Planning your garden is an essential first step in being successful when it comes to gardening and growing food. That being said, it doesn’t have to be complicated. Below are 5 easy steps to help you get started planning your garden today.
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1. Sketch out the space you have available for gardening
The first step to planning your garden is to grab a piece of graph paper or your iPad and sketch out the area you have available for gardening. You want this sketch to be broad, you will narrow down your final location later. For this, sketch out anything that might be important. Some things you might consider include: your house and any other buildings, your driveway, trees, shrubs, and existing landscaping.
After you have this initial sketch, go through and add in any water faucets or other water sources (i.e., rain water collection system, pond, etc.) that can be used to water your future garden. Water is crucial to growing a successful garden.
2. Create a Sun Map
After you have sketched out your space, the next step in planning your garden is to create a sun map. A sun map is a map that is created to assess how many hours of sun each area of your garden or yard receives in a day. This is important because different plants need different amounts of sun and creating a sun map will help you understand what amount of light each area receives.
Since you already have a sketch of your area, creating a sun map should be easy. You will need 6 copies of your sketch and three different colored pencils or pens (i.e., red, orange, yellow). Each color will represent different levels of sunlight (full sun, partial sun, shade).
To create your sun map you will go outside every two hours (i.e. 8 AM, 10 AM, 12 PM, 2 PM, 4 PM, and 6 PM) with one copy of your sketch and your colored pencils or pens and observe the amount of sunlight or shade each area is receiving. Then, color your sketch accordingly. Below are examples at 8 AM, 12 PM, and 4 PM.
3. Narrow down Your Growing area and the growing method you will use
Once you have your sketch and sun map completed, you can use this information to narrow down your growing area. Most fruit and vegetable plants prefer full sun to partial sun so try to avoid areas that are shaded for the majority of the day.
The next thing you need to consider when planning your garden is the method you would like to use. Do you want to grow in ground, in raised beds, or in containers, etc.? Maybe your garden plan includes a combination of these methods. This decision is unique to your space and goals and there are pros and cons to each method. In the end, you have to choose the method that makes the most sense to you and for your garden.
Some other things to consider when determining what area is best for your garden is proximity to a water source and your house. The closer to a water source, the easier it is to water. In addition, a garden closer to your house, may mean the more likely you are to visit your garden space which is imperative for growing a successful garden. Frequent visits to your garden means that you will be more likely to notice if your garden needs water, if there are any pest issues, if there are vegetables or fruits to harvest, etc..
At this point, you can add the area(s) you want to garden on your sketch.
4. Determine your Growing Zone, last frost date, first frost date, and length of growing season.
This is arguably the easiest step when it comes to planning your garden. To determine your growing zone, you can go to Google and type in your city (or nearby larger city) growing zone. Alternatively, you can use the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map. Growing zones are determined by average low temperature and help to determine which types of perennial plants will survive in your area based on your low temperature.
To determine your last frost and first frost dates, you can use the Farmer’s Almanac website. The Farmer’s Almanac website will also list the length of your growing season. Knowing the length of your growing season allows you to determine if your plants will be able to reach maturity.
5. Decide what you are going to plant
Now that you have completed your garden sketch, sun map, and growing season data, you can use this information to help decide what you are going to plant. Some questions to get you started include:
- How much space do you have available for your garden?
- Do your plants need full sun (i.e., tomatoes) or do they prefer some shade (i.e., lettuce)?
- Is your growing season long enough to successfully grow longer to maturity crops, like pumpkins?
- What will you and/or your family eat? If you don’t enjoy squash, skip them. If you love tomatoes, plant more of those and so on and so forth. You will find gardening much more rewarding if you enjoy what you are growing.
- Would you like to preserve your food or is your garden mostly for eating fresh produce?
- If you want to can, what do you want to can? Tomato products? Pickles? Green beans?
- Do you want to give produce to family and/or friends?
- Are you hoping to sell any extra produce?
- Do you want to incorporate flowers into your garden?
garden planning next steps
Now that you have a plan for your garden, you are ready to begin. It is the time to get your hands in the dirt and start growing your own food. The first step is to order and start your seeds! Alternatively, you can find transplants from a local farm, your local garden center, or big box stores.