How to Plan the PERFECT Vegetable 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?
Why should I make a vegetable garden plan?
Spending a few minutes before starting any seeds or buying seedlings and building a plan for the gardening season ahead is an incredibly good practice and will help you maximize the season ahead. Specifically,
- Sun: One of the biggest impacts on how well our plant babies grow is the amount of sun they receive.
- Spacing: If we overcrowd our garden space with too many vegetables, herbs, and flowers then they will end up competing for sun and resources and have a more difficult time thriving than if they were effectively spaced.
- Timing: Certain vegetables are more cold hardy than others, therefore we can start those seeds earlier while others will really struggle if we put them outside to early.
- Succession: Some vegetables will be harvested and removed from the garden, creating empty space and presenting the opportunity to plant a succession vegetable to grow in that garden space.
- Enjoyment: Lastly, with that limited amount of garden space that we each have, it’s important that we’re getting as much joy and happiness out of it as possible. Gardening is an incredible mindful activity and by being intentional about this we can establish Mindful Gardening habits and techniques from the beginning of the season.
What is a vegetable garden plan?
A garden plan is a quick and easy way to ensure you get the absolute most out of your garden. To help with this, we have put together a FREE Step-by-Step Vegetable Garden Planning Guide that you can download here. We’re going to go through each step in detail with my garden as an example, but we approach it with these few key steps:
- Goals: Outline your goals for the gardening season to ensure your vegetable garden plan is aligned with what you’re hoping for from it this coming season.
- Draw: Draw your space and roughly outline which parts of the garden or patio get the most sun.
- Place: Place the vegetables you’re most excited to grow into the garden using our space planner to ensure each vegetable and herb has the perfect amount of space.
- Count: With the vegetables drawn into the garden, you can now determine the number of seeds you’ll want to start to have that many seedlings ready to be transplanted into your vegetable garden once it is warm enough to do so.
- Start: Lastly, you’ll want to quickly determine when to start each of your seeds based on your growing zone.
It can sound like a bit much at first glance, but it can be broken down into easy bite size pieces.
Step 1: Grow vegetables that you love
The very first thing we want to do is slow down and dream about 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 and fascinated to try growing this year?
Spend a few minutes dreaming of the garden season ahead to begin your vegetable garden planning.
Once the garden season gets started, it’s easy to start feeling overwhelmed without having a vegetable garden plan in place. By spending a few minutes on these questions, you’ll be able to anchor yourself in these goals and objectives for the season ahead and focus your energy on the pieces that are most important to you - and ensure you’re getting the absolute most joy out of your garden).
Additionally, spending a minute or two thinking of the vegetables we love to eat most ensures that we make room for them in the garden. We can fill in any extra space towards the end with more of those vegetables, other vegetables you’re intrigued and fascinated to grow, or leave it blank for the time being to see where the season takes you!
This is echoed by Huw Richards, who shared:
“The one thing you want to do is outline the top 3 goals that you want to get from your growing space this year. What you want to do is get a bit of paper and write down the top 3 goals you want to achieve and then as you’re planning out your garden keep that piece of paper in front of you to serve as a reminder and serve as a clear direction for where you want the garden to take you.”
Now that we know which vegetables we want to see in our garden, we need to start placing them into the garden space.
Step 2: How do I draw and plan my vegetable garden space?
Some vegetables are small. Others sprawl. Some grow wide. And others grow tall.
To determine where each vegetable should be planted and how much space each of them need, 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.
Let’s focus on the four primary raised beds and drawing those out on the graph paper provided in our Garden Planning Guide:
In this instance, each box is a 4’x8’ garden bed (a very common size) and following the square-foot gardening method I simply need to draw an outline of 4 lines by 8 lines (as each line of graph paper represents 1’).
Once I’ve drawn these out, we can see that in each garden bed there are 32 individual 1x1 square-foot boxes.
The last part of this step is an easy one but important one - and that is adding a sun icon. You can either add one for the entire space a sun icon for each bed. This will become extremely useful in Step 3 to ensure we get our sun-loving plant babies (8+ hours of sun per day) into the garden spaces that have the most sun.
As you’ll see with my garden beds, a few of them get full sun, while the other two only get partial sun. The reason for this is because the peak of my house casts a shadow across those beds even during the longest days of summer.
With your space now drawn out and measured we can turn to the square-foot gardening method to place our plants into the bed.
Step 3: Place your vegetables into the drawn out garden
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 vegetables are small (i.e. Radish) and others are big (i.e. Zucchini), we need to make sure we don’t overcrowd the garden.
Using our Square Foot Space Planner (which is also in our Vegetable Garden Planning Guide) you will be able to get a feel for not only how many plants you can grow per square but which ones require the most sun.
Download our FREE Vegetable Planning Guide for your own Square Foot Space Planner
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.
So, 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.
It can sound a bit complex, but watch how simple it is:
And 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.
You’ve nearly done it! 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 (we - and many others - love the Sungolds from West Coast 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 (keep your eyes peeled for our video on the simplest method to start seeds!)
With our seed list now determined, there is only one thing left to do - start em!
When do I start planting my seeds?
But just before you start your seeds, 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?
Patios are PERFECT for vegetable gardens. 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. A 5-gallon grow bag measures to exactly 1’x1’ so using the graph paper in our garden planning guide you can make the assumption that you’ll need one 5-gallon grow bag for each 1’x1’ square you hope to grow in.
Can I still have a vegetable garden if I don’t get 8-hours of sun per day?
Absolutely! Even the most sun-loving plants (i.e. peppers, tomatoes, zucchinis) will grow in lower-sun environments. Rather than focusing on 8hours of sun per day, simply shift your thinking to: Which part of my garden gets the most sun (even if it’s just a few hours!) an which gets the least amount of sun? Then allocate the spaces that get the most sun to the vegetables you love that require the most sun.
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.
How do I start seeds indoors?
Starting seeds indoors is one of our biggest recommendations. It allows you to extend the garden season by many months, save tons of money, have way more plants, and intimately learn your vegetables as you’ll see them in their earliest stages. Seeing your plant baby successfully break through the surface of the soil and enter the world for the first time is one of the most wonderful feelings as a gardener. To help you with this, check out our post on The Simplest Method to Starting Seeds.
When I harvest my plants - what do I do with the empty space?
Some vegetables we will harvest on an ongoing basis (such as Kale, Basil, Tomatoes, Zucchinis etc.) while others will be fully harvested and removed from the bed at one time (i.e. Potatoes, Cabbage, Garlic, etc.). When we harvest those, multiple square feet of garden space become empty and available to plant something new into. Check out our video on not just Succession planting, but how you can start new seeds a few weeks before the harvest and flip an entire garden bed on the harvest day!