Garden Planning

There’s not much to be done in the garden in February, at least not here in zone 4. But as the days lengthen and the sun comes out from hiding, I just want to do something – anything – garden related. Houseplants certainly help in the grey winter months, and seed shopping is fun. But my favorite thing to do this time of year is pulling out some graph paper, colored pencils, and my seed collection and planning the coming garden. I am never quite so optimistic about the garden as I am in February. Long forgotten are the fails and woes of the previous summer. Hope is ripe, energy abounds. “This will be the year,” I tell myself. 

Maybe graph paper and colored pencils don’t excite you. There are many different methods to planning your garden from very simple to more complex. However you choose to plan your garden, this is the time to dream; to explore new possibilities. Whether or not you feel artistically inclined, I would really encourage you to get your ideas and plans out onto paper in some way, shape, or form.


Before you plan your garden, there are a few questions you should take into consideration.

How much space do you have?

Whether you’re growing in raised beds, containers, or in ground, you’ll want to have measurements of your growing space if you want to be precise about the number of plants you’ll be able to grow.

How much sun does your garden receive?

Most things in the vegetable garden will need 6-8 hours of sunlight a day at a minimum to thrive. If you have a shadier location, there are certain things you can plant that will do well there, such as greens. In a full sun location, you’ll want to grow plants that can tolerate the heat. 

Here is a resource you can use if you want to really hone in on the amount of sunlight your garden is receiving. This can be especially helpful if you are deciding where to place a new garden bed.

How much time do you have?

Gardening requires an investment of time and energy. If you are in a busy season of life, you may need to scale down your gardening operation to something you can manage with the time that you have. You also might choose to grow things that will require less maintenance like staking and pruning. 

Are you direct-sowing, starting indoors, or buying started plants?

If you plan to start seedlings indoors, you’ll need to plan ahead several weeks more than if you’ll be buying started plants from the nursery. 

What do you like to eat?

One of the more important considerations! You should grow things that you and your family will actually consume. 

Are you growing for fresh eating or preservation?

If you’re growing just for fresh eating, you’ll want to stagger your plantings  or limit the amount you sow so that you don’t end up with too much of one crop at one time. On the other hand, if you’re growing for preservation you’ll want to grow enough so that you can do so, and also be prepared with the equipment, recipes, and methods to be able to know what to do with the harvest when it comes. 

What are your goals?

Are you growing a garden for beauty, food production, knowledge, enjoyment? Your goals for your garden year will directly impact what you decide to grow. Often I want more than one, or even all of the above! But I need to set a priority in order to succeed, otherwise I just start throwing seeds and plants in everywhere. Decide what your main goal is for your garden this year. Having this goal in mind will help you when deciding what to plant.

What is your growing season like?

A simple Google search will give you the first and last frost dates in your area, with the amount of days in between those dates being the length of your growing season. If you’re new to an area, asking a local garden center about your growing season is a great place to start. Often they will have a wealth of information for you.

There are some plants that can tolerate frosts to varying degrees, but a lot of your main season plants will need to reach maturity in your growing season if you want a harvest. Most seed packets will have all of this information available to you. Look for something that says “days to maturity.” If you have that many days or more left in your growing season, you have time to grow that seed. 

Most seed packets will also help you determine whether you’ll need to start that seed indoors before transplanting, or whether to direct sow it and when. If your particular seed packet is lacking in information, simply Google search the variety and you should be able to pull up the information you need.

What varieties do well in your area?

This is something that has taken me all of my years of gardening up until this point to figure out. It is easy to get distracted by all of the beautiful seed catalogs, especially this time of year, and want to grow and try everything. And there is definitely room for experimentation. But I am finding that I am most successful when I grow tried and true varieties that are meant for my growing season. Ask local to you gardeners and garden centers what their favorite varieties are. If you can get some seeds someone has saved themselves, even better. 

Step by step

Find first and last frost dates

Go to Google or Farmers Almanac and type in the city nearest to you to find out your first and last frost dates. Write these down or put them in your calendar, these are important! It is also important to note that these are only predictions based on past years’ temperatures, so they will not be 100% accurate. You’ll still need to watch your 10 day forecast before planting out any frost-tender seedlings. 

Decide what you will plant, how many of each variety, and how you will sow 

Here comes the fun part! Based on your answers to the above questions, you can narrow it down to what you actually want to grow. Decide which varieties you want to grow, purchase seeds if you need to, and write out all varieties. Next, write down how many of each variety you will be growing. If you are growing from seed, you’ll want to look again to your seed packet and check out the spacing requirements to see how many plants you can grow in a given area. Also record whether you plan to direct sow or start indoors next to each variety.

Draw it out or write it down

This is when I like to pull out all of the seeds I plan on growing, my graph paper and colored pencils, and map it all out. The visual representation really helps me to decide what I want to grow where. I will draw out all of my garden beds to some sort of scale so that I can see what kind of spacing I will need between each plant and how many of each thing I can grow. It also helps me determine what supplies I need to purchase to be ready for seed starting.

After it’s all drawn out, count backwards to determine when to start what, and write down start dates, transplant dates, and direct-sow dates on the calendar and next to each variety. It can be helpful to have a specific calendar just for gardening to keep track of all these dates, or simply print off a few calendars for the months of your growing season.

This would be a great time to make a list of all the supplies that you need for seed starting, and get those things ordered and ready before it’s time to start those first seeds. You may also want to inventory, clean, and organize the supplies you already have.

I know that my excitement is building for the coming gardening season, and planning and sketching and getting prepared always helps hold me off for a few more weeks until I can actually get started! I hope you all are looking forward to it as well, I would love to see your garden plans! Come and hang out with me over on instagram @vine.and.harvest where I’ll have lots more gardening content to come!

Until next time,



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