Admittedly I feel a bit silly writing about gardening right now as my beds are literally under about 6″ of snow… but I am SO ready to get my hands dirty that I simply cannot wait! I’ve been biding my time indoors, planning the garden for it’s second year in the meantime. A beautiful garden can be a source of joy, relaxation, and (especially) food. But I’m often asked where to start when it comes to planning a garden from scratch? With these simple steps, you can create a garden that is both functional and aesthetically pleasing. I’ve also sprinkled in tips based on what I learned last year!
An Overview on How To Plan a Vegetable Garden
When it was time for me to plan my vegetable garden last year, I was SO overwhelmed. I had no idea where to even start. Looking back, I feel like creating a garden from scratch can be broken down into 5 key steps. While some of these steps are bigger and more involved than others, looking at it this way REALLY helped me to figure things out for our own garden — and I hope they help you, too!
Assess Your Growing Conditions
Now is the time to set yourself up for success in your garden! Before you start choosing plants and designing your garden layout, it’s important to assess the growing conditions of your region. I highly recommend looking up your growing zone with the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map. This is the most straightforward way to know what you can successfully (typically) grow!
Once you know your zone, take note of how much sunlight your garden receives throughout the day and which areas are shaded. Before we started the garden, I watched the front yard for a full year to determine what the exposure would be like! The amount of sunlight will determine which plants will thrive in each location. For example, I always plant my tomatoes in an area that I know gets 8+ hours of sunlight per day.
Additionally, consider the type of soil you have: is it sandy, loamy or clay-like? There are tests you can do, but I prefer to just chat with a local plant nursery. Different plants grow better in different types of soil so it’s important to choose plants that are suited to your specific soil type. You can always amend your soil, but, to me, that’s just more work than I am ready to do usually!
Lastly, pay attention to the climate in your area as this will also have an impact on which plants will grow well in your garden. For example, I desperately want to grow melons, but they typically need a long season (at least 110 days) to grow… and our colder temps usually arrive before then! I still have hope that I’ll grow melons one day… but I suspect that I’ll have to invest in a greenhouse to do so (that is a conversation for another day). Essentially, once you have assessed these factors, you can make informed decisions about what to plant and where to plant it, ensuring a successful and thriving garden.
Decide on the Style and Purpose of Your Garden
The first step in planning any sort of garden is to decide on the style and purpose of your space. For example, will your garden be a place to relax and enjoy nature or will it be a productive space for growing food? Do you want a formal, manicured look or a more relaxed, natural feel? One question I considered was if I wanted to have year-round use of my garden or if it would simply be a spring and summer hobby.
The big thing is to consider how you want to use your garden and what style will best achieve that goal. This will help you determine where to place different elements such as seating areas, paths, and planting beds. It even has helped me figure out where I want to store my gardening tools.
Keep in mind that the style of your garden should also complement the architecture of your home and surrounding landscape. For us, that meant making garden beds with rough-hewn off-cut pieces from a local cedar mill for a more cabin aesthetic. I am ok with a more rustic style, given that we’re literally in the forest. Eventually, I plan to make it a bit more of a cottage aesthetic by adding pea gravel paths, a fountain, and solar lighting.
You might also enjoy:
My Perfectly Imperfect Zone 8B Garden Tour from last year!
Create a Site Plan and Choose Your Plants
After assessing the growing conditions of your allotted garden space, it’s time to create a site plan. Draw or sketch out the dimensions of your garden on paper and divide it into different sections based on how much sunlight each area receives. Next, make a list of what you want to grow and how much space each plant needs. The seed packet will tell you. This will help you decide which plants to place where in order to maximize their growth potential.
You’re probably wondering how I keep all of this info straight in my head… this is where my gardening journal comes in handy! When I was initially planning my garden, I busted out the old graph paper, ruler, and mechanical pencil to literally map out the garden. That includes every single raised bed, allotting space for the pathways (I went with 3′ so there’s room for my wagon and wheelbarrow!), and even future plans for a mini orchard. Let me know if you want me to do a full post all about my gardening journal!
Prepare Your Soil and Plant Your Garden
Now that you’ve created a site plan and selected your plants or seeds, it’s time to prepare your soil and plant your garden! Start by removing any weeds or debris (bricks, in my case) from the area, and then loosen the soil. I basically dug up each in-ground garden bed and turned the soil. Then, add compost or fertilizer to provide nutrients for your plants. I used my shovel to combine these soil amendments with the existing soil.
Most gardening experts will tell you that when planting, make sure to follow the instructions on each plant’s label regarding spacing and depth. I sometimes fudge it a little, especially given that you can maximize your space by co-planting. You’ll feel more confident with the spacing as you garden longer. Then, water each plant thoroughly after planting, and continue to water regularly in the weeks following to help them establish roots.
As your garden grows, be sure to keep an eye out for pests and diseases that might affect your plants. I also highly recommend adding mulch around the base of plants to help retain moisture and suppress weeds. We recently got a electric chipper and it’s been AWESOME for turning fallen branches into mulch.
Maintain and Enjoy Your Garden Throughout the Seasons
Once your garden is planted and growing, first of all celebrate because it’s such a big accomplishment… then it’s time to maintain it throughout the seasons! Maintenance is the name of the game once your garden is planted and prepared. This will not only help your plants stay healthy but also ensure that you can enjoy your garden for as long as possible.
Here are some maintenance tips to keep in mind:
- Water regularly: Make sure plants are getting enough water, especially during hot and dry periods. We set up an irrigation system which helped SO much with watering consistently. The downside is that I found it really difficult to set up irrigation, so Andy stepped in and did it for me.
- Prune when necessary: Remove dead or damaged branches and foliage to promote healthy growth For example, I pruned the ‘suckers’ off my tomato plants in the hopes of increasing my yield.
- Fertilize as needed: Use fertilizer to replenish nutrients that may have been depleted from the soil. I ‘side dressed’ my vegetable plants with fertilizer once a month last year because I filled my beds with fresh compost and soil so I knew they were set with nutrients.
- Monitor for pests and diseases: Keep an eye out for common garden pests like aphids, spider mites, and slugs, and take action if necessary. Slugs are a big problem here in the Pacific Northwest, so I might even get a few ducks this year to help me keep them at bay!
- Add seasonal interest: Consider adding seasonal flowers or foliage to keep your garden looking fresh year-round. My favorite flowers to include in a vegetable garden are marigolds because they are cheap and cheerful. Plus, the scent of them is said to repel pests.
By keeping up with these maintenance tasks, your garden will continue to thrive and provide enjoyment for years to come.
You might also enjoy:
My favorite gardening books — they are great for beginners, too!
I’m not going to lie: starting a garden from scratch is not easy. It requires a lot of planning and even more manual labor. But the joy and abundant produce it gives me is well worth it. Following these steps will help ensure that your garden thrives throughout the growing season. I am so ready to get back out there this year! Happy gardening!