Garden Grow-How: Planning Your Spring Garden

by Anna Sones

Envision your perfect gardening experience. Are you rushing outside on a frazzled Sunday afternoon, yanking out weeds and sowing all your seeds at once? Are your stuffing your cucumber seeds into the soil at the same time as your arugula while your tomato transplants languish indoors? Probably not, right? As experience has probably taught you, half of having a green thumb is just being organized. And for those of us with four seasons, we're lucky enough to have some time not only for rest and relaxation, but to carefully plan out your plots. It may seem daunting, and the middle of winter may seem way to early, but if you take advantage of these handy tips, you'll have the tidiest, tastiest, timeliest garden ever.

REFLECT ON PAST SEASONS

As you may recall from last week's January checklist, reflecting on how your garden grew last year is an important place to start. In addition to the questions we posed last week, ask yourself if you have any goals for your garden this season, and write them down. This would also be the time to retrieve any data you may have collected about your past crops. Don't collect data? This is your year to start! Make a spreadsheet of whatever information will serve you—it can be as detailed or as simple as you like. Below is an easy template you can use to stay organized.

MAP OUT YOUR GARDEN

To begin, you'll want to get to know your physical garden space; it will determine what and how much you can grow. There are tons of resources online with garden map templates. You can also use graph paper—or really any old paper will do. Just be sure to take a photo of your sketch for your records! Grab a pencil and try out the following exercises:

Sketch out your whole garden area. Not just the garden bed, but other landmarks like spigots, greenhouses, compost piles, sheds, and roads.

Shade in or label your growing space. Include all the oddly-shaped nooks and shady corners; even if they seem unusable, they may prove useful for one crop or another. Divide up each area of your garden by shading or labeling them.

Identify the limitations. Mark areas on the map that don’t receive full sun (for example, the bed adjacent to the shed), fences, roads, spots where water hoses won’t reach, where the soil is notoriously deficient, or where kids and pets play.

Turn limits into crop-plan decisions. Each space has its particularities and each particularity has a plant that loves it. Work with the limitations of your growing space by pairing them with varieties appropriate for that space. A fence, for example, can double as a great trellis for climbing peas, beans, cucumbers, and flowers. A semi-shaded section can act as a welcome relief to cool-weather-loving crops like lettuces and Brassicas in the heat of summer. An area with heavy foot-traffic can be make a good home for a hardy perennial groundcover like Thyme. A section in the back where irrigation doesn’t reach might be the perfect environment for a wildflower meadow, a sanctuary for beneficial insects and birds.

Choose a layout. After familiarizing yourself with your soil type (consider sending a sample to your local extension if your not sure), decide how you want to organize your crops. Raised beds or right in the ground? Paths or no paths? Rows or blocks? To learn more about square foot gardening, take a look at this article.

PLAN YOUR CALENDAR

Now that you know what you want to plant and where to plant it, it's time to plan out when each seed can go in the ground. Before you get started, you'll want to know your last spring frost date. This date is the average last day that gardeners can expect a frost to visit their garden. Click here to find yours, or check with your local extension office.

Wondering when to plant? You're in for a treat. We love our fellow gardeners so much, we've drawn up a handy planting guide which you can find right here. If you're near our neck of the woods and your last frost date is around May 10th, and if the varieties listed happen to be on your list of seeds to buy, feel free to adopt as much or as little of it as you like. Otherwise, use it as an example of how to get organized. Then mark all those dates down in your calendar.

Finished with all that? Congratulations! The fun part is here: it's time to buy seeds. And whether its vegetables, flowers, or herbs you're looking for, we've got you covered. And don't forget the other garden supplies you'll need, like tools and row cover.

This may all seem like a lot of extra work, but trust us: when planting time comes around and you can stride outside and know exactly what to do, you'll thank yourself. Plus, if we know anything about gardeners, you're thinking about your garden already: sitting inside, biding your time, itching to get your hands in the soil again.

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