Dreaming of Spring: Garden Planning 101

Just because you were dreaming of a white Christmas doesn’t mean that once January rolls around, you’re not totally over winter already. Don’t worry, spring is just around the corner and the closer it gets, the less time you have to plan and worry and fiddle with your current or potential garden spots. Whether you’re thinking about planting edibles, ornamentals or a little bit of both, planning ahead will ensure that your gardens and landscaping come together beautifully.

Start With Compatible Plants

Many first time gardeners end up disappointed and frustrated because they find some kind of plant at the nursery or outside the market and decide they want to put it in a particular spot in their garden. But no matter what they do, that plant won’t thrive and eventually, it just dies. What went wrong? A plant’s a plant, right?

That’s the problem. When you think about plants, you probably think about them as being a homogenous group, like goats or crocodiles or June bugs. The reality is that you should be thinking of them on a much larger scale. Taxonomically, that is to say, when it comes to the organizational level like “species” or “genus,” “Plantae” is at the Kingdom level. That’s the same level that “Animalia” falls.

When you think of plants, you should be thinking of them as being as diverse as all the animals there are on the planet. You’d never take a frog and keep him at near freezing temperatures — it’s simply incompatible with his biology — even though polar bears would be thrilled with that treatment.

In the same way, different types of plants have different needs and requirements. For the home gardener, the biggest things to keep in mind when choosing plants are light, water and outdoor temperature. Everything else you can work around. But if it’s too wet, too bright or too cold, there’s just not much hope.

The first thing you should do is learn what your USDA Hardiness Zone is by clicking here. Next, you can check the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center’s Climate Maps to learn more about your area’s rainfall patterns to determine if you’re on the dry side, in which case you’ll need to irrigate, or pretty rainy, which will require you figure out how to keep many of your plants from getting too wet.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for beautiful landscaping that you don’t really need to touch again, native plants are seeing a huge resurgence across the country. They’re stubborn, sturdy and need very little upkeep. And because they’re native to your location, they’ve evolved to withstand whatever it is that your climate can throw at them. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center maintains a list of businesses that sell native plants and seeds here.

Just how many of these plants do you need? Well, to answer that, we’ll need to draw a garden plan. Let’s play with it a bit.

Basic Garden Planning

Although there are apps for garden planning, one of the easiest ways to do this efficiently is to go back to the old fashioned paper and pencil method. It’s simple, you don’t need a lot of tools and it’ll give you a very good visual idea of how your plants will fit together when they’re fully mature.

What You’ll Need:

1. Measure the areas you intend to turn into garden or landscaped spaces. Don’t stress too much if your measurements aren’t perfect, as long as you’re within about six inches, you should be ok.

2. Assign a value to each square on your grid paper. One square foot to one grid square is an easy one to remember and makes it easy for others to interpret your drawing.

3. Draw your garden plot on the grid paper, noting anything that might influence plant growth such as partial shade conditions caused by nearby trees, large rocks that make an area unplantable and so forth. This will be important when it comes to choosing plants later. Don’t forget to note the locations of walls or other major structures.

4. Lightly sketch in the plants you want to include, at their fully grown size. So, for example, if you’re planting Buddleia, otherwise known as butterfly bush, and the one you have in mind right now is about a foot tall and maybe six inches wide, you need to imagine it grown. That bush will grow up to about six feet wide and tall. Even if it looks a little empty now, don’t be tempted to overcrowd your garden, that’ll only invite serious fungal and bacterial disease.

5. Set the drawing aside for a day or two. When you come back to it, make sure you’re really happy with it. Look it over and ensure you didn’t accidentally place a taller plant where it’ll block much-needed sunlight from a smaller plant or even blackout a window in your home.

Caution: Before you run off and buy plants or seeds, make sure that you’ve tested your soil and amended it with organic materials as needed. We’ll cover that in an upcoming blog. A drawing is only a map, it’s the first step to creating a successful garden plot.

My First Garden: Edible or Ornamental?

Home gardening is experiencing a huge comeback, as younger gardeners realize the potential benefits of gardening that extend far beyond being able to grow their own food. It’s a great way to get a little outside exercise, it lowers your stress level, and it can get the whole family involved in an activity that promises big rewards. But often, first time gardeners are overwhelmed by choice. There are so many plants, so many catalogs, so many types of gardens!

It’s ok. Take a breath and get away from Pinterest for a minute.

Both edible and ornamental gardens can be delightful and easy to manage, if you choose compatible plants and focus on their individual needs. Some plants are much more disease and trouble-prone than others, and some are simply nigh-on impossible to grow in some areas. You really don’t have to choose between edibles and ornamentals, though. Plenty of ornamentals and edibles are highly compatible, a classic example is tomatoes and French marigolds.

There aren’t really any rules when it comes to what you put in your garden. Just make sure you space each plant far enough apart that they don’t have to compete for water or nutrients and you can easily work between rows or clumps. A plan is a great place to start, though, so you know just how many plants or seeds to buy.

Is There Lower Maintenance Gardening?

If you’re looking for landscaping that’s even less maintenance than a native plant garden, you’re looking for one that’s cared for by a professional landscaper. They can help you choose plants, even ones that are harder to maintain, and they’ll do all the work for you no matter what the weather’s like.

Where would you find such a miracle worker? HomeKeepr, of course! Just search for landscapers in your area and those reputable plant whisperers that have been recommended by your Realtor will appear. Your landscaping is killing your home’s curb appeal, but you’re just a few clicks away from fixing that forever.