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How to plan a garden

Ferry-Morse Home Gardening Blog | December 2021

Closeup of a person using colored pencils and paper to draw a garden plan

Closeup of a person using colored pencils and paper to draw a garden plan

A garden in the spring sounds nice, but where to start?

Well, the first step is to create a plan. It's a fun and simple activity that's an escape from the cold and dormancy of winter, allowing you to dream of all that's possible for the next growing season.

And check this out, a garden plan is a worthwhile endeavor for all garden types. It doesn't matter if you have a balcony, patio, a suburban lot, porch, an acre or two, or even a sunny window.  

In this article, we'll cover the essentials of creating a garden plan by going through a series of questions to help you lay it all out. So, let’s get started!

Why do you want to grow a garden?

Take a moment to think about your goals.

Would you like to grow vegetables to supplement your family's groceries? Or, are you aiming for a low-maintenance garden of adapted and native plants that survive on rainfall with little care?

Are you adding pops of color around existing trees? Or, maybe you want to accentuate the gentle curves of your front yard with drifts of flowers. You may even want a specialty garden, such as an herb, salsa, or small mixology garden. 

Whatever your reason, you should plan a garden that aligns with your goals because it will make your gardening experience more fulfilling and pleasurable.

A gardener using blue-handled scissors to harvest a pepper from a pepper plant

A gardener using blue-handled scissors to harvest a pepper from a pepper plant

How much time do you have to work in the garden?

Think about your daily schedule and how much time you will have to attend to the needs of different plants, such as watering, fertilizing, and controlling pests.

On the other hand, perhaps you should also consider carving out some "me" time in your schedule to take advantage of the physical, cognitive, and therapeutic benefits of gardening. It's something we all need, right?

What is your level of expertise?

We recommend matching the size and diversity of your garden to your level of expertise. After all, you'll want to enjoy your gardening experience, not be overwhelmed by it. 

And trust us, we acknowledge that limiting the number of varieties to what we can handle realistically is often the most contemplative part of garden planning. There are just so many gorgeous plants we want to try.

For beginners primarily, garden plans usually work best by focusing on only a few varieties instead of all the plants one might want to grow. 

Regard giving yourself time and grace to slowly increase the number of plants and difficulty level a chance to allow your confidence, experience, and horticultural knowledge to put down roots and bloom.  The last time we checked, there's absolutely no need for it to happen all at once. 

Vegetable gardens of Villandry Castle in France

Vegetable gardens of Villandry Castle in France

Who will benefit from the garden's produce?

It's worth it to spend some time comparing the size of your family and their likes and dislikes to your selections to determine which varieties will work best.

You also might want to think about any food or pollen allergies to guide your planning. And another important contemplation is the proximity of poisonous plants to pets.

Also, consider asking your family to help out with gardening chores. It's a great bonding and learning activity the whole family can enjoy, providing lots of fresh air and exercise. 

Do you have enough space?

Some of our gardens are limited by our available space.

For example, an in-ground garden isn't possible on an apartment's balcony. And even if you have a lot of space (like a couple of acres), you still might not want to till a large garden due to the level of ongoing maintenance it will require.

Another question to ask is, can you accommodate each plant's growth habits? A measuring tape will help because the size of the garden must be able to accommodate each plant's height and spread. After all, you wouldn't want squash vines to swallow your herbs!

So you might be wondering how to know if you have enough space. Well, here's just the thing you need—a handy calculator to help you determine your garden’s size. Pretty cool, right? So please give it a go and let us know what you think in the comments.

Bench in an overgrown garden of tall flowering plants

Bench in an overgrown garden of tall flowering plants

What do you have to work with?

Before embarking on any project, it's good to inventory what you already have—for a garden project especially.

You might have fragrant flowers around which you can expand into a more robust garden design. Or, trees and shrubs in street-facing flowerbeds could do with shorter plants in front to hide their woody "legs" in a companion-planting scheme focused on aesthetics.

And consider this: If you have a mix of living, old, and dead plants, your plan might involve removing and relocating plants to achieve your desired garden. Some lovely plants might need more light and air, flourishing beautifully after implementing your plan.

We recommend spending a little time accounting for supplies, features, established plants, other factors, and other resources you may already have. Taking an inventory will help you determine your budget and whether you want to install new plants, how many to install, and where to install them.

A gardener taking an inventory of her plants at home

A gardener taking an inventory of her plants at home

What varieties perform best in your growing zone?

Researching varieties that succeed in your growing zone during the planning process could save you a lot of unnecessary work and heartbreak later. For example, certain pests pervade some zones, seriously affecting attempts to grow their targeted varieties successfully.

We encourage you to find out what grows well in your region, which involves reading seed packets, reaching out to the friendly folks at your local agricultural extension office, as well as finding out your zone's first and last frost dates

And the best part is that we're also available to help via our Gardener's Helpline®. So, please reach out if you need guidance and advice.

What are each crops' nutrient requirements (heavy, medium, or light feeders)?

Knowing each plant's nutrient requirements in advance will help you see if you'll need to amend your soil, how much time you'll need to spend fertilizing your plants, and what fertilizer and amendments to use, as well as how to arrange them according to feeding requirements.

A gardener preparing a plant nutrient mix in a watering can

A gardener preparing a plant nutrient mix in a watering can

What's your budget?

Ah, the good old bottom line—always have to keep that in mind. But check this out: Gardening is not an expensive hobby. So, let's learn more about the things you'll probably have to purchase.

Costs you'll need to consider are seeds, seed-starting trays, and supplies for pest control, compost, amendments, fertilizer, and essential tools. If you plan to buy containers or build raised beds, then figure those up-front costs in as well.

And there's no reason why you can't save a few bucks by being creative, like converting a plastic pool into a container garden. So with that in mind, please let us know your budget-friendly ideas below in the comments.

Free and inexpensive gardening supplies and resources

Some municipalities give away compost and mulch, and some libraries have seed exchanges. Also, dollar stores carry essential tools and supplies at low prices anyone can afford.

Most supplies can get you through one growing season, if not more. So, please don't think you'll have to replenish them every week or month. The good news is that a garden is entirely doable on a modest budget, especially if you plant varieties suited to your growing zone.

A gardener arranging potted plants in a budget-friendly patio garden

A gardener arranging potted plants in a budget-friendly patio garden

Don't forget to enjoy the planning process

We hope the information we provided helps you realize the pure joy and excitement of planning a garden. We think it's a lot of fun and we hope you will too.

However, if it seems like planning a garden is overwhelming, we’d like to reassure you that it’s one of the best ways to use your gardening imagination during the cold dormancy of winter. And the best part is, our garden planner can help you organize your thoughts and layout—keeping them all in one place. 

Other options for drawing a garden plan include apps, graph paper, plain sheets of paper, colored pencils, or even a dry-erase whiteboard. Consider visiting your local botanic garden or master gardeners' community demonstration garden for inspiration. 

And as always, we're here to help.

A well-planned patio garden with a water feature

A well-planned patio garden with a water feature

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