With the arrival of spring, the gardening season is just around the corner. Depending on where you live, the start of the growing season varies quite a bit. For the most part, a lot of people are heading into the gardening season in the next few weeks. As the temperatures rise and the snow melts away, it is time to do some garden planning. Whether you are a seasoned gardener or a beginner gardener, these tips can help you reach your full gardening potential.
Garden planning, now is the time to start
What to grow
The first question you need to ask yourself is what do you want to grow? Are you aiming to cut down on your grocery bill and feed your family? Or is this a small hobby that gives you a few meals just for fun? Perhaps, you are aiming to grow plenty of flowers instead. Before you do any real planning, you need to know what you want to grow and what you expect from your garden.
If you are aiming to simply grow flowers, then you have a relatively easy job. You will still need to follow a few of the steps mentioned below, however, overall it is an easier task to grow flowers than food.
For those of you who wish to grow food, then a bit more planning is in order. The first step is to figure out how much you want to grow. If you are just starting out with gardening, then aim for a small garden. This allows you to get the hang of it without getting too overwhelmed. Container gardening is great for beginners. Once you know how much you want to grow, then the planning can really start. The important thing to remember about growing a vegetable garden is to focus on growing what you will eat. This will maximize how much produce you get while providing you with things you will happily eat. It’s fine to experiment with new things, but grow a limited number of them just in case you turn out to not like them.
Where to plant
Finding the right spot to put your garden is incredibly important. Generally, you want a south-facing garden, to maximize the time it is exposed to the sun. Before you start digging, spend a day or two watching where the sun shines in your yard. Note the times of day that it is in the sun and in the shade. This will give you an idea of where to put your garden. Look for a location that gets a good amount of sun throughout the day. It’s fine if a bit of shade happens throughout the day, but for the most part, you want as much sun as possible hitting your garden.
Of course, you need to take what you are growing into consideration as well. Certain plants require full sun, partial sun, or shade. You do not want to plant a shade-loving plant where it will be exposed to full sun. Things like lettuce and spinach do not like to be in direct sun. However, tomatoes love to be bathed in sun all day long. This is why it’s important to note where the shade hits and how long it’s there. Then you can plan accordingly.
When to plant
There is no one guide that can tell you when to plant. This all depends on where you live and your grow zone. You can easily look up what your grow zone is on sites like Old Farmer’s Almanac. Once you know your grow zone, you can see when the first and last frost dates are. The last frost date will determine when is ideal planting time for most plants. Many seed packets will say when to sow based upon the last frost date. Some seeds can be sown a week or so before the final frost, however, others are more fragile and need to be planted well after the last frost.
Single or multiple plantings
This will greatly depend on what you are growing and the length of your growing season. Plants like radishes have a very fast rate of growth and can be sown multiple times – even in places with a short growing season. Slower growing crops may only have enough growing time to have a single planting. Knowing your first and last frost date, as well as how long the growth cycle of the plants are, will determine what can be planted in succession and what will require a single planting. If you are able to do multiple plantings, make sure to leave room for them in your plan and ensure that those planted later will not be in the shadow of those planted first.
In-ground or raised beds
Will you be planting in-ground or building raised beds? Perhaps you are planning a mix of both. Some of this will be determined by your soil. If you have good loose healthy soil, then planting in-ground will work well. However, if you have clay or other difficult soil, then it may be best to go with raised beds. Raised beds allow you to create a good soil base right from the beginning, and because there are no rocks or tree roots in them, they are ideal for root vegetables such as radishes, carrots, and potatoes. Plants such as beans, peas, and corn do not need a perfect growing medium like root crops. Their roots can help break up the harder soil for the future.
Create a visual plan
Once you know what you are growing, where, and when to plant them it’s time to turn to good old-fashioned pen and paper. Draw out the area you want to plant. Indicate what you want to plant where and ensure to make the spacing between rows. You need to make sure there will be enough room to grow what you want without things being too crowded. If you are including raised beds, make sure they are properly marked in the plan.
Seeds or seedlings
A huge factor in when you will begin to plant is whether you plan to start from seed or use seedlings. If you are starting from seed, then you will need to plant them early. However, this can not always be done directly in the ground before the last frost date. In those cases, you will need to start your seeds indoors, which will give you small seedlings by the time they are ready to be planted outside. If you are going to start them indoors, then the most important thing to do is to ensure that they have sufficient lighting. Without enough light, seedlings will become tall and thin, a condition is known as ‘leggy’ and this will reduce their viability.
If you are starting seeds indoors, be sure to harden them off before planting them outdoors. This involves slowly acclimating them to the sun over the course of a week or two. Without doing this, the seedlings can easily be killed from sun exposure, and then all of your hard work will be lost.
When starting from seed, I highly recommend getting good quality seed. The cost will be higher, but it is worth it, as quality seeds have a higher germination rate and tend to give stronger and better-producing plants.
Buying seedlings can save you on time, however, the drawback is that you don’t always know what chemicals have been applied to them. If you want to limit the number of chemicals coming into your garden, then it is advisable to not buy seedlings. The other downside is that they can be quite pricey. It can be fine to buy the odd seedling, especially if it is something you are having a hard time starting from seed, or want to try, but to fill an entire garden with them would be a major hit to your bank account.
When it comes to vegetable gardening, companion planting can make a huge difference. Certain plants grow well near each other, while others do not. There are plenty of companion planting guides out there. Knowing what plants to put together, and which to place on opposite sides of the garden can really help with the yield and taste of your vegetables.
Now you have the tools needed to start planning out this year’s garden.
Do you garden? Plan on starting one this year? What are your favorite things to grow?