10 Tips for Planning Your Garden

Ikea Hack Greenhouse

Ikea Hack GreenhouseIt doesn’t matter what the actual weather is outside, this time of year I’m working on my garden plans. No, gardening isn’t just something you do in the summer. For me, the cold winter months are the perfect time to plan what we’re growing in the back garden. Our front garden is set and only requires some maintenance – except for the few edibles I have hidden in the landscaping.

Last year was the first year I was actually able to have a large vegetable garden that wasn’t in canisters. I started everything at the same time, had to wait for my garden to be tilled and kind of made it up as I went. Yes, I had a great garden yield, but this year I want to make sure that everything is started at the right time, things are done properly so we have a great yield this year. I made a few mistakes last year, but this year with careful planning we’re making sure that doesn’t happen.

El Nino has played with our emotions this winter, and it has been unseasonably warm lately. This time last year I was planning our garden while being snowed in. Today, it’s over 40 degrees with blue skies. Trees are budding, birds are returning, and let’s just say that this isn’t exactly normal in Michigan. You can smell the dirt as the ground is thawing, and the need to plant something is getting strong and strong.

You may think it’s too early to start planting your seeds, but depending on your growing zone (that the USDA last updated in 2012) and what you’re growing you may be surprised how soon you should start your seeds. I’ve actually found that I need to begin planting some of my vegetables next week! Our area of Detroit actually is a full growing zone higher than most of our state, and two higher than the northern part of the state. This allows me to start sooner, and even grow a larger variety of plants.

Maybe it’s your first year gardening, or you’re a seasoned pro – either way, it’s a great time to  working on your garden plan.

Choose what you’re going to grow! 

What does your family eat most? Or what type of plants do you want in your flower garden (we’re not just talking edible gardens here). Our front garden is filled with my favorite flowers, some succulents, and even green onions. I chose bee friendly plants, but also bright pops in color.

Do you eat more salads? Check out how Lettuce and Spinach do in your area. Want more fruit? See what that watermelon or those strawberries need to do well.

Looking for nutrient rich options? Check out some vegetable garden suggestions!

Do your research 

Will the plants you want to grow in your growing zone? Check with a local college agriculture office for suggestions, or check with a regional growing map. They can help you see what to plant and when in your area, you can also get email reminders about your garden!

Part of your research should be your soil. What type of soil do you have? Check the area you’re planning a garden in. This of course wont matter if you’re doing a raised garden. If you’re not sure what type of soil you have there are easy ways to test your soil at home. Pay attention to the area you’re going to have the garden in as well, some plants wont do as well with super wet soil.

Get your seeds (if you’re not using starters)

Once you determine what type of seeds you want. A tried and true company we’ve used for years is Burpee, and you can find them in almost every store. Personally, I prefer ordering older heirloom seeds and trying new (and more colorful) varieties. Last year I stumbled on the Sustainable Seed Company, and have placed another order from them this year – expanding what we’re growing. Last year we had lemon cucumbers, apple cucumbers and heirloom tomatoes. Not only were they delicious, but a change from anything we’ve ever gotten from the store. This year’s order has come in, and we’re working on getting everything set up and soon starting our seeds!

Plan your Garden Out

There are a lot of ways to do this, but the first step is to find where you want to plant your garden. It doesn’t matter if you’re doing a raised or working the land, but knowing how much space you need for each plant will save you time from moving them later.

You can do this the old fashioned way and measure out a space and use rulers or an architectural scale. But now there are apps and websites to help you plan it out easier. The Farmer’s Almanac has a garden planner with a free 7 day trial (no credit card required) that allows you to plan out one garden. But it goes beyond just a plug and play garden builder, it even gives you a time line for each plan on when you should start your seeds and place them in the ground. This makes it so much easier than any other one I’ve played with.

Check out my plans for our garden this year!

2016 garden plan

Start your Seeds!

Ikea Greenhouse HackIt sounds crazy, but some seeds need to be started now. Onions and Parsley should be started this time of year. Also salad greens and spinach love the colder weather.

If you’re lucky and have a large green house or an area you can start your seeds without cat/dog/child interference that’s the perfect place to start. For everyone else, try out our small space greenhouse hack. Mine are heading back out to the patio next week as we get our onions going!

Prepare your ground

Are you growing in containers, a raised garden or choosing a space in your yard? We sectioned out a 10 foot deep section in the back of our yard for our garden.

Burlap Bag DIYIt’s still early enough you can use newspaper weed barriers, or cardboard weed blockers to help kill off the grass in the area. Weigh them down and let them sit undisturbed for a few weeks. The weeds and grass in the area will die over time and you will have a level area to work with.

If you’re impatient, like me, you can always borrow or rent a tiller and tear up the ground where you want your garden. Yes, this disturbs the soil a bit more but for our first year garden this worked well. I used a burlap bag weed barrier our first year, and still had to do some minor weeding – but the garden is already to go this year as the burlap is breaking down and still working over the cold months. I will be adding in fresh soil from our compost area and using a different layout this year for our garden.

Alternatively, if you’re doing a raised garden – start looking at the system you want to purchase or build and get started. Trust me, it wont be long until you need it put together!

Plant your Seedlings or Starters

Depending on what you’re growing and how much, you will need to start your seeds and plant them at different times. Did I mention the garden planner not only maps it out for you but also sends you email reminders? Don’t just plant everything at once – each type of plant is different and you want the best results.

garden schedule


Monitor and check and see what your plants need. Each type of plant is different, and your soil will determine how much water you need to give them.

Get a rain barrel (if you’re allowed in your area) and let nature work for you! Our city actually sells them and encourages use of rain barrels, while some states actually have made them illegal. However you water your plants, just make sure you don’t over water them!


This of course will be different for each type of plant you’re growing (it’s in red in the chart above). In my area harvest begins in June and lasts through October, while some plants are late starts and harvest in the winter. There’s a lot of plants that we will enjoy next year.

Grow too much? 

Share and swap! I love canning our extras to enjoy through the winter and beyond. It helps us get through the colder months, helps reduce our grocery bills and you can’t beat the taste of home grown food!

Need some canning recipes and ideas? Check out our collection of 40 Canning Recipes (or search our site for more!)


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