The days are getting longer (if not warmer) and even though the snow is still flying all across the country, it’s high-time to begin the real work of gardening! We’ve already covered our favorite seed catalogs and some new and existing garden considerations. Now it’s time to get into the nitty-gritty details and start putting a plan to paper! Or perhaps computer, as you’ll see. Read on to learn about some helpful tools we’ve used and recommend to make this year’s garden plan the most ambitious and successful yet!
The Spectre of 2020
It’s imperative every year to not wait to the last minute to order your supplies, but, before we dive in too far, we would be remiss not to mention that this year is going to pose even bigger challenges for the entire horticulture industry. The pandemic that begun in 2020 continues to rage, and we are continuing to feel the effects of that. In our industry, no where is that more clear than the strain on supply chains. Production of product and raw materials has been seriously restricted and demand is HISTORICALLY SKY HIGH! We at Greenhouse Megastore have been busy doing absolutely everything we can to make sure we have the right products at the right time, but we definitely foresee shortages and long lead times for many items, even common and mundane supplies.
As such, we absolutely cannot implore you enough; if you want to ensure you have the supplies you need for the 2021 growing season, buy them now. Like, RIGHT NOW. We will continue to communicate this message through late winter, but it’s very likely by the time spring really hits, so too will the supply crunch. There’s nothing we’d hate more than to have growers hamstrung by product being unavailable. Please, consider this your warning. Ok, now for the fun stuff!
What Exactly are You Planning?
Before you’re able to jump in and start planning though, you need to determine what it is exactly that you are planning in the first place. Obviously if it’s your first garden there probably isn’t a whole lot to plan, but you would be wrong to think there is nothing to plan. For instance, in the middle of summer you’ll be sorry if you planted anything within about 3 or 4 feet of your zucchini plants, trust me!
If you’re a veteran, you might be considering things like a spring or fall garden using season extending techniques. Or, you might be trying to maximize production with succession plantings. Maybe you just want to put in a cobblestone path and some bed borders, or make sure your not planting in the same place every year. No matter what it is that you intend to do in the upcoming season, having it thought out and saved for reference is key to your success!
Our Favorite Garden Planning Tools
Pencil and Graph Paper
Really the tried and true method, and the one we’d most recommend if you’ve never put down a garden plan before, is just simple pencil and graph paper. It’s simple, portable, and very versatile. The squares can be scaled to whatever dimension you need, and it really gives you a great visual idea of what your final layout is going to look like.
One drawback of pencil and paper though is that, without adequate experience or reading (and adhering to) seed packet recommendations, you don’t have a great idea what the final size of any given plant is going to be. That makes it possible to space plants too close together when they are young so that they are crowded when they mature. As a rule, your garden should look pretty sparse when it’s young. Don’t worry, it’ll grow!
Another planning tool that I’ve used and like is a spreadsheet program, be it Excel or Google Sheets. These are nice because you can run formulas in the cells. For example, if you’re planting a succession planting and you plant beans on May 12th and they take 70 days to mature, then you can run a formula in another cell that displays what date to plant your bean follow-up crop. You can color code, run logic, and so much more. And, you can save these from year to year so you can compare and plan things such as crop rotation.
The drawback to spreadsheets is that they are not visual. It’s possible for you to make them visual, by using the cells in much the same way you might the squares on graph paper, but that’s a step to far for many people. Overall, I’d say spreadsheets are an advanced planning method, and maybe work best paired with something graphical that you can see and feel.
Mother Earth Planner
Our favorite garden planner isn’t free. It’s $40 for a year or $29 with a recurring yearly subscription. However, it’s affordable enough and the benefits it offers greatly outweigh that cost. The Mother Earth News Garden Planner (co-branded as a variety of other names as well) is an incredible tool for those gardeners wanting to have a better idea of how much space to allow, who want to plan succession crops, or are trying to remember what crops were planted where from year to year.
This isn’t an in-depth tutorial, but this Garden Planner makes it easy enough. You simply enter your garden size and start building any beds or hardscapes you might have. Then select plants from the toolbar and drop them in the bed. The Planner accounts for mature size and gives you helpful tips on when to sow, how long till harvest, and much more. If succession planting is your thing, you can even plan every single one of your turns in the garden and see how the garden changes throughout the growing season. You’ll easily be able to spot empty spots to fill, crowding, or double booked garden space.
If you save your plan and use the Planner again next year, then it will remember the locations of your plants and warn you that you planted the same crop in the same place. This planner even has stone path and greenhouse textures for you to apply and use, so your planning can be as complex or simple as you want.
Lastly, the Planner features a huge variety of plants to choose from. Every major vegetable crop, flower, and even fruit tree is available. Want to plan a windbreak with evergreen shrubs? Got it. Planning out a new orchard. Yup, got that too. You’ll find it fun and entertaining just to plan gardens that you’ll never plant, and it makes planning the one you will plant even more rewarding.
Also check out this article for more ideas, including some mobile apps. We’ve tried several on this list, but always come back to the Mother Earth Garden Planner. What planners do you use? Let us know what you use in the comments below!