By Megan Prusynski, Eat.Drink.Better
April showers may bring May flowers, but they also bring some very anxious, antsy gardeners! Before you pick up a shovel or plant a single seed, there’s much to be done while you wait for the spring planting season.
Planning your garden during the winter and early spring can help you get a jump start and give you an idea of what you’ll need for the season so you can be prepared.
If you’re starting a garden for the first time, you’ll first want to take stock of the area you have available to garden. Will you have a container garden on your porch or a big veggie patch in your back yard where the lawn used to be? Determining where you’ll garden well in advance will allow you to be ready to dig in as soon as the weather warms up. If you’ll be converting a lawn into garden space, you may need to rent or borrow a tiller and start preparing the soil a few months before the last spring frost. If you’ll be starting seeds indoors, you might want to clear a sunny windowsill or a closet for seedlings until they’re big enough to plant out. So it helps to think ahead and have a plan in mind.
Some questions to ask yourself as you prepare to plan your garden include:
• What type of garden will it be? Container gardens, raised bed gardens, backyard vegetable gardens, and flower gardens all have different requirements.
• How much time do you have to dedicate to gardening? Is your plan realistic in terms of how much free time you have?
• How much space do you have for gardening, and how much preparation does it need before you can garden there?
• Will your available garden space work well as a garden? Think of how you’ll water it, whether it is flat or sloped, the soil condition, how sheltered it is, and how much sunlight it gets.
• What types of fruits and veggies do you eat the most of, and what grows well in your area?
• What materials and tools do you already have and what do you need to get before you can start gardening?
It may be a good idea to start a garden journal or log book to house all your plans, observations, and your list of stashed seeds all in one place. Or you can save the paper and use an online garden journal like myfolia.com. Start by imagining what it will take to get from your garden space now to the garden of your dreams. Note each step of the way in a big to-do list, and don’t forget things like acquiring tools and supplies, ordering seeds, preparing the soil, and making trellises. If you plan far enough ahead, you may be able to save yourself a bundle by saving up recycled items to use as seedling pots or trellises. Once you have a to-do list, arrange it in the order that makes sense, and now you’re on a mission!
Now comes the garden plan. This is especially important for a new garden. Measure your garden space as best you can and draw a rough outline on graph paper to scale. Draw in landmarks like fences, gates, patios, and paths. Once you have a rough outline, you can start figuring out where your garden beds will go and what shapes they need to be to fit the space you have. You definitely don’t have to plant rectangular beds in straight rows, so get creative! My garden is a very odd shape and round on most sides, so my beds will be U-shaped, rounded triangles, long skinny strips along the fence, and even spirals. Visualizing the plants at full size will help you plan your garden space as well. A good rule of thumb to remember is that you’ll want to be able to access the beds easily to weed, so try to make them no more than an arm’s reach wide, and allow paths wide enough to accommodate a wheel barrel. There is even garden planning software that does the drawing for you.
Once you’ve drawn up a plan of where your beds will be, you can figure out what to grow in each one. The first thing to consider when choosing what to grow is what you normally use. Although your diet can be adjusted based on what’s in season, it’s best to start by growing what you’re sure to use.
Tips for Planning a Garden Layout
• Plant taller plants and those that require trellises near the north side of the garden so they won’t shade shorter plants (unless, of course, you’re growing shade-loving plants, in which case you may want to put them where they will be sheltered by taller plants).
• Make your plan with crop rotation in mind. Growing the same family of plants in the same place year after year can deplete the soil and make plants more susceptible to disease and pests. Organic gardening relies on preventing harm by soil preparation and crop rotation.
• Find out which plants go well together and situate good companion plants near each other in the garden. Scatter beneficial plants around the garden and those that attract beneficial insects like bees and predators that eat pests. Marigolds, calendula, borage, cilantro, and parsley are all wonderful plants to spread throughout the garden.
• Make sure your garden will be accessible and easy to work on. Leave enough space to get around easily among mature plants.
• Plan your garden to be a place you’ll want to spend time. Make it inviting by choosing a wide variety of plants that are beautiful, colorful, delicious, and provide contrast and interest.
Planning your garden is not only a smart way to get a jump start on spring, but it will allow you to get your gardening fix in the colder months before you can work the soil. Now, bring on spring and let’s get growing!
Previous entries in this green gardening series include Compost 101.
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