Design your garden confidently and efficiently to get the most out of your garden space. It’s not hard, and can lead to a beautiful area that you enjoy working in.
I love gardening. There are so many great aspects that can leave you happier and healthier. But success in the garden starts with planning in the dead of winter. Is it absolutely necessary? Probably not. You can fly by the seat of your pants and still have success. But I think that strategy leads to more stress trying to get everything placed out and it also might leave you spending more money than necessary.
There is also something to be said for planning something beautiful while the snow coats the ground. I love dreaming about how I can set my garden up for the coming year. It’s so fun strategizing what plants I want to grow and then how to use the produce. I sit down with a cozy blanket, a cup of cocoa or coffee and settle in.
Where to Start with Designing Your Garden
To start working to design your garden, I like to gather a notebook and some seed catalogs. I also like to have my phone or laptop nearby to search different seed websites.
I love to start with making a list of my goals for the year. What do I want to can and save for food? How much do I want to save? Do I want to have any flowers in the garden? How about trying anything new?
Then I go into how I want my garden to be laid out. And based off of these two main factors (goals and layout) I decide how many of each plant I will most likely need. I always start extra plants, but it’s nice to have a starting place!
What will you actually eat or use?
As you garden more, you will develop a good idea of how much you should save to meet your preserving goals. And your goals might be anywhere from preserving enough to make you an entire year or just enough to supplement your normal grocery bill. It all depends on the time and space you have available.
The key thing, regardless, is to remember to plant things that you will actually eat or use. If you don’t like beets, why would you grow beets? The food will simply go to waste and that garden space will have been wasted.
Plants for your climate
A factor to remember when planning your garden is that you want plants that will be successful in your garden and area.
In South Dakota, I might really want to plant an orange tree. But unfortunately, our climate will just not allow the plant to grow successfully and produce. The same can be true for a good number of garden plants.
It’s also important to remember that your area’s climate is different than your garden zone. Garden zone’s strictly are based off of the temperatures your area can reach. They have nothing to do with your first and last frost dates and therefore nothing to do with how long your growing season is.
My rule of thumb is to look for garden zone recommendations when you look at perennials. For annual plants, you want to pay more attention to the growing season length. You should also watch the reviews or plant description to see if it likes any key environment factors such as hot dry weather or cooler temperatures. These will really help you know whether or not the plant will line up well and prosper with your environment.
Your Garden Layout
I always think the fun part about planting a garden is designing the layout. Deciding where I will most likely put my plants and how I’m going to maximize my garden space is almost like a plant version of Tetris. I’ll be the first to admit though that my plan gets tweaked at planting time. But having something planned ahead of time gives me more confidence going in that I’m going to maximize the space I have available.
Many people who look at garden layouts and designing a garden first think of raised beds. But for the most part, I don’t plant in raised beds. I love having a tilled plot of ground that I can switch up from year to year. That’s the beauty of tilled ground over a raised bed. You can switch up how you have everything designed every year and always work with an open plot.
The no-brainer layout for tilled ground is garden rows. It’s traditionally how agriculture works and it’s also the “recommended” method on the back of your seed packets in many cases. They can work very well and can also allow for great watering strategies using soaker hoses. The other benefit of rows is that you can easily access all the plants from either side of the row.
But, “rules” were meant to be broken in the garden. I still like planting in rows, but there are many cases with different plants were planting in blocks is much more advantageous. You can fit more in a condensed area.
I think garden blocks are some kind of well-kept secret. Essentially, a garden block is just some shape within your garden that is defined. Now, in a rectangular garden, rectangular or square blocks make the most sense based on space saving. But you don’t have to have this shape. You could throw in a triangle in the corner or a circle in the center. It’s all based on the type of plant you’re working with.
For example – I like to plant my onions in a rectangular block. It allows me to more successfully utilize my watering techniques and also allows me to fit more in a smaller area.
Some other plants that work well in blocks are beets, radishes, cabbage, broccoli, and peppers. The last three work well in blocks of two plants wide at least for watering purposes.
I dive into garden blocks and high intensity garden spacing a bit more in this post. I think these concepts really help with decreased weeding and more efficient watering. You can also get more produce from a smaller area, an easy win!
One also should consider plant rotation when working to design your garden. Some people get really into garden rotation factors. Some plants like beans are nitrogen fixers and so are good to follow with plants that require large amounts of nitrogen. Other plants are heavier feeders than some other varieties. And still some other plants can have disease issues if you plant them in the same place within 3 years.
My rule of thumb is to not make this difficult. Every year, I just try to rotate my plants around and give them a new home in the garden. If you are also fertilizing your garden or amending it in some way, garden rotation becomes less important from a nutrient standpoint. If I have a plant that is a heavy feeder, I like to throw that where my beans were the year prior. I also try to just keep my potatoes, tomatoes, and peppers in a different place than they were within the last three years.
These couple of basics will help you have gardening success. Depending on the area you’re gardening in, other tips might be more beneficial. If you’re concerned or are struggling, I highly recommend getting a soil test done so you know what you’re starting point is and if there are any things you can do to improve your soil.
Flowers in the garden
Taking the time to design your garden doesn’t have to just be focused on vegetables! I love to look through annual flower varieties that I can intermingle with my vegetables. The biggest benefit of including flowers in your garden is to attract pollinators to pollinate your vegetables.
But flowers can have another purpose too! They can also deter pests or define a border. This year, I’m hoping to plant a marigold flower border along my garden in hopes of deterring some pests from coming further in to bother the rest of my plants.
Have fun with it!
And that’s pretty much it! Planning a garden doesn’t have to be difficult. Some people get really into it. They focus highly on plant rotation or they take extra time to make beautiful design layouts. You don’t have to do that though to be successful. Just remember that taking the time to plan or design your garden ahead of time isn’t to make it more stressful. It’s to alleviate stress and develop a plan so that you feel more confident going into the growing season. It also allows you plan ahead with which seeds to start and when if you’re wanting to do so.
What are you planning in your garden design for the year? Are some new flowers in the works? Any new vegetable varieties? How about a cool new garden block to maximize space?