The Time to Start Planning a Garden Is Now
I can’t really believe I’m writing about gardens in early February, bundled up in blankets, with a mug of tea, watching even more snowfall on top of the 12 inches we got last night. But what better activity for a snow day? The fact of the matter is, gardens aren’t a last-minute addition to a yard. If you want to get beautifully arranged flowers, healthy veggies, or solid ground coverage, gardens take careful planning, budgeting, and a lot of elbow grease.
I’ll outline at a high level the things you’ll need to consider as you plan your garden. This is just the basic structure – get creative, adapt, revise, expand. You know your yard and what a dream garden looks like for you! I’d recommend grabbing a couple pieces of scrap paper and start jotting notes — an inspiration board and some lists are going to come in really handy.
First, figure out the growing timelines you have to work with. some things you may want to consider:
- What growing zone are you in? Find out here. Remember, you should note the zones slightly above and slightly below your location as well. Plants don’t stick to strict map lines like we’d prefer to think.
- When does the last frost usually occur? Find out here. There are some plants that need to be in the ground before the frost (tubers and bulbs usually), and quite a few that really need to wait until after the frosty months have passed.
- How deep is your frost line? Find out here. The frost line is the deepest point the water in the ground will freeze and displace soil. It’s especially important to know if you’re setting any kind of fencing or posts (think raised beds or rebar for terraced garden walls).
- What does your local planting schedule look like? Find out here for veggies. (Choose your state and scroll down into the colored graphs.) And here for flowers, fruits, trees, and herbs. This is a resource to come back to later, once you’ve decided what you’re going to plant, but used in the planning stages, it might help you avoid plants that won’t flourish in your zone or in months when you know you’ll be too busy to care for seedlings.
List Your Plants
Now think about what kind of garden you want. Do you want to have picked-fresh salads all summer? Do you want to have beautiful blooms to admire from your windows? Do you want a lush, green yardscape that highlights prize plants here and there? I’m building a hybrid of vegetable and herb garden and yardscaping that will have wildflowers for bees, some clearcut pathways and flower beds, and open spaces of grass.
One thing to consider, if you’re interested in an eco-friendly garden, is to choose a high number of native plant species. In Utah, we are the second driest state in the country, and lots of pretty plants are actually invasive species that consume water at much higher rates than native plants. So a lot of my grasses and decorative choices will be based first around plants that are accustomed to our dry climate and hardy enough to make do on low watering.
Draft up a list of all the plants you think you’d like in your yard: native, vegetative, flowering, etc. Start big and whittle back as you learn about each species. Make notes about their full sun or shade designations, their planting timelines, and any plants they do well in proximity to. That will come in handy in the next step.
Design Your Garden
This is my favorite part if I’m honest. Use that scrap paper and draw an outline of your yard. Note high sun, low sun, and shade areas. Note where the existing buildings and pathways are and then go nuts – draw in raised beds, full veggies rows, curvy lush flower beds with edges, dense shade creepers.
Use the notes from your list of plants to outline where some of them might go and what kind of leafy neighbors they’ll have. The sky is the limit! (Seriously – you won’t start cutting back on things until the next step.)
Make a Shopping List
Get more specific as you start to hone in on what kinds of plants you want in your garden, when they are best planted and which ones pair well. Look at their leaf spread, how much space they need between root systems, and start listing counts of different types of plants to purchase. Start researching nurseries in your area and seed companies online. If you’re planning on raising veggies (or other indoor growers) from seedlings, don’t wait much longer – mail-order takes a couple weeks to arrive and you’ll need several weeks to get the indoor growers set up and thriving.
Also, note in your designs where you’ll need:
- construction materials (pre-made beds or all the bits you’d need to build a raised bed or fencing materials)
- planting mats and weed sheeting
- topsoil or fill soil and fertilizer
- pots, tools, garden hoses and watering systems
- and little things like twine, deer netting, and gloves, a hat, or kneeling pad for you
Start adding prices and volume estimates next to each so you have a clear idea of how much this garden will actually cost. From here, you can start adding or paring back as cost and time allows.