Now that we’re nearing the start of growing season (SO EXCITING), it’s time to start planning your garden! There are four general steps to garden planning.
Step One: Understanding Your Plants’ Needs
Before you dive into deciding what goes where, it’s important to know what the plants you’ve selected need to thrive. By understanding the needs of your plants, you can place them in the most suitable spot in your garden to set them up for success.
As a starting point, let’s focus on sunlight and soil fertility by classifying your plants’ needs using a grid. Pictured is a sample of what we teach, using sticky-note veggies that we made ourselves (Post-it Notes are a good alternative).
In addition to sunlight and soil fertility needs, other important plant needs to consider include:
- Water needs – regular watering, draught tolerant
- Protection – from morning dew, from wind, from pests
- Soil drainage
- Soil texture
- pH – high, neutral or low acidity level
- Pollinators – insects, wind
You can determine what your plans need by reading the seed packet and researching online. If you’re stuck, give us a shout!
Step Two: Mapping Your Garden
This important step is more than just measuring out your garden site, including both in-ground gardens and containers. Key elements to include in your map include:
- Direction (e.g., north arrow)
- Fences or railings
- Slopes (high or low zones)
- Existing trees/shrubs (by type)
- Flower patches
- Soil type (if known)
- Garden paths
In addition to mapping out your site, consider how much sunlight and soil fertility you have in different spots of your garden:
- Sunlight can be approximated by observing light levels on a sunny day, noting that the sun will get increasingly higher in the sky as we approach late June.
- Soil fertility can be estimated based on what you observed last year, by how much fertilizer you’ve added in the past few months, by competition level (large nearby plants can compete for nutrients), and by grade (areas at the base of slopes are more fertile).
Step Three: Matchmaking!
Now that you know what your plants need and what your garden site provides, it’s now time to match them up.
Move the Post-it Notes from your sunlight/soil fertility grid from step one to the corresponding spots on your garden map in step two, optimizing placement of the plants by matching what the plan needs with what various parts of your garden provides. You can supplement things later (e.g., manual trellising, compost, irrigation lines, etc) but use what already exists wherever you can. Factor in sunlight and soil fertility needs, but also consider:
- Any vegetables requiring trellising should be placed beside a fence, railing or building
- Shorter plants should be south of taller plants (unless shade is preferred)
- Frequently-harvested plants (lettuce, herbs, spinach, etc.) should be closer to main paths or to your house than one-time harvests
- Vegetables that might attract pests should be closer to main paths for easy monitoring
- Vegetables with similar water requirements should be grouped together – you will appreciate this later
This process becomes second-nature over time, but that’s why we recommend Post-it Notes on your first attempt so that they can be moved around as you tweak your plan…especially since we have one more step to consider!
Step Four: Companion Planting
Now that you’ve come up with a draft garden plan, the final aspect of early garden planning is companion planting. Similar to people, plants have friends and foes! The characteristics that determine friendliness between plants include:
- Above-ground growth form – plants do well together when they don’t crowd each other out
- Below-ground growth form – shallow-fibrous-root plants (e.g., lettuce and spinach), deep-fibrous-rooted plants (e.g., corn and tomatoes) and tap-root plants (e.g., carrots and beets) should be mixed throughout the garden rather than grouped
- Nutrient requirements – heavy-feeders do better beside light-feeders and vice versa
- Insect attractors/repellers – where needed, native flowers (yarrow, Queen Anne’s lace, etc.) attract a lot of beneficial insects, and aromatic plants (anything in the mint or carrot family including basil, dill, peppermint, etc.) will repel a lot of pests
Before you finalize your garden plan, check all of your plants and see if you can move plant friends close to each other and move foes apart. This process in particular is made easy by using your Post-it Notes rather than a pencil and eraser. More information on companion planting is found online or reach out to ask questions.
Here’s our sample that we did at a previous workshop. Your plan can be as simple (like the sample shown here) or as detailed as you like (the plan for our farm is a very detailed Excel spreadsheet).
It doesn’t need to be perfect – but putting in the work to plan now will help maximize the success of your garden later on, resulting in more fresh veggies for all!
As always, please feel free to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions about our Grow Veggies program or any of the topics in our newsletters!