5 Steps to Planning the Perfect Garden
If you’re like me, as soon as the days start getting a bit longer in January, the first thought to cross the mind is the upcoming garden season. But with the temperature still being too cold to begin sowing seeds, what do we do for the time being?
Late-Winter is the perfect time to build a garden plan for the season ahead.
What is a gardening plan?
A garden plan is a quick and easy way to ensure you get the absolute most out of your garden. The key elements of a garden plan are:
- Your goals for the gardening season
- The vegetables you love to grow and eat the most
- New vegetables, herbs, and flowers that you are intrigued to try your luck at
- A garden space planner to outline your space and how to maximize it
- A growing guide that outlines when you can start your seeds
It can sound like a bit much at first glance, but it can be broken down into easy bite size pieces.
Where to get started?
Before planning your space or determining when to be starting your seeds, we need to slow down and reflect on the season ahead. To start your garden plan, there are three important questions to ask yourself:
- What is my goal/objective with my garden? (i.e. yield, relaxation and peacefulness, aesthetic?)
- What vegetables and herbs do I love eating the most?
- What plants am I most intrigued to try this year?
Slowing down to answer these questions will ensure that you are focusing your space on the vegetables that you get the most enjoyment out of.
Now that we know which vegetables will be in the garden, we need to start placing them into the garden space.
How do I plan my garden space?
Some vegetables are small. Others sprawl. Some grow wide. And others grow tall.
To determine where each vegetable should be planted, we need to first draw out our workable space.
Using graph paper (or the section in our Garden Planning Guide) you want to draw each of your garden beds, containers, pots, or grow bags into the space. We recommend you use each box to represent 1’x1’ as this will allow us to use the square-foot planning method.
It could end up looking something like this:
In this instance, each box is a 4’x8’ garden bed (a very common size) and this means that within each bed there are 32 individual 1x1 square-foot boxes.
We also recommend adding a sun icon to each part of your space - where do you get the most sun? Where do you get the least sun?
This is important as some plants love full-sun (8hrs+) while others will bolt and go to seed very quickly if they receive too much sun and therefore need a garden bed or container than only receives partial sun.
With your space now drawn out and measured we can turn to the square-foot gardening method to place our plants into the bed.
What is square-foot gardening?
The concept of square-foot gardening has been around for many years and is one of the absolute best ways to plan a garden. Because some plants are small (i.e. Radish) and others are big (i.e. Zucchini), we need to make sure we don’t overcrowd the garden.
Using the chart below, you will be able to get a feel for how many plants you can grow per square.
Using the first vegetable, Arugula, as an example, you can see that in just one square-foot you are able to grow 4 plants. So with a 4ft x 1ft section, you can actually end up fitting 16 Arugula plants in.
Kale on the other hand, needs a dedicated square foot for each plant. They are much larger plants with longer leaves and grow taller in height, therefore, more dedicated space is needed. But not as much as a Zucchini plant.
A Zucchini plant and other large vegetables are going to end up needing at least 2 square feet each. Each of their leaves can take up a ton of space and they will sprawl well beyond a one foot square. If we planted another vegetable too close, it would get covered and shaded by the zucchini plant, end up receiving less sun and grow much smaller.
How do I place vegetables into my garden plan?
All that you need to do now is:
- Go back to the first question where you wrote down the vegetables you love to eat.
- Look that vegetable up in the square-foot planning chart to see if it needs 1x square foot or more.
- Write the first letter of that vegetable into one of the boxes in your garden plan.
- Repeat until the entire space is filled.
Here’s what it will look like when it’s all done:
The T represents Tomato. And as you can see I am able to fit 16 of them into the first bed.
The P represents Pepper. I could fit more than 8 pepper plants into the second garden bed, but I want to give them a little extra space. So, I filled the back half of this bed with Zucchinis.
The G represents Garlic. In the third bed I have given 20 squares to garlic. Additionally, from the chart above each of those squares will have 4 garlic cloves and ultimately 4 garlic heads. (Spoiler alert: this means I will end up having 80 heads of garlic this summer!)
In the same third bed as the Garlic I have 8 squares for Arugula. For Arugula each square represents 4 plants - and I will show you how we add these up in just a second.
Lastly, bed four is evenly split between Kale and Suisse Chard.
Now that the beds are full, we need to do a little bit of quick math to determine how many plants in total we’ll have.
How many plants will I be growing?
Stick with me here.
We can do some quick math to add up how many squares have been allocated for each vegetable. From this, we multiply it by the number of plants per square:
Once you have done your first line or two it will be a breeze and before you know it, you’ll know exactly how many plants you can fit into your garden to make the absolute perfect garden this coming summer.
If you are planning to buy seedlings, you would simply take this total calculation with you to the nursery or market where you’ll be buying your seedlings and purchase accordingly.
If you plan to start by seed, then our recommendation is to start 5 seeds for each desired plant. If you want 1 tomato plant, you would start 5 seeds in a seedling mix (such as our Worm Casting Seedling Mix). If you wanted 8 tomato plants (like the garden plan above), you would start 40 tomato seeds (we’ll be talking more about this in some dedicated seed starting content).
With our seed list now determined, there is only one thing left to do - start em!
When do I start planting my seeds?
But not just that quick - we need to make sure we’re starting the right seeds at the right time. Because every growing region is different, you will want to do three things:
- Google your city and the words ‘growing zone’ (i.e. Vancouver growing zone).
- Once you have found your growing zone, then Google that growing zone and the words ‘planting chart’ (i.e. Zone 7 Planting Chart).
- Find a planting chart that outlines when to start each of the seeds in your garden plan.
With this, you can now see exactly what seeds you will be starting in February, March, April, and further into the year. Following the garden plan above and this planting chart will ensure that all of your beds end up full and bountiful - just as you dreamt up!
We hope that this has helped you feel more comfortable and confident in the garden this season! If you have any questions just drop them into the comments section below!
What if I only have a patio?
You have a great setup for a garden. To begin planning it, draw out the entire patio space on the graph paper. Then, black out any areas where you won’t be able to grow (i.e. if there is a table, couch, or BBQ). From there, you’ll have the remaining available spaces to put planters, containers, or grow bags. You can then begin to determine how much of that usable space you will want to turn into gardening space.
When should I prepare my soil?
You’ll want to start your seeds in a seedling mix that has all the nutrients and microbes for plants to grow big and strong. This is why we include worm castings and compost in our worm casting seedling mix. For your garden beds or containers that you’ll transplant the seedlings into, you’ll want to amend this soil roughly one month before transplanting the seedlings into them.
What should I amend my soil with?
You can go the fertilizer path (and use a balanced 4-4-4 NPK fertilizer) or the natural path (using compost, worm castings, and worm teas).