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I can’t believe it’s already time to start thinking about this year’s garden! One of my favorite parts of summer is tending my vegetable garden and enjoying the fruits of my labor. Pun intended!
It wasn’t always smooth sailing when it comes to gardening though. The first few years were challenging to say the least! Bad location, not knowing where or when to plant, not having enough protection against critters. You name it, and I experienced it.
There were times when I wondered if maybe I just wasn’t cut out for it. My mom always had a huge garden when I was little but maybe that gene just skipped me. It was frustrating to waste time and money and not get anything in return.
But I kept at it. I changed the location of my garden about 3 times and did tons of research. And there was plenty of good old trial and error. Finally, I started to see results. Last year was probably my best year ever in terms of yield. I had so many jalapenos, tomatoes, and green beans. I started giving some of it away because I couldn’t keep up!
If you’re thinking about starting a garden, but aren’t sure where to begin, read on for tips and tricks for garden planning that I’ve used to become a much better gardener.
Garden Planning Tips
Start Your Garden Planning Early
This is especially true if it’s your first year with a vegetable garden. A successful garden begins with a good plan. Take some time to think about what you’d like to get out of your garden.
My first year’s garden was basically me throwing some dirt down in an open space and planting a few seeds and plants. Needless to say, it did not go well.
Here are some things to think about when you’re beginning your garden planning.
- What space do you have to dedicate to a garden?
- What kind of a garden do you want? A traditional garden? A container garden? A raised bed garden? You have options here and the space you have can help with this decision.
- What kinds of things do you want to grow? Think about the fruits and vegetables you eat on a regular basis.
- What hardiness zone are you in? This determines both what and when you should plant.
- How much time do you have to spend weeding, watering, and tending to your garden? This can really help with your decision on the type and size your garden should be.
Determining the Type of Garden
If your goal is to have a big garden with lots of different vegetables and you have space, a traditional garden might be the best option for you.
It takes more prep work to ready the ground before you’re ready to plant so give yourself plenty of time to get things ready before planting season.
I started with a traditional garden but after a few years of fighting weeds and soil with too much clay, I switched to raised garden beds. It’s been so much easier to keep up on maintenance and my yields are much better too.
A raised garden is fairly easy to get started with. There are a lot of options for raised garden beds too. Check out this post for some creative ways to create a raised garden bed.
If you live in an apartment or don’t have any space for a garden at all, container gardening is still an option! I lived in an apartment for years before I bought a house and grew all kinds of things in containers on the patio.
Location, Location, Location
Once you’ve decided what type of garden you want, think about the best location for your garden.
Vegetables grow best when they get plenty of sunlight so choose a spot that gets at least 6 hours of sun every day.
If you’re going with a traditional garden, make sure the soil is loose and well-drained. If your soil stays damp, your veggies will not grow well. You might consider taking a sample of your soil and having it tested. The results will help you add the right mixtures of fertilizer and other additives to improve your soil quality.
Another thing to think about during your garden planning is access to water. Gardens need plenty of water regularly so make sure you can reach it easily with the hose or sprinkler.
Find Your Hardiness Zone
Your geographical location determines what plants will grow the best and also when you should plant.
Before you make a decision about what you’re going to grow, you should find out what your hardiness zone is. The USDA has an interactive map that will give you this info.
Once you know what zone you’re in, you can choose vegetables that are more suited to thriving in your area. Online seed companies like Gurney’s will let you filter by your zone to make choosing a lot easier.
Decide What to Grow!
So you have a great spot picked out for your garden, you know what kind of garden you want, and you know what hardiness zone you’re in. Now it’s time to plan your crop.
Deciding what to grow can feel overwhelming when you’re looking at all the seed packets and packs of starter plants.
Trust me, I’ve been in this spot before. One year I grew beets, and I don’t even like beets! Over the years, I’ve learned what grows best and more importantly, what I actually like and will use.
Think about the produce you most often grab at the store. Tomatoes, lettuce, green beans, peas, bell peppers, jalapenos, and cucumbers top my list and it’s what I plant every year.
Plan Your Garden Layout
Through trial and error, I’ve learned what vegetables grow in the best locations in my garden.
Since I started using raised garden beds, the layout puzzle is actually much easier. I can plant taller vegetables together and group my veggies by when they’re fully matured. This makes replanting easier since I can do it all at once.
Cucumbers have their own box because the vines will overcome anything that’s planted next to it.
Peas are climbers so those also get planted in their own box with a trellis.
No matter what you’ve decided to plant, take a little time and think about the most effective use of the space. It took me a few years to figure it out but trial and error is a good thing.
Plan Your Critter Defense
This is another lesson I learned the hard way. I love seeing the cute squirrels and rabbits in my yard during the spring and summer. But those adorable little bastards will destroy a garden in no time. It’s a terrible feeling to go out to your garden and discover it’s been ravaged. Yes, ravaged.
There’s a lot of advice out there on the best ways to deter animals and other pests from getting in your garden. But for me, the easiest and most effective way to keep them out is with fencing and cages.
I would highly recommend you consider some type of protection for your garden. You can DIY a garden fence with hardware cloth relatively easy. Or search Pinterest for inspiration for fencing and protective barriers.
You’ll Enjoy Your Garden All Summer Long
A little planning and thought beforehand goes a long way towards having a successful gardening experience.
Usually, I’ll start planting the garden in early May around Mother’s Day. By late June or early July, I’m starting to harvest veggies like lettuce and cherry tomatoes. From then on out, it’s game on with green beans, tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers starting to mature.
It’s so cliched but nothing tastes better then fresh, homegrown vegetables straight from the garden that are pesticide and chemical-free.
If you’re still on the fence about starting a garden, just think about the tremendous sense of accomplishment and joy you’ll get as you enjoy the veggies from your own garden all summer!
And grab these free printables to help you with your garden planning. You’ll get a blank calendar to keep track of important tasks, a planting worksheet, a garden journal sheet for notes, and a blank grid where you can plan your garden layout. Just click the picture below to download the zip file with all the printables.