Winter and spring are the perfect times to plan your garden
Do you want to get a head-start on your gardening this year?
Consider creating and using a garden planner. It can save you time, money, and increase your chances of success this growing season and into the future.
What is a Garden Planner?
A garden planner is a notebook, spreadsheet, document, drawing, or anything else that helps you to plan your garden, take notes during the active growing season, and then reflect on your results before the following year.
Garden planners can be used for:
- Identifying which plants you wish to grow and where
- Taking inventory of your seeds and supplies
- Estimating when to plant seeds and when you could expect a harvest
- Taking notes about plant growth
- Recording observations about weather, moisture, insects, and diseases
- Noting the amount of harvest you achieved and if you wish to grow the same plants again next year
- Drawing maps of your growing space
- Planning new areas where you wish to add growing space
- Examining areas of sun, shade, windbreaks, slopes, dryness, extra moisture, etc.
- Which plants you wish to save seeds from
- Most importantly: For recording your lessons learned!
How to Get Started Creating a Garden Planner
Whether you choose a paper notebook or a digital file, the format is up to you. Choose one (or both) of these options, so long as you know it is something that you will use and refer to often.
How to Choose?
If you like to take notes and make sketches while you are outside working or if you prefer to have something in hand when an idea comes to mind, a notebook would likely work for you.
If you prefer to work on a laptop or your phone to take notes or to create spreadsheets that you can customize for your needs, then a digital option may be best.
I personally use a digital spreadsheet for my garden planner. I use Google Sheets as it’s always available on my computer or phone, allows me to input formulas, and it auto-saves when I’m typing into it.
I also use Google Keep as a note-taking tool that allows me to quickly jot down ideas, shopping lists, to-dos, and more using checkboxes.
I can easily share both my spreadsheet and notes with other people, such as my husband when I need him to pick something up for me 😉
What to Include in a Garden Planner
The three key items you may wish to include in your garden planner are:
#1: What you will be planting
This is important so you can take inventory of your seeds, or if you plan to purchase from a nursery or garden centre, which plants you want to grow.
Be sure to include both the common name and scientific name (with the cultivar, if applicable). This is especially important with flowers as there are so many varieties and cultivars to choose from. For example: Zinnia angustifolia ‘Queen lime’ (Queen Lime Zinnia). Since there are many zinnia cultivars, noting exactly which one (‘Queen Lime’) is important.
Also, be sure to note where you obtain your seeds or plants from so you know where to obtain more in the future if you are happy with the results from those plants.
#2: Where you will be planting
Take note of the spaces in your yard, deck, balcony, or wherever you grow. Think about the amount of sunlight each of these spaces receives. Think about your micro-climate. Is it near a building? Is it blocked from the wind? Is it a low or high spot? For those of us in the northern hemisphere, the hottest, sunniest part of your property or growing space will be facing south. This means the coldest, shadiest spots will be facing north, with morning sun in the east, and afternoon sun in the west.
#3: Notes about each plant
After planning which plants you will be growing and where, the time will come for you to put your plan into action!
Once the growing season is underway – which for me, is when the first seeds of the year are planted – you can begin recording notes in your planner.
Some valuable notes to record are observations you make about germination, growth, whether the plants thrived or struggled, and other characteristics.
If you are wondering whether you need to take all of this time to make notes, think about your garden last year if you had one. Do you recall exactly what you planted, where you planted it, how well it thrived, when it produced a harvest, whether it had any pests or diseases, and other observations? If you can, great! For the rest of us who struggle with remembering what we did just yesterday (that’s me!), having a place to note these items is beneficial; not just for the health of your garden, but for your own personal growth as a gardener.
In my garden planner I record how the seeds grew, if I noticed any pests or diseases and when in the season I noticed them, whether the harvest was bountiful or minimal, comparison notes between varieties or cultivars, if I need to move plants to a new location next year, or if I wish not to grow the same things again.
Overall, this attention to detail has saved future me a lot of wondering, time, and money when I need to purchase new seeds or think about how I want to arrange the garden each year.
Examples of Garden Planners
I wanted to share a few examples of what I’ve done in the past. I wrote this article because I believe in the importance of a garden planner and I can only say that my methods and confidence have improved because of it.
My main garden planner is in a Google Sheets file. The screenshot above is how I filled this in in 2020.
In addition to the three minimum items I recommend above to include in a planner, I have added quite a bit more to mine. I have columns for date planted, # of days to harvest (for vegetables, fruit, and herbs) / days to sprout (for flowers), harvest date (calculated from date planted and days to harvest), location planted, type of growth, how many I planted, and whether I would like to grow the same things again.
If you would like a copy of my garden planner, I have provided a blank one below that you can duplicate and begin using right away in your own garden. If you use it, please leave me a comment below or reach out on social media and let me know if it was helpful!
Google Keep is an app that functions as a to-do list. I use it to stay organized in my day-to-day gardening and even in the off season when I need to purchase supplies and keep track of to-dos.
My favourite feature of Google Keep is the ability to add checkboxes to my lists. Not just for the pure satisfaction of checking things off a list (so satisfying) but I can also attach sub-items to main items (ex: “Buy on Sale” as a main item, then “Soil” and “Garden Hose” as a sub-items). I also have the days of the week as main items and then I can easily drag and move to-dos around for each day as sub-items. If I don’t complete a to-do, I can easily drag it to another day.
I have many notes for different purposes in my personal life such as “To Do” and “Shopping List” but for gardening specifically, I keep track of things I need to prep for the growing season, seeds I would like to purchase, things to read about or videos to watch, things to try, new goals, and more. Writing this article was one of those items… check!
I also love that I can access it both on my phone and my laptop, attach photos, change the colours of my notes, share them with family and friends, and add to them quickly when I get a new idea or need to remember something important.
Drawings are also incredibly useful when planning your garden. I’m no landscape architect, and you don’t have to be either! A simple outline of your yard with some boxes where your raised beds or plots are is all you need.
Personally, I like to sketch and this drawing here was created using a free app on my phone called Autodesk Sketchbook. I have a Samsung Galaxy Note and it comes with a stylus so I created this colourful rendition of my front and backyard with the greenhouse in the top right. I tried to at least identify the shapes of my raised beds and in-ground flower gardens (definitely not to scale) but when I look at this drawing I can generally decipher what’s what and where.
I actually used this drawing to plant a whole bunch of seedlings I grew in the fall of 2020 in my backyard where the green and blue beds are. I had my phone in-hand as I dug the holes and tried to get my plants organized by height against the garage and the fence. Taking the time to plan this ahead of time and write down where all my plants would go made for very easy planting.
I’m also using this to rotate some of my crops from last year. I try to move things around to a new spot each year even in my small growing space. I’m in an urban area with < 1/4 acre size yard with one strip of backyard and my greenhouse in the driveway. I also have a perennial rock garden in the front yard so I created additional growing space for myself there rather than having a lawn. My tiny strip of lawn in the backyard is being slowly converted to a clover lawn for a variety of reasons but these are all great topics for other articles!
I believe we learn the most from taking risks, making mistakes, and experimenting. I also believe that the most valuable reason for creating and using a garden planner is to become a better gardener. It will allow you to try, learn, reflect, and plan for the next year in whatever size growing space you have available to you.
By becoming observant and noting the things we believe will benefit us in the future, we will save ourselves time, money, and frustration. If a certain variety of cucumber just didn’t work out for you, jot that down and make notes to your future self such as “try a different variety”, or “try again but plant in a new location”. Whatever it is that you feel would be helpful for your future self.
There are only a finite amount of growing seasons in our lifetime. The more successes, challenges, and lessons learned that we take note of, the more knowledge, confidence, skills, and preparation we will have going into the following year.
~ Wishing you success and joy in the garden!
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