Garden Planning: The Method To My Madness

It’s that time of year. Seed catalogs are arriving weekly, if not daily, and you’re getting the itch to start seed shopping. Wait a hot second! Before you start filling your cart it may be helpful to do some planning. Spacing is very important for a fruitful garden and you don’t want to buy significantly more seeds than you have the soil for. I’ll take you through my process to give you a general idea of a methodical planning approach and you can bend it to meet your needs. Let’s get started.

Grow list and current seed stocks for “must have” items.

First, I make a list of the “must have” items. For example, I ALWAYS grow potatoes. Always. I typically harvest between 50 and 75 pounds of spuds and they get us through roughly 6 months of the year, so they go on the “must have” list. (This year, I’ve ordered Yukon Gold and Red la Soda seed potatoes from Gurney’s.) Once you’ve established a list of goodies that you simply must grow this season, the next list should include items you’d like to grow. These crops are of interest but not top priority so they’ll be the gems that you include if you have extra space. When making my grow list, I group my plants by growing area. (i.e. tilled plot, raised bed, planters and small pots/containers) This allows me to evaluate spacing and sequential plantings. We are blessed with a long growing season here in the Mid-Atlantic, so I am able to plant cool weather vegetables in late February/early March and then replace them with warm weather crops in May/June when temperatures exceed their tolerance but reach a desirable level for heat lovers like peppers and melons. This is fantastic for yields but requires a relatively organized approach. Therefore, after I have established a list based on my wants, needs and growing capacity, I write out a planting timeline.

Planting timeline — black = inside, red = outside

These start times are based on the forecasted last frost date and suggested growth method for each variety, in my zone. (Maryland, 7A) The dates included are just a guideline and can easily be shifted based on Mother Nature’s mood.

After I have a planting timeline, I like to create plot/bed diagrams depicting my “must have” items to give myself a spacing visual and organize my crops in a way that exploits companion planting methods, when possible. If you are not familiar with companion planting, the basic concept is this — the nutritional requirements and/or pest interactions of some plants benefit crops sown near them while others antagonize and hinder the growth of their neighbors. It is therefore advised that you plant mutually beneficial crops together and avoid sowing incompatible herbs, fruits and veggies in the same area. There are several charts available online to guide this aspect of your planning process.

Plot diagram 2020

At this point you should have a good idea of how much soil you’re working with and whether or not you have any room for those “like to plant” items on your grow list. Take your time with this process, it’s supposed to be fun! I sometimes go back and forth from plot diagram to grow list and planting timeline many times before I settle on my final garden design and even then I find myself making spontaneous changes throughout the growing season. In the garden, as in life, you are never stuck with the path you have chosen.

Now that you know what kinds of crops you’re going to grow, it’s time to shop around for desirable varieties. There are several sites available in the Gardening Links section of this blog that supply seeds, tools and other gardening necessities. Keep an eye on grow zone info as well as sun, water and soil requirements. If you are attempting sequential plantings then you’ll want to keep maturity times in mind too. There are container varieties available for most vegetables, if you’re short on space. Additionally, there are disease resistant and pest resistant cultivars on the market for those of you gardening in hot, humid environments where insects and fungi thrive.

Shop on, my friends!! This is the fun part — don’t be afraid to try unique varieties!!

If you have any questions or need assistance planning out your garden please do not hesitate to reach out. I find the planning process quite exciting, as I decide on fruits and veggies to grow and then seek out different varieties to order from my favorite distributors. It’s the best kind of retail therapy! That being said, I know it can be a bit overwhelming if you’re new to the green thumb community so comment below and let the gardening veterans assist you with you’re first attempt. We’re happy to help. Cheers, friends!

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