Whether you can visualize your garden’s design in your head or you need to sketch it on paper, it’s a good idea to plan your garden before you plant! I like to use graph paper to help me keep everything to scale and remind myself just how much I can (and can’t) fit in a 6′ x 12′ plot.
Electronic garden planners–some free and others free for a short trial–are also readily available. This spring, for example, I tried out the Old Farmer’s Almanac garden planner, which offered plenty of bells and whistles, such as month-by-month planning for successive crops. After a one-month trial, I ended up not subscribing to the service because I was frustrated by specific ways that it didn’t allow me to individualize my plan. Still, it’s definitely worth a try if you work well with computerized planning.
Think about sun and shade at Perkins Park
We have some shade to deal with at Perkins Park, but it isn’t always a bad thing, especially for crops that thrive with a little break from the sun.
The sun rises on the side of our garden opposite the shed and sets roughly behind the shed. Expect the shade to shift throughout the season and to broaden as leaves grow on the trees.
Currently I’m working on a shade map to help us better understand which plots get the most shade and when, but this project is a season-long one. In the meantime, if you are new to the garden, try to observe the shade coverage a few times throughout a sunny day to get a rough idea of how much light your plot receives, and don’t forget to account for leaf growth in overhead trees. Generally, the central-most plots receive the most sun.
Also think about planting in rows parallel to the sun to help your plants receive equal lighting.
Within your garden, think about which plants will grow tall and shade other plants.
Tomatoes and plants grown on trellises, for example, will cast broad shade, which may or may not be desirable depending on the plants you are growing near them.
Consider which plants can tolerate shade more than others.
Here’s a handy chart to use as a guideline, but always be sure to read up on your plants’ growing information.
Plan where you are going to place pathways, supports, and barriers.
Knowing where you are going to walk will help you gain access to all of your garden and minimize compacting your soil.
Supports such as tomato stakes and trellises should be installed before or at the time of planting.
It sounds obvious, but from my own experience, here’s another important tip: if you are planning on installing barriers to keep out deer, make sure that you can still have ready access to your garden.