How to plan a garden and why you should do it to get the most out of your garden space this season!
Over the last few years I have started writing up a garden plan at the end of winter to help me plan exactly what I'm going to put in my garden - while I never usually stick exactly to the plan I find it really helpful in terms of knowing what seeds to start/seedlings to buy, planning for what we will be eating and hopefully preserving over summer and making sure I'm not planting the same crop in the same spot 2 years in a row (crop rotation) It's also great to look on to see what did well and what didn't.
Why should you plan a garden?
To save money - I get carried away with how many seeds and plants I buy anyway, but without a garden plan in place I am out of control! I like having a clear idea of how many seeds to start or how many plants to buy so that I don't end up with too many plants (or not enough!)
Makes planting easy - I used to buy a bunch of plants and then panic about where to put them! If you have pre-planned your garden space and have bought/planted the right number of plants for the space, when it comes to planting out there is no thought involved, just check the garden plan and put them in the ground!
Crop rotation - this probably deserves a whole post (I will write it one day!) but basically crop rotation is the practice of not planting the same type of crop in the same part of the garden the following year. There a couple of main reasons for this.
- Reduces pest and disease build up in the soil - crops in the same family are more likely to be affected by the same pests and diseases so rotating them helps keep the soil healthy.
- Reduces nutrient deficiencies in the soil - some crops remove certain nutrients out of the soil and others put nutrients back in, so crop rotation helps ensure that the soil is not deficient of the nutrients that particular plants need.
To keep it simple, I split my garden into sections and plant a different crop in each section and then shift that crop to the next section the following season eg. tomatoes and peppers in one section, cucumbers and zucchini in one, beans and peas in one and salad greens in one. Planning my garden means I can refer back to where things were planted last season and make sure I move them around.
Companion planting - a goal of mine this year is to learn more about companion planting and do it more effectively, but this is the practice of planting certain plants together that help each other to grow and can also help deter certain pests. Here is a great article that explains it in more detail. Common companion plant combinations are basil with tomatoes, sweetcorn with beans, peas and squash and marigolds with anything that is affected by aphids or greenfly. Bee friendly flowers such as marigolds, sunflowers, borage, nasturtium and calendula (to name a few) are also helpful in assisting with pollination - and they look pretty!
How to plan a garden?
If you are tech savvy, you could draw up a plan on the computer, but I love the feeling of drawing up my gardens on paper and using colouring pencils to make it pretty! It's also handy to have it in a notebook to be able to refer easily to it when planting or buying seeds!
Here's how I do it.
- Measure up your garden - I measure my garden so that I can draw it mostly to scale. It seems overboard but it is really helpful in terms of making sure you are allowing enough room between plants!
- Draw it out on paper. I don't panic too much about exact measurements, just as long as it's the right shape and mostly to scale.
- Write a list of what you would like to grow - I group these into families - tomatoes, zucchinis, salad greens, beans & peas, cucumbers, pumpkins etc
- If possible, divide your garden space into sections - I split my main veggie garden into 4 squares and each section of garden is allocated one particular crop. This makes crop rotation (see above) very simple.
- Draw the plants where you will plant them. I work on drawing in the big plants and filling in the space with smaller plants like lettuces, herbs and flowers
- Write a list of the plants or seeds you will need to buy - if I am planting seeds, I also write a list of exactly how many of each type of seed I will need and plant the correct number of seeds, plus a few extras to be safe or to give to friends and family.
Tips for planning a garden:
- Allow for extra plants - somehow I always end up with way too many tomato plants (but is there such a thing?!) so I always have a bit of garden spare where I know I can fit them in!
- Don't panic if you don't follow the plan exactly! Gardens are very adaptable!
- Keep hold of your garden plan to have handy the following year so that you know where things have previously been planted.
- And don't forget, gardening is a long term hobby! Each year things will change, you will learn something new and sometimes certain crops just don't have a good year for no reason! My best advice is to take note of what works, what doesn't and you will be gardening like a pro in no time!