout.

Second, be sure to plant the shortest plants at the southside, graduating to the tallest at the northside. Pole beans, corn, tomatoes, and other super tall plants should all be on the North end of your rows. It’s better to create blocks that stretch across multiple rows so that none of your crops miss out on optimum sun. Think stair steps, not stripes. It’s just as important in the herb garden as it is in the veggie plot.

Using a slope to enhance sun exposure is a great way to maximize your plant’s energy all while making great use of your yard.

Vegetable Garden Layout Rogues

Just as companion planting gives you extra natural benefits, some plants are simply bad bedfellows in certain combinations. Something that is super important to know in square foot gardening and small plot intensive urban farming. Why? There are plants that exude biochemicals that are toxic to others. Some crop failures aren’t caused by soil, weather, or your thumb. It can come from plot neighbors, last year’s crop in that spot, or from outside the cultivated space.

Take, for example. Every part of the structure exudes juglone, which is toxic to many landscaping and garden plants. Tomatoes will never survive planted in ground soil within 80 feet of these trees. They’ll start great, then suddenly turn yellow, wilt, and die. There is no cure. Potatoes, eggplant, peas, peppers and more are also highly sensitive. If you can’t get the garden far enough away from the tree, grow anything not tolerant in raised beds or containers filled with fresh soil. Here’s a tolerant/sensitive list.

Allelopathy is a defense mechanism. In nature, this biological toxicity is a weapon to protect their turf from unwanted squatter plants who will hog the resources. And you might have some allelopathic plants planned to go into your garden – annual, perennial, and fruit shrubs or trees.

Other Allelopathic Plants

  • Tomatoes – inhibit both germination and seedling growth of lettuces. Impairs performance of grapes. (ref)
  • Peas – inhibit the growth of lettuce and cress seedlings. (ref)
  • Asparagus – the roots inhibit the growth of its own offspring! Never replant an asparagus bed in the same spot (seed or crowns). The roots have inhibitory properties toward tomatoes, radishes, and cress. (ref)
  • Broccoli – another one that can inhibit the growth of relatives in successive crops. Broccoli soil severely reduces the growth of cauliflower but has little effect on cabbage. Also, inhibits corn growth. (ref)
  • Sunflowers – all parts of the plant suppress weed growth. Potatoes and pole beans are very sensitive, but a number of herbs are said to be tolerant. (ref)
  • Beets – both common beets and sugar varieties do not play well with corn and beans in particular. They consume too much zinc! (ref)
  • Cucumbers – inhibit the growth of lettuces and cress. (ref: see discussion)
  • Hot Peppers – inhibit the growth of lettuces and Chinese cabbage, but improves tomato and radish growth. (ref: see discussion)
  • Garden Beans – inhibits the growth of cabbages and kohlrabi, fennel, onions, and beets. Vining or bush, eaten tender pod or dried… beans are all the same species. (ref)
  • Cabbage – avoid planting them near grapes. In fact, lettuces, garlic, and collards also inhibit grapevine growth. (ref)

Is every possible vegetable garden layout problem caused by planting next to or after particular crops? No, there are lots of plants don’t like each other. This biological warfare thing happens throughout the plant kingdom. Since they can’t flee from danger or injury, Nature imbued plants with other means of survival. While Black Walnuts are likely the biggest bully on the plot, many plants we want to grow in intensive production gardens have natural competitors or enemies with roots.

This Wiki post is an invaluable gardener’s reference that you’ll want to be able to access every year for planning the new season’s vegetable garden layout. It’s sorted by fruit, vegetable, herb, and flower sections arranged in alphabetical order! Also included are good companion plants for each crop, and what plants can be used as a ‘trap crop’ to draw destructive pests away from important food plants. It too is a work in progress, but we learn more about plants every year.

If you’ve followed the references in the short list above, you’ll find a new respect for the practice of crop rotation. Combine that with the data found in this amazing Wikipedia reference, and the importance of vegetable garden planning takes on greater meaning.

Featured image courtesy of dominik18S.

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  • garden maintenance Bristol says:

    I too am guilty of irresponsibly placing incompatible plants next to each other. What can I say, I was still young and inexperienced back then. Today I know better and still this in younger gardeners.
    The list you included from Wikipedia is really helpful and I will print it out for our new colleagues.

    • Tammy Clayton says:

      It’s such an easy error to make! Glad you will pass that list on to help others.


Tammy Clayton

Contributing Writer at Garden Culture Magazine

Tammy has been immersed in the world of plants and growing since her first job as an assistant weeder at the tender age of 8. Heavily influenced by a former life as a landscape designer and nursery owner, she swears good looking plants follow her home.