Thursday, March 21, 2013

9 Steps to Planning a Perfect Garden

Sun Sculpture hanging from tree with Blossoms in Background
Springtime Joy in the Garden

Method by Robin

It’s officially spring, and sometime between early April and late May, folks in the 48 contiguous states will start preparing their gardens. Soon we’ll be digging the beds, removing the weeds, and amending the soil—or preparing the containers. Then we’ll be planting the seeds or seedlings, slug/bug-proofing, watering, fertilizing, and mulching. And later, feasting on our harvest. But first, for a productive growing season filled with just enough of the veggies that we love without overworking ourselves, it’s best to do some planning. Here are some tips for looking at your space, time, energy, and budget before you start planting.

Closeup of Persian mint in yard
Garden Perennial Persian Mint has Just Reappeared
9 Steps to Planning a Perfect Garden

1. Start small. It’s tempting to want to plant a large variety of things, so remember that upkeep is more work than planting. Most plants require regular watering, weeding, and fertilizing. Some may need to have suckers trimmed or be trained to climb strings. Harvesting can also be time consuming, for example if you have 11 tomato plants (as I found out last year).

2. Figure out where you have space to garden, and observe how much sun the area gets. This will help you to determine which plants are best suited to your potential garden plot/s. For most veggies, a sunny place protected from the wind is best. You might have several places in mind. Choose the best place to start (step 6) and complete that plot before starting another.

Forget Me Nots growing in yard
Forget Me Nots: Easy Care Perennials
3. Decide which garden plants you’d like to grow. Some questions to ask: Does homegrown taste noticeably better than commercial (tomatoes for example)? Do I have a good source for this, like a farmers’ market, already? Is it expensive or cheap at the market? Do I have a favorite veggie that I’d like to eat almost every day, or an herb I’d like to pick spontaneously? Or a favorite flower that I can’t find in the store? You could also check out my top 12 easy-care plants list.

4. Hinted at in step 3: consider flowers as well as veggies. Many draw bees, which will pollinate your veggies and produce larger harvests. Poppies (culinary and ornamental), cosmos, zinnias, and nigella (love in a mist) are easy to grow. Alyssum can be used for decorative scented borders. Calendulas, nasturiums, and borage are edible and add interest to salads, but be aware that the latter two can spread quite a bit.

Last Year's Pumpkins Smashed in Yard
Pumpkins & Squash Reseed Easily
5. Research the conditions and care needed for the plants you’ve identified. Check with gardener friends, garden supply stores, and/or suppliers on the internet. Is it easy or harder to grow?  How much sun will it need? How much water and care will it require during the growing season? How forgiving is it if you forget to water? Are any of these plants perennials or reseeding annuals? If so take into account that they’ll likely become a permanent part of your landscape.

6. Now that you’ve narrowed down the plant varieties that you like, assess which will fit into your available garden space from step 2. Consider both amount of sun and amount of space each variety needs. If a plant has high nutrient needs, or needs significantly unlike the soil that you have, are you willing to put time, effort, and money into soil amendments? If not, choose a less finicky plant.

Barrel with Reseeding Poppies
Culinary Poppies Reseeding in Planter
7. Consider your ideal total number of plants as well as the variety of plants. Make an educated guess as to the amount of time you have available to water, weed, fertilize, and harvest. Too many plants can make a gardener quite grumpy (just ask my husband). Also, consider plant quantity in terms of cash investment (step 8).

8. Find out the approximate price of soil amendments, mulch, and fertilizer, and estimate the amount needed for the whole season. Price out containers, tomato cages, etc., as well as any garden tools and gloves you’ll need. Add in the estimated cost of the plants (usually minimal compared with other stuff). This will give you a good idea of how much to budget for the garden. You might also want to factor in water usage, and how much money you’ll be saving on veggies at harvest time to estimate your cash flow.

Apple Tree Blossoms
Fruit Trees: Subject for Future Post
9. Consider containers. A container garden is easier to plant and slug-proof, requires less soil, and has the advantage of being able to relocate if you didn’t judge the light conditions quite right. More varieties of container-friendly plants are available every year. Containers require more watering and fertilizing during the growing season, which can add up to a surprising amount of work. On the other hand, containers are suitable for small spaces and can be attractive yard or patio decor.

Got some ideas about what to plant this year? Leave us a comment and let us know!


  1. I loved your post this morning and your pictures. I'm enjoying my first forays into gardening this season, planting the containers and herbs. I love getting out into the dirt and sunshine. Watching the birdies gather materials to build their nests is fun too.

    Thanks for sharing!!

    1. Glad that you liked the post, Mira. My husband is in process of building and planting a "Square Foot" (AKA "French Intensive") raised bed, I'll be posting about that sometime in April.

  2. Planning a garden can be a bit overwhelming, mostly walking through the gardening store and seeing all the different varieties of flowers, vegetables, shrubs, etc. Then you find out that different plants grow at different times of the year which could affect the way your garden looks in the Summer opposed to Autumn, Spring, or even Winter.