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Planning a Garden Layout

One thing we love to do in the dead of Winter is to plan the layout of our future garden. We keep ourselves warm with thoughts of soil, sunshine, and the hope of a bountiful harvest. If you are looking to grow or expand your garden this year, now is the time to plan.

Location 

Probably the most important factor in any successful garden is the location. There are some important factors you need to consider when deciding on the location of your garden.

  1. Aspect & Exposure - Which way is South? If you will be planting a garden near your house, the southern side of your property will get the most sun. A garden on the north side of your house may end up shaded by the house itself for most of the day. Most vegetables need 8 to 10 hours of sunlight, so make sure even a south-facing garden is situated away from trees or other obstructions that might prevent those full 8 - 10 hours of sunshine on your garden.
  2. Slope - Ideally your garden should be in an open, flat area to prevent soil and water runoff. If you don’t have a nice flat area, you may need to create some terraces or use raised beds.
  3. Enclosure - Depending on your location, there may be wildlife like deer that would love those green tasty morsels you’ve so painstakingly planted. Make sure that you can provide fencing at least 8 feet tall or find some other way to enclose your garden with netting to keep from losing your harvest to the local fauna.
  4. Water Source - Many vegetables need more water than nature provides, so you want to make sure your garden is located within a convenient distance of a water source.
  5. Space - You’ll want to ensure that your garden will have enough space for the plants you want to grow. If you will be using raised beds, make sure that you can provide enough space between the beds to fit a wheelbarrow for moving dirt and compost. 20-inch wide pathways are a good rule of thumb in a raised bed garden.

Orientation

garden rows

Whether you are using raised beds or planting directly into the soil, most gardens are planted in rows. These rows should be oriented to provide the correct amount of sunlight for your plants. There are a couple of schools of thought concerning which direction your rows should face. Many gardeners believe that rows should be oriented north to south so that shading from taller plants will not affect the other plants. However, it can be argued that orienting rows from east to west will provide the most sun overall.

Generally, you will want taller plants or plants with trellises on the north side of your garden to prevent them from shading your other plants, but you may want to take advantage of some of that shade for vegetables like lettuce that don’t necessarily need a full day’s sun.

Irrigation

As previously mentioned, watering is a key element in growing a successful garden. While you are planning your garden layout, why not consider creating an irrigation system of soaker hoses or drip irrigation? These methods can be more efficient than regular overhead watering.

Plants

The final piece of your garden puzzle is, of course, the plants! Will you be growing vegetables, herbs, flowers, or some of everything? You’ll want to make a list of what you plan to grow and make note of the recommended spacing, water, and light requirements for each variety. It is also important to note which plants work well together and which should not be combined.

Some things to consider when laying out your plantings include:

  1. Height - Be sure to place your taller or trellised plants on the north side of the rows or in an orientation so as not to shade other plants. Alternatively, you can use some of these taller plants to provide shade for delicate plants like greens.
  2. Spread - Vining plants like squash should be planted on the outer edges of your garden so they can spread out without covering other plants.
  3. Perennials - Perennials should have a separate location so that you can rotate most of your garden plants annually. A north-side location is a good option for perennial plants.

Be realistic when choosing your plants. It is easy to become a bit over-enthusiastic about all the interesting plants you could possibly grow, but keep it simple. Plan to plant the varieties you really enjoy and will make use of. Experimentation is fine, but it’s important that you keep it manageable. This way, you won’t create more work than you can handle and you won’t end up with wasted produce.

Write It All Down

seedlings

There can be a lot to keep track of with a garden plan, so write it all down and keep track of those plans. Graph paper is a great option for planning your rows and what plants will be in each one. This will also help create a useful record for next year’s planning and beyond. This reference will help you make adjustments to varieties and locations in future gardens.

Make a calendar for planting. Plants have different lengths of growing seasons so a calendar can be invaluable. Some seeds need to be started indoors, while others can be sown directly into the garden. Knowing your last frost date is important for your planting calendar. Almanac.com has a handy frost date calculator that will tell you the first and last frost dates by zip code.

Keep It Simple

Both new gardeners and experienced gardeners alike can make the mistake of doing too much. Remind yourself that gardens take almost daily maintenance at the peak of the growing season to keep plants pruned, beds free of weeds, and everything well watered and taken care of. Don’t plan a garden that will end up getting out of hand.

Careful and realistic planning now can make your garden a relaxing, enjoyable, and successful venture.

garden layout

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