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The bottom line: The more prep work you do now, the better your plants will fare.

Preparation

Whether you’re gearing up to plant a new vegetable garden or make improvements to one you already have, start by creating a map with the outline of your beds. Sketch out your arrangement for the coming season: Remember, crops need to rotate every year. Get in the habit of saving and dating the maps from year to year: You’ll have a convenient record of what was planted where and when. Jot down notes on the backs as reminders of successes and failures to help steer you on what to plant the next year.

Starting plants from seed? Peruse catalogs and order early, because popular varieties can sell out. Keep an eye out for words like “new” and  “improved”—in this case, not just a marketing gimmick—to take advantage of research advances in disease resistance, flavor, and fruiting.

If you want to begin with seedlings that are ready to be transplanted, make a shopping list of what you’ll buy at the nursery when the time comes. Newbies should ask for recommendations about which vegetables are easiest to grow; begin with a small assortment and add to the selection as you gain confidence and experience.

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