Planning the Vegetable Garden of Your Dreams
As we ring in the new year, gardeners everywhere are starting to mark their calendars for the upcoming growing season. January brings fresh beginnings and a chance to focus more on personal dreams and ambitions. This year, there is no better way to start the year off fresh than taking some time to plan your upcoming vegetable garden!
The best vegetable gardens start with hours of planning and research. If you’ve always had plans for an extravagant vegetable garden or a crop that seems particularly difficult to grow, now is the time to dream big and work towards those goals. Follow along with our plan to create the vegetable garden of your dreams this coming spring and summer.
The beginning of the year is a great time to get started or continue using a new garden journal. If you’re new to garden journaling or never really got into it, think of it as a record of your planning, ideas, research, and layouts that you can look back on in the future when building your gardens. By keeping a detailed record of your garden planning and research, you can hopefully avoid some of the stress and time next year when you start laying out your garden.
Start by thinking about your previous gardens or garden experiences. What gardens have you been really impressed by? Is there anything you’ve grown well in the past? Any plants that didn’t thrive? If you could instantly have any garden in the World, what would it look like? Jot down some ideas about some past garden experiences and some goals for this year’s garden in your garden journal.
This is not the time to hold back, get all your wildest vegetable garden dreams onto paper and brainstorm what is important to you in a garden. At this point, you are just generating some ideas that you can use when planning. Search online and look through social media sites to find inspiration and ideas. If you find it useful, look through seed catalogs or gardening magazines and maybe even pull together a few quick sketches about what your dream garden would look like. Think of this stage as a vision board for your upcoming garden and use it to inspire you and guide your future planning.
Once you have some ideas, narrow down the purpose of your garden. Do you need your garden to feed your household for the summer or do you just want to cultivate some uncommon vegetables? Do you want your garden to look a certain way aesthetically? Is it important to you to incorporate more than just vegetables?
Research, research, research!
Now that you have a better idea of your goals in mind, it’s time to do some research. At this point, there are tons of resources to use when planning your garden. If you have a specific purpose or plant in mind, the internet is likely your best resource. Gardening websites, blogs, and online seed catalogs can give you detailed information about specific plants and varieties and will help you learn all about specific plants.
If you still need more inspiration or want information on specific techniques, gardening books or magazines are typically reliable resources. Take a trip to your local library and load up on gardening books, or head to the thrift store, where gardening books are usually only a couple of dollars, to find all the resources you need to get started with your vegetable garden.
Whether you find information online or using gardening books, keep notes about what you find! As you go, you will build a bank of additional resources to refer to in the future. Keeping a binder or designated gardening journal is a good way to keep your findings organized for future use.
Start Your Game Plan
Now that you have all the information and research you need to get started, it’s time to start building a plan. Successful gardens require meticulous planning and backup plans for when the unexpected happens. It can seem like a daunting task, but even studying potential problems, like pests, drought, fungus, or poor soil, will make you much more prepared for when issues arise.
While planning, it is important to keep in mind how much space, sunlight, and water each plant needs. Additionally, think about your budget and the costs of each plant, and how much it will cost you to maintain your garden throughout the growing season. To reduce costs, you can start seeds around six to eight weeks before your last frost date, depending on the crop. Starting your plants by seed is much more economical, but is a significantly more labor-intensive process than buying more expensive, but potentially more successful, rooted seedlings. If you plan on starting your crops from seed, it is a good idea to start planning sooner, rather than later and to read up on best practices for growing seeds and rooting seedlings.
To prevent potential problems later in the season, think ahead of time about the soil quality in your garden space and potential pests. At-home soil test kits are available for a relatively inexpensive cost at most garden stores and can give you plenty of insight into which crops will thrive in your space. It’s always better to play it safe and many times, buying the soil test kit will save you money in the long run by creating a more prosperous garden. When thinking about potential pests, you might consider adding deer fencing or bird netting to protect your produce. If you are concerned about insect intruders, consider planting marigolds, citronella, or mint which naturally repel insects and protect garden crops due to the strong oils and scents they produce.
After thinking about all these factors in your garden space, try to narrow down a list of fruits, vegetables, and herbs that you want to try out in this upcoming season. It is a good idea to start off with a smaller garden that you can dedicate lots of time and attention to, than planting dozens of different crops and becoming overwhelmed with managing a garden that is too large or includes too many different plants. Try to focus on this year’s garden season, even if it isn’t your ultimate dream garden, because it very well could be a stepping stone to the garden of your dreams.
Create a Layout
Now that you know what you want to plant, it’s time for the fun part! Creating a garden layout is one of the best ways to plan out your upcoming growing season while embracing all the creative aspects of gardening. To create a garden layout, use the information you researched and the list of plants you want to grow and generate a blueprint for what your space will look like. There is a multitude of free online resources to plan out your garden layout or you can go the old-fashioned route and plot it out with pen and paper. If you do decide to lay it out by hand, graph paper is extremely helpful for creating a scale and plotting out exact measurements.
As you determine where each plant should go, refer to your research and investigate complementary planting. Complementary planting is the idea that some vegetables go really well together, while others might actually do more harm than good. For instance, growing mint next to your peas improves the flavor of the peas and deters pests. However, when garlic or onions are planted next to peas, they stunt the growth of the peas and result in a less abundant harvest. Small changes like this go to show that layout really does matter and can make, or break, your garden!
Information about complementary planting is readily available online and in gardening books. Many online seed catalogues also provide information about which plants love to be neighbors and which ones can’t stand each other. It is useful to keep a chart of known plants that complement each other well inside of your gardening journal to quickly refer to when creating your layout.
Once you’ve determined your garden layout, get ready to get your hands dirty, it’s time to do some planting!
If you want to start your plants from seed, start by finding the last frost date in your area. Then, depending on the plant, plant your seeds indoors 6-8 weeks or so before the last frost date. If you look on the back of your selected seed packets, they should be able to give you a more precise timeline based on your growing zone.
If you decided to purchase seedlings from a garden nursery, start to browse your local plant nurseries to get an idea of plant varieties, quality, and prices. Wait to buy any seedlings until all danger of frost has passed.
From there, get to gardening and get your plants in the ground. Plant your crops based on your garden layout, but be prepared that things might not always go to plan. Perhaps the nursery ran out of bell peppers, so you decided to plant poblanos. Or maybe your home-grown tomato seedlings weren’t as successful as you would have liked, so you don’t have as many as you thought you would. Be flexible and adapt to changes in your plans, this is part of the fun of growing alongside your garden.
Now that your plants are in the ground, you get to kick back and relax, right? Kind of.
The hard part of planning and starting up your garden is done, but maintaining your garden is just as important as planning it. Pay careful attention to the growth of your plants and water them regularly. Check for pests, stay on top of weeds and make sure your vegetables are growing on their intended trellises if necessary. If you start to find yourself falling behind on garden maintenance, lay out a weekly checklist for yourself and hang it in your garden shed or space. Determine which days you will water your vegetables, which day of the week you will check for pests, and which day you will take care of any weeds so that you can stay on top of maintenance instead of finding yourself in a game of catch-up.
Another important part of gardening is taking notes. Carefully watch how your vegetables grow and take detailed notes in your gardening journal. Write down how long it takes different seeds to germinate or how long different varieties of vegetables take to mature and become ready for harvest. Record what did the best and what was less successful than you planned. Go back into your notes and research from your planning and add in details based on what you know now. These will become a cherished gardening resource for you when planning future growing seasons.
With plenty of ideas and your journal in hand, prioritize time in this new year to invest in your upcoming garden. Try to find space to enjoy the planning process and the growth that comes with new growing seasons. Best of luck planning your upcoming vegetable garden!
Download your Dream Garden PDF Check List HERE: Design_Your_Dream_Vegetable_Garden