Pick a location for your new garden

How to Pick a Location for Your New Garden

So you’re ready to start your new vegetable garden. But where? How do you pick a location for your new garden? You want to get this right, since you don’t want to have to move your garden. Plus, you want your new garden to thrive! Let’s answer this question together to help you get the most out of your new garden.

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Picking a location for your new garden can seem overwhelming. You know a garden needs sunlight, but what else?

How about a source of water? Good soil? What about winter sunlight? This list could go on and on. Which is why answering this simple question can quickly get complicated.

But there’s a simple way to think about it that will let you quickly pick a location for your new garden.

When you’re picking a location for your new garden, you can think about it in the following terms.

  1. Where is an easy place for you to get to (along with your water and tools)?
  2. Where are your sunny and shady areas?
  3. What are your site conditions like? Wet areas, cool areas, changes in soil, etc.
  4. What vegetables are you planning on growing?

Once you have those questions answered, the next step is to put it all together to find the ideal spot that is close to your house, a water supply, and your tools.

Wild Tip

Don’t worry too much about the size of the areas you’re looking at for your new garden. A garden doesn’t have to be huge, and you can always transform an area from a lawn or ornamental plants into a vegetable garden. Check out my blog post— 6 Methods for Preparing Land for Planting—to learn more about how to prepare an area for your new garden.

The rest of this blog post will help you answer these questions and pick a location for your new garden. But picking a location for your new garden is just the first step to planning your new garden. Before you scroll down, make sure to grab your free and easy-to-print cheat-sheet all about planning your new garden.

First Step to Pick a Location for Your New Garden: Pick Somewhere Close By

Pick a location for your new garden that is close by

When I made this kitchen garden I put it right outside my backdoor. You can't go into our backyard without walking through this garden. This way I'm always there to harvest fresh vegetables or deal with issues that show up. Plus, there is even a gathering area in the middle of this garden so we can eat dinner while surrounded by vegetables!

Here’s the thing about a new vegetable garden: you want somewhere that’s close to hour house or other area you visit often.

You’ll want to visit your garden often, partly just to watch and learn.

If you have a regular routine of going to your garden, you’re going to notice what’s growing well and what’s not. You’ll be able to see if your plants need water. (Or if they don’t.) You can nip weeds in the bud, before they become a problem.

And of course, if you’re going to your garden often, you’re more likely to make the most of the harvest.

Grabbing fresh greens in the morning, before the heat of the day, or harvesting fresh herbs rather than using the dried stuff. Enjoying your berries and vegetables when they’re just right, rather than discovering you’ve missed them at their peak.

Keeping your garden close to your home is a great way to ensure you’ll be able to visit it frequently.

If you’re growing vegetables that you’ll be harvesting every week, then it’s best to grow them close to your house. But vegetables like corn, that you only harvest once, can be grown further away.

So the first step is to think of the space around your home and ask yourself:

What is the space that I can easily get to each day?

If you live in a small suburban lot, your whole lawn may be fair game. But if you live on larger square footage, you’ll want to think about that.

In permaculture, the area around your house is generally classified as zone 1. These are the areas that you visit on a daily basis. Areas you visit weekly can be called zone 2 and areas you visit less often are zone 3, 4 or potentially 5.

Picking a location for your new garden that is in zone 1 or 2 will make it easier to keep up with all your vegetables.

You don’t want to miss out on your harvests! (Or end up with baseball-bat sized zucchini!)

This will also help make sure you have access to water and tools to make it easier to manage your new garden.

Wild Tip

If you have to pick a location for your new garden that is further out, then think about making a nice nature trail from your house to your new garden so you can enjoy visiting it.


Another good option in this case is to grow crops that don’t need to be harvested daily. Pumpkins, melons, corn, onions, carrots, potatoes and determinate tomatoes are good examples of this type of crop. 

A great way to plan this all out is to pull up your wild homestead on Google maps and take a screenshot of it. Then just print out that screen shot and draw a circle around the area that meets this criteria:

Easy access for water, tools, and you.

You’ll be working with this map in the next sections to narrow things down even more—to pick a location for your new garden with the best combination of sunshine, soil, and protection from the elements.

If you can’t find anything suitable within that easy range, then you can consider picking a site further away. But be sure to consider that tradeoff carefully before settling for something too far off.

Summary: Keep the garden close by

Print a map covering your Wild Homestead from Google Maps. Draw a circle around the area that’s:

  1. Convenient to get to on a daily basis.
  2. Close to a water source.
  3. Close to the place you keep your tools.

Ideally, you’ll aim to choose a garden location inside that circle.

Where are Your Sunny and Shady Areas?

Pick a location for your new garden that is sunny

Most of my wild homestead is sunny. But there are still some shadier areas, and more all the time as I plant new trees and shrubs. Even in the 3 beds that make up my kitchen garden, there are differences in sun and shade. 2 of the beds get shade from the house in the afternoon, while the third doesn’t. This makes 1 of the beds the ideal spot for cherry tomatoes and bell peppers!

Where are the sunny and shady areas on your wild homestead?

This is the other top question to answer when you’re picking a location for your new garden.

While leafy greens can do fine in semi-shade, most flowering and fruiting vegetables (broccoli, tomatoes, peppers, etc.) will need 6+ hours of sunlight—and ideally closer to 8 hours.

Make sure to think about the amount of sunlight each area gets at the start of your growing season and at the end, in addition to the summer.

An area that gets 8+ hours of sun in the middle of summer could get a fair bit less in the spring and fall when the sun is lower in the sky. Trees that don’t shade your garden in the summer could in the spring and fall.

This would mean your garden would be slower to warm up in the spring and quicker to cool down in the fall. The result would be a shorter growing season.

The sunlight is always changing. So how do you keep track of it all?

Pull out your wild homestead map that you’ve printed out, mark the sunny areas on it. The areas that get 6+ hours of sunshine.

You can shade them in, or mark the general areas with an “s” or draw a little sunshine… Whatever. Whatever lets you know where the sunny spots are. You’ll also want to distinguish which places get 8+ hours of sunlight vs. 6+.

You can do this for your whole wild homestead, or focus in on that area closest to home—the area you circled that’s convenient for you, and close to your tools and a water source.

You’ll want to do this for spring, fall, and summer. Some people like to make these observations throughout the year and mark them on the map. That can be a really great way to get to know your land.

But if you’re just picking a location for your new garden, I’m betting you don’t want to wait a whole year to figure this out!

Luckily, there’s a shortcut.

You can use a site like ShadowCalculator to estimate which areas of your wild homestead will be in the shade during different times of the year. The site is a bit clunky. But once you get the hang of it, this is a great (and free!) planning tool!

Just make sure you determine which parts of your wild homestead are the sunniest. Mark these areas on a map and save it for future reference.

Summary: Find a sunny spot

Look at the map of your wild homestead, and record which areas are sunny (areas that get at least 6 hours of sunlight) in spring, summer, and fall.


Give an extra mark to any spot that gets over 8 hours of sunlight.


Use a tool like ShadowCalculator to estimate the amount of sun an area gets if you don’t want to wait till that season to make your observations.

Pick a Location for Your New Garden with Good Overall Site Conditions

Pick a location for your new garden that has good site conditions

This area on my land is seasonally wet. Plus, it’s a low area so it stays colder than other parts of my wild homestead. But it’s also one of my sunniest spots. Despite the sunshine, it would not be a good area for vegetables like tomatoes. But spinach and peas might actually do great there if I created a mound to keep them above the water—If I hadn’t already planted willows there! And built a series of ponds!

What do I mean by site conditions? Site conditions are the basics elements of your site, like the type of soil, how wet the area is, how much wind it gets, and whether it’s a low or high area.

You don’t need to document everything—just ask yourself the following questions.

  1. Are there any areas where water naturally collects?
  2. Which direction do the winds normally come from?
  3. Do you have low or high areas on your wild Homestead?
  4. Is the soil the same across your land or does it vary?

Wild Tip

As you plan out your wild homestead, it’s worth looking at these questions over the entirety of your wild homestead. But if you’re just looking for a spot for your new vegetable garden, then you can just focus on the easy-access area you circled above. If you don’t find anything suitable in that zone, then you can look further out.

It may be tempting to grow in the place where water collects most naturally. But be careful. Wet ponding areas can be challenging to grow vegetables in.

If you don’t have a better place for your new garden then raised beds are a great option to make the most of these spots, but you might want to avoid them if you’re new to gardening since a swampy garden is not something you will want.

Low areas that gather water can also gather cold air, resulting in a cool micro-climate that will likely have a shorter growing season.

High ground, on the other hand, will likely be warmer—but also drier. This will give you a longer growing season. But it may also mean you need to water more.

If you can put your garden in a spot where it’s sheltered from the winds, it will need less watering. And it can potentially be warmer, if you can block cold winds. Trees and shrubs or structures are great at doing this, so think about any areas on your wild homestead that are sheltered from winds.

Finally, look at the soils on your wild homestead and see if they change. While the soils may be consistent across your land, there could be variations.

The soils on my wild homestead vary from silty to clay in the uplands to gravelly in the lowest areas. Plus, I found an old unused drain field for my rain gutters that has a bunch of gravel in it. Not the best spot for a garden!

Take your map showing the sunniest locations on your wild homestead and see what the above conditions are like in each of those.

This will give you a good sense of the overall conditions for each sunny area. A sunny area up on a hill could be relatively dry and warm, while a sunny area down in a low basin could be relatively cool and wet.

Despite both spots being sunny, you would want to grow different plants in each area.

When you pick a location for your new garden, you’ll want to have a general sense of these site conditions. This will help you figure out what to grow in each spot.

Summary: Understand your site conditions

Look at your map where you marked the sunniest locations and ask the following questions for each spot:

  1. Are any of the areas located in spots where water naturally collects?
  2. Which direction do the winds normally come from?
  3. Are the areas on high or low ground?
  4. Is the soil the same in each of those locations?

Use your answers to determine the site conditions for each of your sunny areas.

What Vegetables Are You Planning on Growing?

Pick a location for your new garden that works for what you want to grow

I’m building a brand-new hugelkultur garden bed right on the south side of my house. While small, this garden is right in a warm micro-climate that makes it a perfect spot to grow tomatoes, peppers, and basil. But not so good for spinach or other plants that bolt in hot weather.

What do you want to grow in your new vegetable garden? It turns out that not all vegetables like the same growing conditions.

Some, like peppers, tomatoes, basil, and melons, like warm, sunny weather. But others, like spinach, cilantro, and lettuce, can bolt if the temperature gets too hot.

Other vegetables, like pumpkins and corn, take up a large amount of space.

Wild Tip

Not all vegetables need full sun. Greens like lettuce, kale, spinach and mache (aka corn salad) will do fine with some shade, and will be slower to bolt if they get some late afternoon shade. This means you can create a garden for greens in a semi-shady spot and still get great harvests. Just don’t put your tomatoes there!

Picking a location for your new garden that works for all these vegetables can be a challenge. You can get better results by focusing your garden on a specific group of vegetables.

So ask yourself the question—what vegetables are your planning on growing?

Do you want to grow a bit of everything?

Or do you want to focus on just a couple types of vegetables?

If you love tomatoes, peppers, and egg plants but don’t really enjoy salads, then a nice, hot, sunny area will be best. But if what you really want are salads, then an area that gets morning sun but shade in the afternoon is your best bet.

Wild Tip

The map you made showing the sunny areas will help you plan this out based on the vegetables you want to grow. Think about the site conditions too. Cool micro-climates could make a great spot for growing spinach and other leafy greens well into the summer. While warm micro-climates are great for tomatoes and other warm loving plants!

If you want a bit of everything, then you have 2 options.

  1. Create 1 general-purpose vegetable garden.
  2. Create multiple smaller gardens that each focus on specific types of gardens.

On my own wild homestead, I’m creating multiple smaller gardens that each focus on specific types of vegetables. I have 1 garden focused on corn and squash, another for hot loving vegetables like tomatoes, a kitchen garden for salad crops, zucchini, green beans, snap-peas, broccoli, and cherry tomatoes (crops that we will harvest every day or so) and a garden bed for potatoes.

Plus, a special garden specifically for my kids to use to help them learn how to garden!

Either approach can work. But I like integrating a series of smaller gardens into the area around my house, since each garden can focus on specific types of vegetables depending on the conditions.

Of course, you can start out with a general-purpose garden, and then change it up and add new garden beds in future years.

So how does all this fit together?

To summarize, here’s what I would do in each situation:

Summary: What do you want to grow?

You want to grow a bit of everything: Look at your map of sunny spots and pick a location for your new garden that gets at least 8 hours of sunlight.


You can create several smaller garden beds that each focus on providing growing conditions for specific types of vegetables based on the site conditions in each spot.


Say, 1 garden for hot loving vegetables, 1 for leafy greens, and 1 for crops like corn and squash that need more space.


You want to focus on just a couple types of vegetables: Pick a location for your new garden based on what you want to grow. Hot loving vegetables like tomatoes and peppers need 8+ hours of sunlight, but leafy greens are happy with less, so a semi-shady area could work.


Areas with cool site conditions or warm site conditions will support different types of vegetables.

Picking a Location for Your New Garden

Time to pick a location for your new garden

I’m building this new terrace garden in a location that prioritizes morning and early afternoon sun. It’s also in a location where cool air will flow off of it, helping to extend the growing season. This will make it a great spot to grow corn and squash, since it will get plenty of sunlight and have a relatively long growing season while still being sheltered from intense afternoon sun.

If you work through this blog post, you will have a map showing the areas of your wild homestead that are easy for you to get to, with the areas that get at least 6 hours of sun and the areas that get 8+ hours.

You can then identify the basic site conditions for each of those areas. From there, you’ll want to think about what vegetables you want to grow.

Putting this all together will let you pick a location for your new garden.

Summary: Putting it all together

General Garden Area

For a general garden area that will grow a wide range of vegetables, look for the following:

  1. An area that gets at least 6 hours of sunlight.
    • Ideally with spots that get at least 8 hours.
  2. Area sheltered from winds.
    • Ideal but not required. You can grow a wind block later.
  3. Area that doesn’t pond with water during wet times or collect cold air.
    • Raised beds can deal with this issue if needed.
  4. An area without relatively “bad” soil compared to the rest of your land.
    • You can improve any soil over time, so only compare the soil to other spots on your own land.

Specific Type of Vegetable Garden Area

For a vegetable garden that will focus on growing a specific type of vegetable you have more options.


Cool Loving Vegetables:

  1. Pick an area with 6+ hours of sunlight
    • Morning sun and afternoon shade is ideal
  2. Area sheltered from winds.
    • Ideal but not required. You can grow a wind block later.
  3. Determine appropriate micro-climates.
    • Areas that collect cool air (like at the bottom of a hill) will be ideal for summer months.
    • Areas that are warmer than the surrounding land can give you early harvests.
  4. Pick an area without relatively “bad” soil compared to the rest of your land.
    • You can improve any soil overtime so only compare the soil to other spots on your own land.

Warm Loving Vegetables:

  1. Pick an area with 8 hours of sunlight
  2. Area sheltered from winds.
    • Ideal but not required. You can grow a wind block later.
  3. An area with a warm micro-climate, such as the southside of a structure (in the northern hemisphere), will make it easier to grow these vegetables.
    • In hot areas, such as the southwest of the United States this might be overkill.
  4. Pick an area without relatively “bad” soil compared to the rest of your land.
    • You can improve any soil overtime so only compare the soil to other spots on your own land.

So do you have an area in mind for your new garden? I hope so!

There’s a lot of information here. But at the end of the day, you just need to pick a location for your new garden!

Go over the steps outlined in this post. But don’t worry if you start feeling overwhelmed. Ultimately, the key is to just get started. Once you do, you will learn more about what vegetables grow well on your wild homestead.

Are you starting a new garden? Leave a comment sharing where you'll put it (and why!)

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Daron

Daron is a restoration ecologist, a lifelong gardener, and the founder of Wild Homesteading. He manages the restoration program for a local non-profit, and he applies restoration and sustainable gardening techniques on his family’s own wild homestead. He loves sharing the joy of growing food with his two beautiful children. In addition, to running this site Daron manages the restoration program for a local non-profit and is a husband to an amazing wife who makes this site and the homestead possible and daddy to 2 perfect kids.

  • Linda Wright says:

    Such a timely post, Daron! We’re having an unusually dry February here on the [normally gray & soggy this time of year] Humboldt County, CA coast with nice days in the 50s but still a few seriously frosty nights – so, time to plan but not start planting until “real” spring arrives. I’d been plotting & planning for a home orchard of about 10 different fruit trees, to be surrounded & connected by food & flower guilds – great on paper and sticking flags in the ground where I wanted the trees to go, prepping for the bareroot season now upon us!

    Sadly, it turns out my very best sun areas are over the septic tank and leach field lines, as we recently discovered when I dug holes to start planting the fruit trees and found out the tank and lines were not where we’d believed them to be — which can be a problem, settling into a new home when you don’t have such accurate info provided by the previous owners! So that’s another consideration in locating a garden — “what lies beneath?” The depth of the PVC pipes (24″ in our case) may not be an issue if planting shallow-rooted plants, especially if using raised beds, but do you want to raise food plants over septic leach lines? Maybe not… And definitely no trees with deep roots that can compromise water and septic lines, or would be destroyed if we ever had to dig up the septic system!

    So the home orchard and its food & flower guilds have to settle for second best in the sunlight department, alas. Given our soggy winters, cool dry summers and being surrounded by redwood & Douglas-fir woods, I was hoping to make the most of the best sun & warmth we get, but orienting things to face the southwest and avoiding house & tree shading as much as we can should work okay…(sigh).

    Love your terracing project! An excellent use for “urbanite” along with your signature log borders & snags. What do the orange flags indicate?

    Linda Wright
    (forgot my password to log in!)

    • Daron says:

      Hello Linda!

      Yeah, septic tank and drain field areas are often an issue for people. I would avoid putting a garden on top of them. Though there might be nice flowers that would do well there and wouldn’t bother the drain field. This would make it a great area for attracting pollinators and other beneficial insects which could help your garden too.

      Thank you for the comments on the terrace! I’m enjoying building it but it’s taking a while–my hope is to get it all ready for planting by the end of next weekend. The orange flags are marking spots where I’m going to be planting fruit trees. I’m adding 4 at the base of the terraces and 2 up at the top.

      The 4 at the bottom will one day connect that area to a hedgerow and other perennial plantings. The goal is to provide a bit more complexity of habitat for wildlife and food growing without shading the terraces since the terraces will be primarily for corn, melons and squash.

      Thanks for the comment!

      Cheers,

      Daron

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