Spring is officially here, and so it is time to start thinking about your outdoor garden. Even though the ground may still be frozen, planning for your spring planting now will make sure that you are successful in your gardening this year.

Deciding what to plant is one of the first things you will need to consider. What do you want to eat this season? Though this may seem like a simple question, it is one of the most important things you can ask yourself because there is no point in wasting time and energy nurturing vegetables you aren't going to eat.

Once you figure that out, you need to determine when your chosen veggies need to be planted. Most vegetables can be divided into two main crop seasons: cool-season plants and warm-season plants. Plants like lettuce and broccoli are hearty and can handle cooler temperatures, so they can be planted once the ground is thawed enough to till. Many of these plants also tend to yield multiple crops. Root plants, like radishes, turnips, beets, and carrots, and leafy plants, like cabbage, lettuce, and spinach, will all continue to produce throughout the full growing season.

Warmer-season plants will easily be killed off by an unexpected frost, so leave plants like herbs and tomatoes inside until you are sure that the cold has passed. These plants also require some preparation. Many gardeners suggest starting warmer-weather seeds and small plants indoors so that they have time to grow and become heartier before they are tested by the elements.

This is also a great time to test seeds from previous seasons in order to determine if they are still viable. You don't want to take up room in your garden by planting seeds that are unable to produce. You can test them simply by folding ten seeds into a moist paper towel. Place the towel in a bag and see how they germinate. If seven or more germinate, the seeds are still good. If less than four do, there is a good chance they will lead to an unfruitful harvest.

Another great tool to aid your planting is the Zone Map. This map can help predict frost dates and soil temperature based on the area. Michigan, for example, is a 6b zone, which means that the best planting occurs between the first and last frost. This is also a better place to plant cool-weather crops, and leave the warm-weather crops until further into the season, when the risk of weather below 40 degrees is less likely.

Another thing to consider when deciding what to plant is how much space each plant will need. You want to be careful not to plant crops to close together, and to carefully follow the planting instruction on the seeding plants so that you don't hamper growth. Plants that are placed too closely together can severely suffer from insufficient light and other nutrients.

After your have followed all these steps, go out and purchase you plants and seeds. In part two, we will help you determine where each plant should go, and how to draw out a garden map.

Image courtesy Grand Canyon National Park, hosted on Wikimedia Commons