We are slowly creeping up on Spring, and it is time to begin preparation for planting the vegetable garden. One of the most useful tools a vegetable gardener can have for that preparation is a garden plan.

What Is a Garden Plan?

In basic terms, it is just how it sounds - a plan for the garden. A garden plan can be documented many ways. It can be written instructions with a hand drawn map, a computer generated map, or a combination of all of these. The important thing is that it IS documented. There is no right or wrong garden plan; you can tailor it to fit whatever needs you have.

Why Do I Need a Garden Plan?

A garden plan is vital in developing methods for a successful garden. By having a plan in place before planting your garden, you have an idea of what you will need. A plan helps to determine the layout of your vegetable garden, such as the size and shape, what vegetables you will grow, how many vegetables you can grow in your garden space, the scope of your garden, and many other factors.

A garden plan ensures the garden is well organized and maximizes space and productivity. No one wants a garden that looks like the Amazon Rainforest. You want the garden to be efficient and easy to maintain.

If you are on a tight garden budget, a garden plan can be vital in determining costs, and create better estimates for your budget. You can estimate plant costs, garden supplies, tools, how much compost, fertilizers, or mulch you may need. A thorough garden plan can go a long way towards getting more bang for the buck.

Just like a carpenter uses a blueprint for guidance while building a house - a garden plan is the gardener's guide towards a plentiful garden.

What Do I Need To Create My Garden Plan?

You can use whatever you have handy. A good ole' fashioned pencil and some paper is just fine. You can use magic markers, crayons, or draw it in the dirt (until it rains, that is). You don't have to go out and buy some expensive computer program or a fancy draft set to draw up a fantastic garden plan.

First Things First

When you begin to plan your garden, the first thing you should ask is "Where will I put my garden?" Of course, you have to have a location. Some folks might not have a very big space to work with, so the choices could be limited, but here are some things to look for when choosing your vegetable garden space:

1. Make sure the garden space is in a sunny location. Most garden plants require at least 6-8 hours of sunlight per day. Some require more - some less, but that is an average. If possible, plant your garden on the southern end of your property. Your plants will receive the maximum amount of direct sunlight during the summer months.

2. Choose a location that drains well. You don't want a garden area that is too soggy; it could accelerate diseases such as root rot among others. You want an area that has well draining soil. If your yard is naturally poor draining, using a raised bed could be a solution.

3. Don't get over your head. If you are just starting your first garden, start out with a small garden and work your way up. If you start out with a gigantic garden, you could become overwhelmed and get frustrated. Try planting just a few, easy plants (such as tomatoes) then gradually add more plants a little at the time.

4. Look at what is surrounding your proposed garden area. I made the mistake once of starting a garden near a huge maple tree. When I planted the garden, the tree had not produced all its leaves, so the garden was in the sun. Once the tree filled out, I had a shade garden and my garden did not do well at all. To add insult to injury, I was plagued by fighting the huge roots from the tree. Also, large vegetation, such as trees, can rob your vegetable plants of water and nutrients. It is wise to make sure your garden is in a good, open area away from anything that can obstruct sunlight.

Be sure to pay attention to your neighbor's yard as well, if your garden will be near a property line. Take into account any trees or structures they have in their yard that may impede on your garden (sheds, trees, shrubs, etc.)

Getting To The Nitty Gritty of Garden Plans

You have the perfect garden area picked out and are ready to get out the tiller and get busy, right? Well, just hang on a minute; we haven't even gotten to the "meat" of the plan.

Next, you should determine whether you will use rows, raised beds, or a plot-style garden.

In row gardens, the plants are planted in straight lines that are parallel with one another. Using a row garden will help to keep the garden organized, but there could be more weeding necessary.

Garden With Rows

A raised bed garden is a garden that is generally one to two feet above ground level. They are constructed using 2×10 or 2×12 lumber to form a box. The box is then filled with a high-quality soil or compost to create a bed. The vegetables are then planted in the bed. One great advantage of raised beds is there is no tilling or plowing involved. One disadvantage is the raised bed usually has very limited space.

A Raised Garden Bed

A plot garden is just that - a small plot (usually square but not always) used to grow your garden. A plot can be one foot by one foot or 100 feet by 20 feet; whatever you have room for.

The plot garden is kind of like the mutt of the gardening system. In a plot garden, you can have rows going one way, while other rows are at 90 degrees. The good thing about a plot garden is you can arrange it to save space for smaller garden areas. A plot can be whatever, however you want it. My gardens are pretty much a plot style garden. Plot gardens are typically a little untidy looking. I use the plot style garden in order to use as much of the space as I can.

Plot Garden

Now, the next thing a vegetable gardener needs to do is formulate the plan. The first step in doing that is determining the actual size of the garden space. For that you will need a tape measure and probably a helper to hold the tape.

Measure the garden space on all sides. The measurements are key in determining how much room you have for your plants. It does not need to be exact - just a good idea of what you have to work with.

Now that you have the garden space measured, you can figure out how many vegetable plants you can fit into your space. For example, if your garden space is 20 feet long, you should be able to plant five tomato plants in one row (if the rows are going long ways).

How did I come up with five tomato plants? I like to leave a lot of space for tomatoes. They tend to become very big plants by the latter part of summer, so I like to have at least four feet between each plant at planting. Therefore, if the tomato plants are four feet apart, you can get five plants on a 20 foot long row. Not every vegetable needs that much room - radishes and carrots can be planted as close as six inches. Some gardeners will say you need a lot of room for particular vegetables, some will say less. It is all personal preference.

How you compile your vegetable list is up to you. That's the great thing about growing your own vegetables - you can grow whatever you like.

I Need a Map!

After you are finished measuring, calculating, and plotting where your plants will be positioned in the garden, it is a good idea to draw up a map. Sorry - TomTom won't help you with this.

The map of your garden doesn't have to be fancy or complicated. It is just a rudimentary idea of how your plants will be placed in the garden. Remember, your garden map is not set in stone; you can even change it when you begin the planting process. If you are like me, you may decide to add or subtract certain plants from your garden when it comes time to plant.

The map is just a guide to help plan your garden. Don't get me wrong though, the garden map can be extremely useful for planning purposes.

As you can see in this map, I have a row of tomatoes at the right, straightneck squash at the top surrounded by radishes (I will explain why the squash are surrounded by radishes in a future post), then carrots, poblano peppers, more radishes, and finally some cucumbers.

Garden Area #1

The next picture is my secondary garden area.

As you can see this garden area #2 will have a row of tomatoes to the right, okra (at the top of the picture), below that are a few radish plants, followed by banana peppers, eggplant and finally zucchini.

Garden Area #2

One thing that I forgot to include on my maps is direction. I know in my mind which way the map is facing in relation to my garden spaces, but it might be a good idea to jot down east, west, north and south on your maps for reference.

My maps are not to scale, like I said - the garden map is just a rudimentary guide to where you will position your vegetable plants in the garden.

So, after gathering all that information, your garden plan should consist of at least four things: the garden location, the style of garden you want to use (rows, raised, plot, container or a combination of several), the garden map, and any other special instructions tailored to your specific needs. Once you determine all these factors, you are well on your way to a successful vegetable garden.

About my garden plan

My garden plan consists of a wish list of what vegetables I intend to grow, the picture garden maps (from above), a hand drawn map (with all the garden measurements and plant spacing jotted down for each plant), and a garden budget. Your plan does not have to include all of these, but they are a good reference to begin with.

Creating a garden plan and map can be a fun, interesting part of the gardening experience. Taking the time to plan and investigate your options before breaking ground can be a life saver when it comes to the growing and harvesting of your vegetables.

Make Gardening Fun and Easy