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Vegetable Garden Planning

Garden bed planning1

Garden bed planningExperienced gardener or new gardener your gardening success will be greatly helped by planning the garden before you begin the growing season. The purpose of a garden plan is to make your work less and your returns more. A garden plan and a couple of supporting lists can guide you this growing season and growing seasons to follow, telling you what improvements to make next year and the next.

Here are four planning tools you can use this year (use them, modify them, use them in combination as you wish, and you will gain greater efficiency in gardening):

• Planting Plan

• Planting Table

• Check List–for planting and growing

• Garden Record

Garden Planting Plan

A planting plan is a map of your garden–of the whole garden or a specific planting bed. Design your vegetable garden–lay it out–on paper first. Tracing pads of graph paper comes in 8½ inches by 11 inches or 11 inches by 17 inches. You can choose from several grid sizes: four squares to the inch are practical for laying out a garden to scale. On tracing paper, mark off a space the shape of your garden. (Why use tracing paper? You can overlay this year’s garden on the plan for last year’s garden–or do this in the future. This will allow you to plan crop successions and rotations.)

Your garden should be big enough to grow what you will eat or what you plan to store or give away. Don’t make your garden any bigger–a garden too big will lead to a waste of food and time. Use a list of the crops that you want to bring to the table and the number of servings you have in mind for the season to decide on the number of plants.

To begin your planting plan use sticky notes to plan the garden. Cut the stickers to size, label them, and position them and re-position on the graph paper. Set out rows or blocks of each crop you plan to grow. You can even attach photos cut from old seed catalogs to the sticky notes. Moving the sticky notes around a garden plan is easier than moving seedlings or plants around in the garden.

As you design the garden, keep crops that remain several years in the garden–such as rhubarb and asparagus–at one end. Place crops that will remain the whole season–parsnips, carrots, onions and the like–next. Finally, plan the placement of crops that will be planted in succession, crops that will be in the garden for only part of the season–peas, lettuce, spinach. Tall-growing crops, like pole beans, are kept to the north of lower ones. In your plan, give space to each crop according to the proportion in which they will be used in the kitchen. If you love peppers, keep that in mind as you lay out your planting plan.

(Obviously, a planting plan is a very good way to plan a flower garden, as well. Use the sticky notes to arrange colors and textures and height. Use pictures of plants in various seasons to see how the garden will look throughout the year–bulbs, annuals, and perennials. Make notes for changes next year as the season progresses.)

Planting Table

A planting table is a simple columned chart that will give you the details of your crops at a glance. It tells the treatment that each vegetable requires: when to sow, how deep, how far apart in rows or blocks, how long until germination and harvest. You can also jot down quick planting and growing notes for each crop. Take the planting table into the garden mounted on a piece of cardboard at planting time. This will save you running back and forth to your garden books or seed catalogs.

Update your planting table with experience: note what crop varieties were planted and how they performed.

Garden Check List

A checklist for planting and growing can be completed with the initial planting table. The checklist puts all of the planting table notes into chronological order: which crops is sowed first, which crop is next, when are seedlings transplanted into the garden. The checklist is a counterpart to the planting table; use it to make sure nothing is overlooked or left until too late. Your checklist can be made up from the planting table, seed catalogs, and the previous year’s garden record. On your check list put down things to be done each month (or week) and cross them off as you attend to them. The check list is used throughout the season (and updated with notes for next year) and assures you that important tasks are not overlooked.

Garden Record

Your garden record is your record of results: what happened in the garden. Keep it simple: which crops did you grow, which varieties, date sowed or transplanted, date harvested, other notes. Your garden record will be of the greatest assistance in planning the garden next season. Start the garden record at the beginning of the season with your list of planted crops and varieties; fill the record in with dates and notes: note the day you planted, or harvested; note anything worth recording. Keep the record day to day; don’t let it go until tomorrow. Last year’s garden record becomes a blueprint for next year’s garden plan.

Use your garden record and your planting plan to plan next year’s vegetable garden. Which vegetable variety was most successful? Did the harvest come in on time? Was there enough space for each plant? What do you want to plant more of or less of next year? Was there time for crop successions? Which crops should be rotated to a new spot next year?

Do not fear that you will waste time on planning. Planning will make your garden time count the most in producing results.

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.


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