Pamela J. Bennett is a state master gardener volunteer coordinator and horticulture educator.

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How Much Should I Plant?
by Pamela J. Bennett       #Design   #Seeds   #Vegetables

Read and follow the instructions on plant spacing.

Picture this: You are sitting by the fireplace in January and the stack of seed catalogs is next to you. You have a cup of hot cocoa and you are looking forward to digging into the catalogs. You have your Post-It Notes right there, too, because you are going to mark everything that you want to order and plant for the vegetable garden. You place all of your orders, and then all of sudden it's planting time, and you can't quite figure out how you are going to fit all of those seeds (let alone the plants that you just picked up at the garden center) in your garden. Expanding the garden is not an option (at least that's what my husband keeps telling me every year, but somehow it just gets bigger and bigger!).

Does this sound familiar? I used to be really bad at over-purchasing seeds and plants. I figured that since I have room, it would be OK to just let the garden size creep another foot or two. Until this got out of control and I had an epiphany one summer a few years ago: A lot of the produce that I was planting was just going to waste. So I started planning my vegetable garden according to what we would consume.

Put It on Paper

To do it right, a garden plan is essential. Lay out your garden space on graph paper and know exactly how much square footage you have for planting. Then list all of the family favorites and what you think you are going to consume. I also like to try new things each year. Sometimes they become a staple, but others I don't grow again. If you plan on canning or freezing, keep in mind that you will want to plant according to your canning plans.

Refer to resources on vegetable yield amounts. Remember that these are just average amounts and will vary depending on the growing season. Narrow it down to how much you think (guess) your family might need. Keep in mind that the first year that you do this it's going to be a guessing game. You likely have no idea how many pounds of tomatoes you consume in a summer. However, it gets easier the next year because now you have something to track.

Beets spaced in the garden per seed packet directions.

Read the seed label to know how many seeds to plant per row and spacing.

Space It Out

Once you have a list of plants and how much you need of each one, determine how much space the plants are going to take up in square footage. If you have more plants than space, you have to whittle down the list (or expand your garden). Resources that list yields have the optimum spacing recommendations. For instance, 10 cabbage plants should yield 10 heads of cabbage. The spacing for 10 plants is 18-24 inches between plants and 24-36 inches between rows for best production. Figure out spacing needs for the plants and plot this on your graph paper. It is a little challenging to do this the first time you start a garden but take heart, it's not rocket science, and if you don't have enough or you have too much, you can always adjust the next year. I hear some gardeners have this down to a science and figure out every square inch, though I personally don't know of anyone. Most gardeners I know guestimate how much they will plant.

These volunteers use a string to ensure proper spacing and keep rows straight.

Shown here are potatoes that were properly spaced when planted.

Write It Down

10 Popular Vegetables and Their Estimated Yield

Tomatoes – one plant yields 5 pounds
Lettuce eight plants yield one salad per person per week
Peppers  one plant yields 3 pounds 
Beets one plant yields a ¼-pound root
Cucumbers one plant yields 5 pounds
Zucchini one plant yields 10 pounds
Bush beans ¼ pound of seed gives 12 ½ pounds of green beans
Peas ¼ pound of seed yields 10 pounds of pea pods
Corn one to two ears per plant; 2 ounces of seed covers a 50-foot row and yields 50 ears
Potatoes 5 pounds of seed potatoes yield 50 pounds

You can, however, make it easier for next season by maintaining a garden journal. I use a three-ring spiral binder. I am not 100 percent committed to writing everything down, but recording the basics has really helped me grow the right amounts and the specific varieties that we like. The binder is filled with loose-leaf paper, and I make all of my notes, including the layout of the garden on the paper. I have also inserted graph paper when I lay out the garden for the season. By having it in this binder, it allows me to go back to what was planted where last year. This is really important for crop rotation and pest management.

I also fill the binder with empty sheet protectors. I put all of my empty seed packets in these so that I will know which varieties I planted and how much I used. If I had too much for the season, then I know to cut back the next year. If I am going to plant a fall crop of lettuce, I put the half-empty packet in these that I know where it is in August. I use this binder to put all of the tags from any plants that I purchased so that I know what I have, especially if an annual or vegetable turns out to be exceptional. Then I will know what to purchase the next season.

As I said, it has taken me several years to get to the point where I know exactly how much to order, but I still seem to plant more than I need. When this happens, I give produce to family, neighbors, colleagues, the food bank, and of course, some to wildlife (though not willingly). The biggest step is that first year of planning how much — once you take this step, the next year is much easier.

From State-by-State Gardening May/June 2014. Photos by Pam Bennett.


Posted: 05/10/18   RSS | Print


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TBlevins - 06/19/2014

Hi Pam. I like to keep plants list and notes too but now I use and I can share about what I'm growing with others. It's a social garden journal. See my vegetable garden at
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