How To Plan a Garden


Here I will outline how to plan a garden. Staying organized is your best bet for success and I have some practical tips that will help you prosper this upcoming garden season.

lined paper with handwritten plants for 2024

I suppose first we should define our goals. If all you want is a wild cottage garden, these tips probably won’t matter to you. Believe me, wild cottage gardens are not a bad thing (pollinators will love you!) Sit down and reflect on what you really want out of your garden. That will help you determine which of the tips in this article will really help you.

On our homestead, we’re looking to maximize food production. This past season (2023) we experienced the wild garden. I was very unorganized and my garden reflected that. I was still able to get some joy from my garden but with it also came many frustrations. To name a few: weeds were out of control, many plants either lost their labels or were improperly labeled to start with, without proper pruning many plants succumbed to disease and pest pressure before they were able to properly produce, and because things weren’t properly labeled, my layout wasn’t effective. Many sun loving plants were grown in the shade of taller plants and therefore struggled. A few ill-placed vining varieties grew into the pepper bed and weighed them down. It was very messy.

Luckily, the season before (2022) was incredibly prolific. I’ve seen it both organized and unorganized now and I feel equipped to share some practical tips for you.

Staying Organized

If you get nothing else from this article, I hope you get this. Staying organized will nearly guarantee you a successful gardening season. Of course, there will always be factors we can’t control, like weather for example. However, being organized really sets you up well to tackle whatever challenges you may face this gardening season.

Being organized starts with making a plan. What do you want to grow? The better question, what do you and your family eat? Jot down a list of the plants you want to grow and then go shopping for seeds. I don’t make my final list based on wants and hypotheticals. Once you’ve made your purchases, lay out all of your seed packets. Do one more pass and select the varieties you definitely want to grow.

Reference the above photo. That is my 2024 Grow List. That is, all the plants I am definitely going to attempt to grow. Notice in the upper right hand corner I’ve got the estimated last frost date for my area. I always round up to the next weekend. April 30th is a Tuesday, so I rounded up to Saturday May 4th since I do most of my gardening on the weekends. May 4th is tentatively the date I will transplant my seed starts outside into the garden. This is dependent on how the weather actually looks when we get there but it’s a great place to start your planning. I calculate all of my seed starting dates based on my estimated last frost date for my area (in this case, the upcoming weekend.)

Seed Starting

Once you’ve established the last frost date you’re going to work off of, you need to determine when you’re going to start your seeds.

lined paper with handwritten seed starting schedule

Reference the above photo. I call this my 2024 Grow Schedule. This is ESSENTIAL for seed starting success! You have to iron out when you’re going to start the seeds in conjunction with when you’re going to plant them outside. There are a few questions you need to ask yourself here. First, how much space do you have? If all you’re working with is a window sill, you can’t have 25 mature tomato plants in your house. I have one seed starting rack with 10 grow lights in a spare bedroom. I can manage quite a bit but I still have to be mindful not to take on too much. Second, how big is your garden? If you only have one garden box in your backyard and a few pots on your patio, again you probably don’t need 25 tomato plants. Be realistic about your space. It will save you a lot of frustration. Trust me, I have also been starry eyes while flipping through the pages of the seed catalogs, I get it. Still, I really encourage you to do a little bit of planning when deciding how many plants you want to start indoors.

front and back of celosia seed packets

Okay, back to your seed starting dates. Reference the packets of Celosia above. Two different varieties but the information on the back is the same. Notice where it’s highlighted in green. Most seed packets will give you an idea whether that particular plant variety even can be started indoors (some plants, like carrots for example, do better direct sown outdoors) and when you should do so. This is the information I use, in conjunction with my estimated last frost date, to determine when I should start my plants. These Celosia recommend we start them indoors 3-4 weeks before the estimated last frost date. We determined my last frost date to be May 4th. April 6th is four weeks before that. When a range is given like that, I tend to choose the date farther back but that’s a personal preference. April 13th is also appropriate. I have the space and don’t mind having them in my spare bedroom an extra week. I look at each individual seed packet and make a decision on the date. Another thing to note, If I followed the recommendations exactly for each packet I’d be starting seeds every weekend from March to May. I do not prefer that. I like to pick three or four weekends to sit down and start my seeds in batches. So I do tend to round up or down when a particular variety falls out of line with the general consensus. Use your best judgment. When you’re home gardening, this does not have to be an exact science. As you can see in my 2024 Grow Schedule above, I chose three seed starting weekends based on what the majority of the varieties called for, and a few were rounded up or down to fall into one of the weekends I had chosen.

Lets Take our Garden Plan a Step Further…

If you stop here, you’re already doing great! I like to take it a step further because I really nerd out with plants and gardening. If you’re a brand new gardener, this next tip will really help you expand your knowledge base.

line paper with hand written details about the plant Calendula

Lets take a look at the above photo. This is an information page I created for the Calendula variety Mixed Pacific Beauty. I made some basic notes about this variety such as: requiring full sun, being an annual type, plant spacing, etc. Calendula is beautiful, it’s wonderful food for the pollinators, and it has medicinal uses as well, which I researched and listed at the bottom of the page. Going this extra step helped me really understand this plant variety. When I took my seedlings outside to transplant in the garden, I knew where it would need to go to really prosper and I had an idea what I would do with it when it bloomed. None of this is necessary and I did not do it for the 2023 growing season. These notes are from 2022. I felt so much more connected to my 2022 garden because I had invested time and interest into it. I cared about, learned about and studied each plant. Notice in the middle of the page “2022 Notes”, I went back to this information page at the end of the season to record an observation I made about it during the growing season and to make note of whether or not I’d grow it again. This is excessive and not at all necessary to have an successful garden but it expands your knowledge and nurtures the connection to your garden you’ve been cultivating over the season. I recommend trying it out!

Labeling is Important

There is more to a garden than what I’ve listed here, but this is a great starting place. Being organized from the start, helps everything else run smoother. Remember to label your plants well. I’ve used these labels in the past and they worked great but you actually have to USE THEM. *Cough* 2023 Jaylea *Cough* Labeling your plants helps you plan an effective garden layout. You don’t want to plant something that needs full sun in the shade of towering tomato plants, for example. Some varieties are easy to tell apart and the more seasoned you become, the easier this will be. This will be my third year gardening and I’m not ready to forgo the labels yet. Don’t forget this important organizational tip!

Are you going to test these tips out before and during the upcoming gardening season? I guarantee, even if you’re a brand new gardener, if you implement these easy tips your garden will reap the benefits.

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