Garden planning can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it is the time of the year when your garden has the most potential, your body is the most rested and your mind is free to wander excitedly. On the other hand, garden planning can be a bit daunting. Will you want that many carrots? Won’t you want more carrots? Can you really space the tomatoes far enough that they're easy to harvest but close enough that you don’t waste space? How much is 25 linear feet in square feet? Here are some tips to help make sure your garden planning is fun, exciting, and realistic.
Your garden is unique to you
How much time do you have? What do you like to eat? What's your yard like? What you grow and how you design your garden will depend on the space you have, your daily schedule, and your personal goals for your garden. For example, if you don’t have a lot of free time besides a few hours on Saturdays to get your hands dirty, you might want to consider a perennial garden that includes berries, walking onions, and self-seeding herbs and vegetables like cilantro and lettuce. A perennial garden is a lot of upfront work, but once the plants are established they can go with minimal watering, even in the driest of summers. Take time during the winter to read through seed catalogs and online databases like Missouri Botanical Garden or Prarie Moon Nursery. Additionally, research native plant nurseries in the area and be sure to check out our Seed Share on Feb 15th to discover and contribute locally saved seeds and chat with fellow Omaha garden enthusiasts.
Important things to consider
What do you want to grow, and how much of it? Think about what you and your family already like to eat as a starting point.
Where is the plant native to? If it’s native to central North America there is a better chance that it will thrive in your garden with little care than if it is native to say, Hawaii.
How many hours of sun do those plants require?
Where is your garden space located? Is it on the north, south, east or west side of your house? Gardens on the southwest side of a house will receive the most intense sun exposure (unless there’s anything large blocking that area from the south).
How far is the garden area from a water source?
What time of day will you be able to take care of the garden? From my experience, if your garden is on the southwest side of your house the best time to care for it will be in the morning as it is likely to be very hot in midsummer until the sun goes down. You want to enjoy being in your garden so you will spend time in it every chance you get.
Dream big, plan realistically
You don’t have to do everything at once. You can always draw up a 5-year dream garden and then break it down into smaller projects that you can accomplish little by little over the years.
Choose a few things to experiment with each season. Maybe it’s planting spinach or lettuce on the north side of tomatoes, trellising beans to try to maximize space, or trying a new varietal of squash you’ve never tasted. Whatever it is, pick one or two things you’d like to attempt. Even if your experiment doesn’t turn out, the experience and the knowledge that comes with trying is worthwhile. The only way you can know for sure is to give it a shot and eventually after tweaking different things year after year, you will figure out what works best for your garden. The next summer will come before you know it and you can continually improve from last year’s experiments (just don’t forget to write about them!)
Start in the fall
Fall is (in my opinion) the best time for getting into the garden. When planning your garden consider planning to sow fall vegetables (broccoli, carrots, beets, radishes, cabbage, lettuce, spinach, etc). Also, consider planning expansions and perennial transplants for the fall months. Things can feel rushed in the springtime, but the cooler weather of fall months provides a great opportunity to immediately act on your summer observations. This past year I have been working in my garden right up to this weekend thanks to the mild weather (and a pretty nice coat).
Too much produce?
If you have an incredibly successful year consider the following:
Take one of the canning or other food preservation classes we offer through Growing Gardeners.
Participate in our annual Tomato Call in which we process large amounts of tomatoes into sauces, salsas, and more.
Excess produce can be shared by dropping it off at our Free Pantry at 4002 Seward St or bringing it down the Free Farm Stand on Saturdays June-Sept 10 AM-12 AM at 10th and Bancroft. You can leave what you have too much of and take something that you don’t have enough of.
There is no one way to garden. If you want to have a perennial shade garden on the north side of your house and an annual vegetable garden on the south side, that is great. But if you want to have 3 perennial areas in different places throughout your annual vegetable garden, that’s fine too. Whatever works for you. In my mind, home gardening is not about getting to a certain point, it is about the journey. My mom has been moving a sage plant around her house for 10 years, and she looks forward to finding a different spot for it every new year.
This article was written by Alex O'Hanlon, our City Sprouts South Garden Manager