Making a plan for your garden is more than just an activity to help get you through a bout of spring fever until it is safe to get to work outside. It helps you to stay organized so you know what you will be sowing, and when… and where it will be going.
You can just make a general plan of where things are going to go, or you can get really specific. Some people get really technical and pull out the graph paper to draw everything to scale. Others garden planning maps are beautiful works of art. I tend to draw a basic map of last years garden to work out what worked and what didn’t. I do this at the same time as I make a rough plan of where the basics are going… so I can change my mind a bit once its time to plant out. Just find what works best for you.
Crop Rotation: You want to make sure you are not planting the same family of plants in the same place year after year after year. This reduces the likely-hood of pests and disease in your soil. It also allows the soil to recover from plants that are heavy feeders (like cucumbers, corn or cabbages), by planting light feeders the following year(s).
Sunlight and Wind/Exposure: By planning ahead, you can place each plant in the most ideal location. In an Urban/Suburban yard, you will probably need to be more aware of how much sun each area gets. Trees in your neighbours yard can shade out your sun loving plants and there is nothing you can do about it. Fences, houses, sheds can all create shade in areas that on paper may be the perfect spot for your heat loving tomatoes. In addition keep in mind the wind in your area. Be prepared to add supports to plants that end up in windy-er areas. Keep sensitive plants away from the wind-tunnel areas of your yard.
Soil: Different areas of your garden can have different soil. I have one area in one bed that just seems to produce rocks. No matter how many times I pick out the rocks, or sieve the soil, the rocks just keep coming. Obviously, I won’t plant a root crop in this spot. You can amend your soil to make it ideal to what you will be growing in it, but keep in mind the natural way your piece of earth gets itself through the year, and try and work with it.
Pests: I have a little black squirrel nemesis, so I tend to keep anything that he would try and steal (like my sunflowers) away from structures that would help him steal my crops. Encouraging beneficial insects to your garden (like lady bugs) will help take care of the less desirable insects. Neighbourhood cats tend to stay away from our yard because of my dogs, But laying chicken wire over freshly dug areas can help keep them out of their ideal litterbox. I try and put up barriers to keep the dogs out of beds when they are not being supervised. Keep a running list in your head of things that may attack your hard earned efforts in the garden, and do your best to prevent that from happening.
Hail: I wanted to add this in with Sun/Wind/Exposure, and also with Pests… But I think it needs its own section. Hail can wreck havoc on your garden. We can get crazy hail storms here, which is why I feel the need to plan ahead specifically for hail. Some plants can easily make it through a beating, like root crops, because they are safely underground. But others will be crushed and you will have to re-sow. If it is too late in the year, you will just have to take the loss. If you are home and are aware of potential hail on the way, you can run out and cover your plants. Save old sheets and have them stashed in a place you can grab them quickly. However, the buildings in your yard can help protect your garden if you are not at home when hail strikes. Keeping tender plants (like tomatoes, peppers, or anything you are really excited about) in areas where the buildings block out the brunt of the hail will save your crops.
Finally, take into account all the things you want to grow, and plan accordingly. Just because a book says you need to rotate a certain crop with another, doesn’t mean you have to grow it. Grow what you want. See what works for you. Don’t grow something you don’t like just because some experts say you should. Work with Mother Nature as much as you can.
One last thing… Remember the length of the season. Around here, snow can hit anywhere between August to June (and sometimes even in July). So be prepared to give your garden some cover if Mother Nature is being particularly moody. And trust that some plants can take the snow just fine.