Mapping out your garden before you plant it is a crucial step that sometimes gets overlooked. It is a good idea to sketch out your garden on graph paper as close to scale as possible. This will allow you to get the most out of the space you have, something that is essential for those who are limited to smaller plots.
Before your can do this, however, you need to choose a location.

The first thing to consider is light exposure. ”Full-sun” plants, which most vegetables are, need at least six hours of sun daily. So pick a place away from trees or other looming objects that might shade them and prevent this. Most people who have previously planted a garden already know the sunniest spots, but don’t assume that where you planted last year is still the optimal location. Thinking about what worked and (most importantly) what didn’t in last season’s harvest can help you reassess your location decision.

Once you have chosen a location, think about the amount of room you have in relation to the vegetables you want to grow. You need to consider the size that each plant will reach at maturity to ensure that they have enough to thrive. Some plants, like tomatoes, may require a smaller amount of space because they grow vertically. But, in this case, the height of these plants may shade other vegetables that grow closer to the ground.

Also, when considering what to plant where, it is important to think about whether the plant is an annual or a perennial. Those that need to be replaced yearly should be planted away from those that will continue to grow. This separation will help perennials create deeper roots and remain undisturbed by the extra tilling, weeding, and other maintenance required when preparing annual beds. Similarly, if you are planting both cool-season and warm-season crops, make sure to leave room for planting later on.

The last thing to think about is design. Will you be planting in-ground or in raised beds? Will you be row cropping or intensive cropping? Raised beds are best if the area has bad soil, so you will need to bring in your own. Raised beds also offer more perimeter controlled, preventing plants from spreading outside your garden limits. Row cropping is the most well-known planting style. This is where seeds are placed in perfect rows with extra space around for you to walk between. Though this is great for larger vegetable gardens, it takes up a lot of space. Many at-home gardeners benefit from intensive cropping instead. This means that you place plants, one at a time, in a spot that will allow them to flourish, but without paths, or extra space. This also creates a more cohesive, aesthetically pleasing garden.

No matter what you choose, creating a physical plan before you plant will make your garden more fruitful, and help it reach its full potential.

In the next part, we will talk about preparing, and finally planting your space.