Planning a vegetable garden is all about options: determining which options are available to you, and selecting the options that best serve your gardening goals.
Planning a garden properly should set you on the path to having a garden that thrives in your environment, and makes the best use of your available land.
The first step in your garden planning is to evaluate your land and decide where your garden will be located, and how large it will be.
This is the time to survey your kingdom, no matter how vast or humble it may be, and determine where your garden will be located.
As you’re planning a vegetable garden, here are some things to keep in mind as you’re deciding where to locate your garden:
When you’re planning a vegetable garden, it’s important to locate it where it will receive lots of sunlight. Most veggies will do best in full or nearly full sun.
That doesn’t mean that your garden plot must be located in absolute full sun.
If there’s some shade in the morning or afternoon, that’s not a deal breaker. But if your candidate garden plot is in the shade for half the day, that’s not going to be ideal – at least not for most vegetables.
When you’re evaluating the sun/shade situation, keep in mind what your garden plot will be like at other times of the year. If you’re planning a vegetable garden in the middle of winter, for example, what will the shade situation be in the spring and summer when the trees are loaded with shade-producing leaves?
And if you’re doing your planning in the summer, remember that the sun will be lower to the horizon in the wintertime.
That means that trees, buildings, fences, etc. will throw longer shadows during the winter and early spring than they do during the summer. The shorter days and longer shadows could end up being a problem for any late fall or early spring veggies you might be growing.
The ideal plot will receive full or nearly full sun year round.
When you’re planning a vegetable garden, be aware that you will need to be able to irrigate your garden. As any farmer or experienced gardener can tell you, Mother Nature can be notoriously uncooperative in supplying the rainfall your plants need, when they need it.
At the time of this writing, in Texas we are currently suffering through the worst drought in recorded history. Any gardens here that haven’t been watered copiously and regularly are long since toast.
So as you plan your garden location, it’s important that you not only have a water source, but also a convenient water source. Hauling buckets of water or stringing and maintaining hundreds of feet of hose can get very old, very quickly.
Now, if your garden is going to be in a small backyard, then water availability is not likely to be an issue. Just about every backyard has an outdoor faucet that can provide a convenient and reliable source of water.
But if you’re going to be locating your garden somewhere out in your back forty, then be certain that it’s not going to be an ordeal (or frightfully expensive!) to get water to it.
Slope and Drainage...
Examine the lay of your land with a critical eye.
Is your land flat or rolling? Is your candidate garden plot in a low area that will tend toward being waterlogged during times of heavy rainfall?
If so, that’s a bad thing. Water drainage is just as critical as water availability.
Because just as Mother Nature sometimes puts the brakes on rainfall at the most inconvenient times, she also has a nasty habit of opening the floodgates at other times.
Will veggies grow successfully in a swamp? Not so much. So make sure your garden plot won’t become a swamp when the floodgates open.
Now, if your garden plot options are limited, then of course you can alter the lay of the land by filling in low areas. But that’s a lot of work, and if you need to buy topsoil, it can also be rather expensive.
And while you’re eying the slope of your land, there’s one other consideration to keep in mind: which way does it slope?
Assuming that you’re in the northern hemisphere, land that slopes to the south can offer quite an advantage to a gardener.
That’s because your plants will be able to take better advantage of the relatively feeble warmth of the sun in late fall, winter and early spring, when the sun is low on the southern horizon.
Having land that slopes to the south is not a necessity, of course.
But if you’re able to choose a location that offers that benefit, it can really work to your advantage for fall, spring and winter gardening. (Yes, you can garden year round if you want!).
Now that you know where your garden will be, you can determine what the size will be.
If the amount of suitable land available to you is rather small, choosing the size of your garden may not be difficult. You might not have much of a choice. You might have only a very small plot that you can dedicate to your garden.
But that’s OK – done right, small garden plots can be very productive.
Even if you can only eke out a small 5-foot by 10-foot plot, that’s 50 square feet of gardening area. You can do a LOT with 50 square feet!
In fact, if you have lots of land available, enough so that you can make your garden just as large as you want – be careful. It’s easy for newbie gardeners to start too large and end up being overwhelmed and discouraged.
Unless you have a lot of time to dedicate to your new hobby, start small. If you have plenty of land, you can always expand your garden later.
You’re off to a good start with planning your garden. You now know where your garden will be located, and you know how large it will be.
The next step in planning a vegetable garden is deciding what you will grow.
And this is where the planning really starts to become fun!