Why You Should Plan This Year’s Garden Today

A successful garden is a planned garden. I can’t count how many times I’ve spoken with would be gardeners who’ve said, “I would love to start a garden this year, but do not know where to start”. Or they attempted their first garden - bought plants, tools, and soil - only to have everything mysteriously die or never grow. Unfortunately, I think this is one of the top reasons people don’t ever start a garden of their own. What I would say to those who are nervous to start their first garden, or even those that just want to improve upon last year, a little planning goes a long way.

Why start planning now you might ask? Well, it’s the dead of winter and a bit of summer dreaming goes a long way for ones health when they’re cooped up.

Where I prefer to start is with seed catalogs. Digging through the pages of unique plant names and pictures begins to transport you months into the future. It’s hard not to enjoy the idea of a fresh cherry tomato off the vine or cutting into a large ripe watermelon on a hot summer day. The seed companies know how to leverage the winter blues and magazines should start showing up in January. Spend some time going through and circling the varieties that you would like to grow this year.

In all honesty, once you have chosen and ordered your seeds, you could stop here and wait until Spring. Most seed packets have information on the back that explains how to grow that plant. Often you’ll see, “start seeds indoors four weeks before the last frost” or “directly seed outdoors, six inches apart, when no chance of frost remains”. Some people know exactly what to do from here and will randomly plant the seeds where they have space when the time comes. But as mentioned before, a little planning goes a long way. Taking extra time to plan where and when exactly to start your plants will allow you to get the most out of your garden each year.

I become a bit OCD when it comes to organizing and planning and so I prefer to use Microsoft Excel as a reference point for when and where things should be planted. A spreadsheet is also nice to use to keep stock of what seeds you already have on hand. No need to spend money on more seeds if you already have the ones you need. Of course a simple pencil and paper would easily work as well.

Plotting out when to plant the seeds, when to transplant those seedlings, and how many plants to start, can give you a lot of confidence when Spring arrives. Here’s an example of what my spreadsheet looks like for both planting start times as well as my seed stock.

Seed Log Book

Seed Stock

Below is a download link for those interested in using the template that I do above.

Seed Log Book - Template Download

A lot of the specifics for each plant can be found on the seed packet or on the internet for your growing zone. The zone is important as your season may be sorter in Zone 4 than in Zone 7. Make sure you look at this when choosing your plants too. A citrus tree will be hard pressed to survive through a -30 degree winter for example.

When all my plants for the year have been chosen, I like to plot out where I will be planting them. This allows me to keep up a good crop rotation (tomatoes get planted in a different box each year to prevent any diseases from last year to creep up) as well as do succession planting.

I personally am not very good at succession planting yet. My guess is that it will come with experience and repetition.

Succession planting means that when one plant has produced all the crop it can, and there is still time in the year to grow another, you replace it with something that does well in the following season. For example I plant peas in the Spring. These generally finish producing come mid June. From June until winter there is plenty of growing time to replace the peas with a fall crop like Broccoli or Kale. I feel that improving this skill could really increase the yield from the garden each year.

“But Geoff, I only have a small garden, should I plan too?” To that I say - Absolutely. There’s nothing quite as disheartening as growing something all summer long and realizing you should have started the plant sooner because of it’s long growing cycle (cough, celery, cough).

So whether you’re new to gardening or a seasoned vet, and whether you have a single box garden or 2,000 square feet of growing room, start planning today and see if it helps you this year. At the very least, it will bring some excitement to the cold darkness of winter.

I’d love to know how you garden today.


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About the Author

Geoff has been growing plants and vegetables consistently for the last 6 years and actively experiments with, and writes about, all aspects of gardening.

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