Are you going to plant your first garden this spring? Then now is the time to start planning that garden! By starting now, you have plenty of time to order seeds, build beds, or find good dirt. I will walk you through each step of how to plan a garden.
Never Too Early to Plan a Garden
I’ve only been to school three days in the last 2 weeks. We’ve got snow so deep, I can’t even see my raised beds. It will still be a couple months before I am able plant anything in the garden. All this snow can’t freeze my gardening itch. I’m ready to go till the dirt and pick some tomatoes. Since that can’t happen I guess I’ll plan the garden instead.
Since the dirt is frozen solid and the tomato plants are long gone, I’m planning the garden. I’m deciding what I want to plant in the raised beds, pots, and flower beds. My snow days are spent researching types of seeds, cold hardiness, and seed spacing. It warms me up just a little bit.
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Plan What to Grow in the Garden
So you’ve decided to plant a garden. The first step in planning this garden is to decide what you would like to plant. If you go browse the local nursery, garden center, or a seed catalog you will find that there are lots of choices. I had no idea there were so many types of tomatoes! When browsing ask yourself these 5 questions.
Will you eat it or enjoy it?
Cucumbers may sound great. Everybody you know grows them, but if you don’t like cucumbers then they probably aren’t the best choice for your garden. Pick herbs, fruits, and vegetables that you and your family will eat.
While flowers may not be edible, you may wish to grow them too. If you enjoy their beauty in the garden bed or wish to have a cut flower garden go ahead and pick up some flowers too. Just be sure to pick plants you think are beautiful.
Does it work well in the sunlight you have?
On that tag of the plants or the back of the seed packet, it will say how much sun the plant needs. If your garden is on the shady side of your house, then you probably shouldn’t pick out watermelon. Carrots might be a better choice for your shady garden. Pay attention to how much sun you garden space gets each day. Obviously it will be more in the summer than winter, but you should get a rough idea.
Does it grow in your zone?
Where you live will determine the length of your growing season and the temperatures you experience. I live in Zone 6. That means, I need to read the label or packet to see if the plant grows well in my zone. This also lets me know if the plant I want even stands a chance in my garden.
What variety works for you?
This is a lesson that I learned the hard way last year. The different varieties are good for different things. I thought a tomato was a tomato, so I bought Celebrity tomatoes with the intention to can them for pasta sauce. They were much too juicy and full of seeds. I was able to can them, it just took more time and effort. Learn from my mistake and do your research before going out to buy plants.
How much do you need?
This is related back to our first question, but takes it a bit further. Maybe you love cucumbers, but you’re the only one eating them. Unless you are going on a cucumber only diet, two plants is probably more than enough. With this, also comes the amount of space available. You must balance how much produce you want with how much space you have.
Plan Out the Garden Space
You’ve made a plan for the plants you want in the garden, but now it’s time to plan out how it will look. The easiest way for me to plan my space is to break the garden down into one foot by one foot squares. This is called square-foot gardening. You can find many books on it if you want more details. Basically you look at the seed spacing and determine how many plants you can have per square foot. Follow these steps to draw out your space.
- Measure your garden.
- Draw a scale outline of it on paper. I like to do an inch per foot..
- Divide it into boxes representing each square foot. .
- Write the name of the plant you want in each box.
- Color code it based upon how many plants you can have.
Plan When to Plant the Garden
While you are looking up your growing zone, go ahead and find your last average frost date. Write it down on your calendar. This is when it is safe to plant most things outside.
Cool weather plants may be able to handle cooler temperatures and a light frost. They can be planted before this date.
Warm weather crops will die if the frost gets to them, so it is safest to keep them indoors or wait to plant them until after that date.
My grandparents and parents spent many hours covering and uncovering plants to save them from the frost. Pots were moved into the basement and garage. Every empty bucket and pot was turned upside down to cover the delicate plants in the beds. Tarps and sheets of all sizes covered the smaller beds. Once the beautiful gardens looked like a trash heap we could go to bed and dream of uncovering everything in the morning. This is far too much work for me. I’ll bring in my two hanging baskets, but everything else can fend for itself. There has only been a handful of exceptions and that was when we had an unusually late or unusually early frost. Otherwise, I’m not willing to fight with mother nature about it.
Tips for Planning a Garden
- Some plants will cross pollinate and make a less than fantastic hybrid. Keep these plants away from each other. My mom planted cucumbers and had volunteer cantaloupe from the compost. The plants looked so similar that she did not know that she had cantaloupe growing. They cross pollinated and made cucaloupe, which was not very good.
- Vining plants need lots of space. You should double or triple the recommended space. I’m looking at you cucumbers.
- Keep in mind the height of the plants and the direction of the sun. Put the tall plants in the back so that they don’t shade the shorter plants.
- Some things spread like wildfire. I suggest planting them in pots to contain them. Mint is one of those.
- Make sure your hose can reach to water it.