Garden planning step 2: Deciding what to plant & where it’s going

Garden planning: Deciding what and where to plant. Photo by Rebecca Cuttler.
Some examples of structures from the beautiful Cottonwood Gardens, plus last year’s newly built beds in our yard.

Last week, we explored how to assess our garden sites, and how to create a scale drawing. Now, it’s time to figure out what we’re planting and where it will go.

Whether you’re planning a new garden, or further developing an existing one, take some time to think about what kind of structures you want to grow your crops in. Consider what kind of living situation you have (whether it’s an apartment with a tiny deck, or a house with a backyard, or anything in between); how permanent it is (whether you own or rent, and how long you expect to be there); aesthetic considerations; and how much money, time, energy and expertise you have.

In our south-facing backyard, most of our crops grow in 4’x8’ planter boxes made from 2”x12” cedar planks. The boxes were constructed by a carpenter friend of ours and are level, sturdy, and filled with good topsoil that we purchased from a local supplier. Our planter boxes are topped with PVC pipe arches (see the photo above), over which we drape plastic or row-cover fabric to protect our crops.

This system works well for us. The beds are large enough to get a good harvest, yet small enough for me to reach in from all sides. But they did require a certain amount of time, effort and money to put into place. If you rent, or if you don’t have a yard, there are other options that might work better for you. I’ve seen moveable beds on casters, and amazing patio gardens based on pots. Need inspiration for a container garden? Check out this post from Apartment Therapy.

Is your garden brand new? If so, use the information you gathered from your site assessment to figure out where to put your plants. If you’re in a dark climate like Vancouver, choose the sunniest spot possible. If you’re in a warmer environment, you might look for a place with a bit of shade.

Is your garden already in existence? Ask yourself if you want to add, move or remove any planting places, based on your site assessment.

Get ahold of a seed catalogue, ideally one that specializes in organic seeds and is local to your area. Circle the crops that appeal to you. Don’t just go for the stuff that looks cool! Look for varieties that are reliable, high-yielding and disease resistant. Pay attention to whether the seeds you’ve chosen are early types or a late types, and ask yourself if you want one of each. If you love tomatoes, for example, you might want to go with both an early type and a main season type to get the longest harvest window.

Don’t choose too many different seeds! Here’s a nice post with tips on some easy seed choices for beginners.

You’ve probably heard about crop rotation. It’s the idea that if you plant one type of plant in the same place year after year — kale, for instance — the soil will eventually become depleted and diseases specific to that plant will proliferate in the soil. So we need to vary where we place our plants from year to year.

Crop rotation is done by plant family. Here’s an introduction to how it works and the basic vegetable families. While crop rotation is very important, it can be difficult to achieve in urban environments, where our gardens are small and might have variable conditions. I’ll be writing more about rotation workarounds in a later post.

For now, take some time to group the seeds you’ve selected by plant family. Which ones are brassicas? Which ones are legumes? Make a quick list.

Now, take a look at your garden design and decide where you’re going to put each plant family. Different crops need different amounts of space and light, and have different planting times, so keep referring to your seed catalogue as needed. For instance, if you have two beds in your garden, you might devote one to a variety of leafy greens, followed by zucchini, corn and beans. The other bed might have a year-long selection of carrots and parsley. You might have to get creative and/or make some sacrifices. It’s a puzzle — have fun!

You’ve figured out what you’re planting and have a basic sense of where it’s going. All those hours you spent playing Farmville were good for something, after all! Next week, we’ll explore making a calendar to ensure that you get a continuous harvest.

Want to explore these concepts more deeply, and work together to create a plan for your garden? Join me in Vancouver this spring for Urban Garden Abundance.

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