Planning a Garden
Information on Garden Planning

Planning a garden is the most important step in your home gardening project. Whether you are starting your first project or planning for next years garden, this step is a must. How well you do your home garden planning will result in reducing the work involved in your garden and improve the results of your efforts.

Planning a garden does not have to be difficult but it is a very important step that needs to be taken seriously. Do not be too anxious to dive in to your first garden. Like everything in life, preparation is the key to success.

Hardiness Zone Map - You will need to determine the Hardiness Zone in which you live when planning a garden. Knowing this will provide much needed information when planning your garden. Date of the last frost and date of the first frost, growing season days, and Hardiness Zone will be a major part of your decision on what you intend to grow.

Knowing the Hardiness Zone you are in will be required to know when to start seeds indoors, and ordering seeds that are developed to perform best in your particular Hardiness Zone and growing season.

What do you want to do?

The first question to answer when planning your garden is what do you want do you want to accomplish with your garden? If you are starting out, I recommend you consider starting small with a few type of vegetables that your family normally eats. Tomatoes are a great choice to start with. Tomatoes provide both a high likelihood of success, good yields, can be grown in limited space, as well as an endless list of ways to enjoy your crop. They can be used in wide variety of recipes for sauces, salsas, salads, juice, soups etc.

Whatever you decide, only grow what your family eats. Too many times people get excited and plant far too many types of plants when they are getting started which only results in a lot of work to maintain and can ruin the initial experience that newcomers have to their intitial experience with backyard gardening. You can expand as you learn. Be Patient. Properly planning a garden will prevent this mistake.

Planning your garden early on is important. Do you want to only have fresh vegetables through out the growing season to supplement the grocery bill? Or do you plan to grow enough to be able to can or otherwise preserve your harvest for use all year.

You must also be honest with your self and determine how much time you are able to or willing to commit to your gardening project. Gardening can be simple but it may not be easy depending on the preparation you do and the scale of the project that you start.

Summary for Planning a Garden

How much do you plan to grow? Enough to eat in season or enough to can? What do you normally eat? Don’t plant what you don’t eat. How much time do you have for proper garden planning? The more you do on the front end the less you have to do later. How much time do you have to maintain your garden?

Pick your location

Proper location is an important situation when planning your garden. There are several key things to consider.

Sunlight - Most vegetables need full sunlight for growth and proper development while leaf plants can do well in partial shade. You will not want to plant near large hedges or shade trees when planning your garden. They not only create too much shade but they also have root systems that can compete with your garden for needed moisture and nutrients. Sun sticks are a useful product to use in determining your sunlight when determining best garden location.

Garden Soil – Soil type is less important when planning a garden than things like drainage, ease of tilling, moisture holding capacity, and deep rich topsoil. You should try to avoid areas with nutgrass or troublesome weeds or areas with rock or underlain by hardpan or hard shale. We will talk later on soil preparation. You need to consider these items now when choosing your garden location.

If you are going to pursue container gardening, then these issues listed above are less of an issue. You will create your soil conditions in the containers you choose and can move the containers as needed for proper sunlight.

Water Supply – If you plan on Mother Nature as your sole water supply when planning a garden you will be greatly disappointed. Mulching will help your gardens water holding ability but you will need to water your garden periodically. Choosing a location near a water supply is an important consideration. Whether you use drip houses or sprinklers, or you hand water, you will want your water source near the garden.

Location - Location is an important decision when planning a garden. Some people will recommend locating the home garden near the house so you can see it. They believe that if you see your garden you will work it. If this works for you, then you should consider it. I believe that if you are committed to work it and are disciplined, you will work your garden as needed. I am more concerned about locating it in low traffic areas. I have grandkids on both sides of me and many animals running around. I like to choose a low traffic area to prevent the accidental 4 wheeler through the garden when my grandson is more concerned about looking where he has been instead of where he is going.

Also, if you have a critter problem be it wild or domestic, you will need to consider some type of fence and I would prefer not to look at the fence near my home. But, depending on the type of person that you are and your individual situation, this is a consideration you should consider and answer.

Proper Method – Now that you know the goals you have for your garden and the limitations you have on locations, you will now have to determine what method or methods work for you when planning your garden.

If you have the space and consider a traditional row garden the question of long row or short row and skinny rows or wide rows need to be answered. Row length and width will depend on your goals and what you plant.

You will want to stagger your planting with this method so that you don’t get 40 cabbage plants all ready to pick at one time if that is not what you are planning for. Typically it is safe to stagger planting 10 – 14 days so you have a regular yield of vegetables when they begin to produce.

If you have space limitations when you are planning a garden you will probably lean toward some combination of container gardening techniques. Small containers are easy to move as needed depending on your conditions but yields may not meet your goals. There are many options only limited by your imagination for types of containers.

Raised bed gardens are more work to start out with but can be much less maintenance work and in just a few short years can be nearly weed free. You may choose to start with traditional row gardening when planning oyur garden and plan to start raised beds later.

Square Foot Gardening is a newer approach but is extremely interesting and a great method that you may want to consider.

I use a combination of all of these methods when planning my home garden. I plant crops that I know I want to can or preserve in traditional row gardens that yield a lot all at once. I don’t mind getting things like sweet corn, tomatoes, or peppers because I plan to can the output and I want everything ready at once in large qty. .

I also have some container plants that yield regular steady vegetables for the dinner table. These we pick and eat as they are ready.

I am experimenting now with the square foot gardening methods and I am optimistic I will enjoy the results. We will learn more as we go but I welcome any input or stories you have on square foot gardening.

Selecting what to plant – Now you know what your goal is, what you and your family eat, your Hardiness Zone, location limitations and space that you have to work with, what method or methods you intend to use. Now you can select the right vegetables when planning a garden.

A Garden Planning Chart is Helpful here. When planning a garden, a vegetable planting guide will be helpful in making your choices. Once you have chosen vegetables that meet all of the criteria already discussed, I recommend making a map. You can use graph paper and record items like

Kinds of vegetables Distance between rows Distance between plants Planting times/schedule Soil (PH) requirements/amount of fertilizer to use

Now you can consider companion planting, succession planting, perennial plant location, and schedule of your planting. With this map, I also create a calendar for the year showing various jobs that need to be done and when. I live in Georgia and the local agriculture office provides a garden planning calendar for my area. I would check with your local extension or agricultural office for the same calendar for your area. It makes a great starting point when planning a garden.

Click here to return from Planning a Garden to the Gardening Page