Though it may still be frosty where you are, it’s the perfect time to get started on a garden plan. Spending a little time planning your garden layout, choosing what plants you want to grow, and what adjustments you’ll need to make to ensure your garden’s success will make your garden easier to manage no matter the season.In this article, we’ll walk you through the basics of creating a garden plan, including what they are, why you should create one, and even include a FREE printable garden plan you can use yourself.
What is a Garden Plan?A garden plan can be simple or complex, thorough or basic. How detailed it needs to be depends on your specific needs—do you have a large space, lots of plants you want to grow, and a space that’s currently pretty wild? You’ll likely need a more complex plan. If your space is already well-kept, small, or you only plan on having a few low-maintenance plants, you can go a little simpler.Regardless, a plan can be a big help. When you take time to plan, you’re more likely to see better quality plants because you’ve optimized their care.
When Should You Start a Garden Plan?When you should start your garden plan depends on a lot of factors, such as whether you plan to garden all year or just for one season. Generally speaking, you should start planning one season ahead to give yourself plenty of time to adjust soil composition, purchase seeds and soil, and so on.If it’s winter right now, you can start planning your spring, summer, and even fall plants. If it’s spring, look toward summer and fall. While many plants can be planted throughout the growing season, it’s tricky to get plants to thrive if you’re trying to cram everything into a couple of weeks. Gardens grow best with time and care—don’t rush it!Be sure to keep all your plans, as well. You can make notes about how plants grew over seasons and use those to plan better in the future. Create a binder for organization or simply save your sheets on your computer, but having a reference point for whether plants thrived or shriveled can help your garden work even better in future seasons.
How to Garden PlanFirst, download our FREE garden plan! We’re going to walk through this plan step by step, using examples so you can see exactly how it works.
Write Down Your GoalsStart by setting some goals for your garden. What are you hoping to get out of your garden? Are you looking for beautiful blooms to scent your backyard? Do you want fresh cuttings to decorate your house? Maybe you want to attract bees and hummingbirds, or you’re hoping to plan a garden so you can make fresh, homemade salsa.For our example, we want a mixture of herbs, vegetables, and edible flowers—things we can use in the kitchen. We’ll write that goal down and move on!
Decide What Plants Go InNow comes the hard part—deciding what you’ll actually plant. When you’re first starting to plan, don’t worry too much about what’s realistic. If you want to grow lemons in Alaska, write it down! We’ll worry about how it works later on.Here’s our example:Notice how we’ve filled out not just what plants we want to grow but also what hardiness zone, soil, and sunlight level they thrive in. This will be important later on.Now that we have a list of things we want to grow (use the extra page of space if the space on page one isn’t enough), it’s time to start narrowing them down. How do we do that?
Find Your Hardiness ZoneYour hardiness zone is a general guideline for temperatures in your region. These temperatures help you decide when to plant seeds, when to harvest, and whether a particular plant will thrive in your region. Note that they are a guideline—if you’re really dedicated to growing lemons in Alaska, it’s not out of the question, but you’ll likely need to move them inside and provide them with grow lights to get it to work.Take a look through your list of plants. See any that won’t grow according to your hardiness zone? Cross them off if you’re not willing or able to make the extra accommodations they need to survive. There’s always next year!In the case of our example, that means we’ll be getting rid of lemons. We’re on the fringes of peonies and avocado, but we’ll give them a shot.
Analyze Your SoilIf you’ve ever wanted to feel like a scientist, analyzing your soil is a great way to do it. Using a little kit you can purchase online or from many home and garden stores, you can test the composition of your soil. These tests usually cover the nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potassium (K), and pH levels of your soil, giving you more insight into what plants will thrive in your garden.Be sure to test all the areas you want to plant. If you’ll be adding soil to the garden, test that as well. Though some soils may include the chemical composition and pH level on the bag, it never hurts to double-check.Make a note of the chemical composition and pH levels throughout your garden, and compare them to the needs of the plants on your list. We’ve only noted pH because it’s more relevant across the board, but you can also use the soil space to note if a plant has specific nutrient needs.Chemical composition can be changed, but it will require adding compost or other materials to your soil. If you’re not willing or able to do that throughout the growing season and just want to work with what you have, cross plants that don’t fit that profile off of your list.
Check Your LightLight, water, and nutrients are the magic components needed to grow your garden. If you’re missing one, your plants won’t thrive—the most perfectly composed soil and a dedicated irrigation system won’t help your tomatoes if they’re not getting any light.Take a look at your yard throughout a full day. Keep track of what places get six or more hours of sun per day—those are “full sun.” If you’re planting vegetables, opt more for eight or ten hours of sun to qualify as “full sun.”“Partial sun” and “partial shade” mean a plant needs between three and six hours of sun per day. “Partial sun” means the plant is likely more heat tolerant and “partial shade” tends to mean that afternoon sun is likely too harsh.“Shade” plants can thrive in areas with dappled sunlight. Few will grow well in deep shade—if you’re unsure, search online to find more detailed information about what a given plant prefers.Once you have all that information about where you can expect sunlight in your backyard, take another look at your list. You can grow full-sun plants in partial sun, but you’ll need to leave extra space for them to spread out to maximize what they do get. If your space tends more toward the shady side, do some research into what plants can grow with less light and consider swapping them out.If you’re struggling with a shady space, consider doing some indoor gardening with grow lights. You may be surprised by how much reward you can get from indoor gardening—fruits, vegetables, and flowers are all possible!
How to Plan Your Garden LayoutYou have your plants figured out and what they’ll need to thrive. But now comes another question: where do you put them all?The next section of the garden planner is our placement plan. Sketch out your garden, using the grid to outline your square footage of plantable space, using a colored pencil or marker to show the areas that get full or partial sun.Once your ideal spaces are identified, take a look back through your list of plants. Which ones need the sunniest spots? Which ones are more shade tolerant? Does your soil composition meet their needs? Draw them in where appropriate, but make note of their space requirements as well, particularly if you’re growing vegetables in a partial-sun space. Work in pencil so you can make adjustments as needed.Also look into companion gardening, which allows you to put plants that grow well together, such as by repelling pests. This also works in reverse—though tomatoes work well with basil, they don’t work with fennel or dill. You’ll likely have to do some rearranging, but carefully arranging your garden will result in better-quality yields!In the case of our example, we were able to get a lot of the plants we wanted, but not all of them, into our space. With some rearranging and potting we could likely get more, but this is a good starting point.
How to Plan Garden IrrigationIf you’re adding an irrigation system to the mix rather than watering by hand, there are some additional considerations. Try to group plants with similar water requirements near one another so you’re not wasting water—or overwatering—plants that don’t need it.Also look into different types of irrigation. Drip irrigation is a more expensive but less wasteful method, and rainwater or greywater collection is an eco-friendly alternative that may be a bit more work for the user. Consider all the different methods as you’re designing your garden irrigation system to find the one that works best for you and your space.If you’re installing timers, sensors, multiple valves, or other equipment, consult with a professional service like Transblue to ensure you follow all rules and regulations and that your garden will be safe and productive.
Garden Plan IdeasWhen you’re just starting out as a gardener, you may find that you’re not sure how to make your garden really stand out. Sure, you could just place every plant in a nice square arrangement, but maybe you want something a little fancier.In that case, you’ll want to look into garden planning inspiration. Depending on what kind of space you’re looking to design, you could hire a professional like Transblue to perform a complete overhaul of your backyard or simply add some raised beds and DIY projects.First, decide exactly what you’re looking for. Do you want an atmosphere of luxury, with exotic plants, beautiful design, and a dedicated irrigation system? Then you may want to hire a pro. If you simply want your garden to look more intentional, try searching online for exactly what you’re looking for—small space garden design, for example, or pretty vegetable garden. The wonderful thing about gardening is that your spaces can be both beautiful and functional with a little planning.You may also look at sites like Pinterest for inspiration, as many Pinterest users share tips and photos for inspired gardening. This can be as simple as using colorful containers to as complex as turning your whole backyard into a natural meadow—it depends on how far you want to go.Local resources, such as college websites, clubs, and groups, can also be wonderful for learning new tricks and better understanding of how things grow in your region. Getting in touch with local people is great for inspiration, and you may even make a few friends along the way.
Need help designing your perfect garden? Let Transblue do the hard work for you so you can focus on the important parts—actually gardening! Contact the franchise nearest you to learn more about our many backyard renovation services.
Melissa Brinks is part of Transblue’s marketing team. She enjoys relaxing outside with her dog and an ice-cold can of Cran-Raspberry La Croix.