Planning Out the Garden in 4 Simple Steps

I am a first-time gardener and I also want to grow all of my plants from seed myself. This large goal requires some detailed planning. In this post, I’ll walk through my system for planning out my garden that you can apply to your garden. Let’s first consider where all this gardening magic happens, with seeds!

Step 1: Choosing Your Seeds

If you plan to start your plants from seed, your gardening season starts much earlier than when you put your plants into the ground. But before you can grow plants you must choose what you want to grow! Not all plants require seed starting, actually many do not and can be directly sown into your garden. This may be something to consider when you are choosing what to grow. This year my focus is growing foods that we will eat and beautiful flowers to cut to make arrangements. We are focusing on the foods we can store like potatoes, squash, and tomatoes to make tomato sauce. Oh, and salsa, per my husband’s request.

Why Start Seeds?

You may be thinking that it is a lot of work to start seeds yourself, so why not just buy them at the garden center? Well, you most certainly can buy them. However, here are a few reasons why it may benefit you to start seeds yourself. If you plan to garden for many years, the investment into seed starting supplies will be well worth it! Seeds themselves are not very expensive, but plant starts from a nursery can be. Another benefit of sowing seeds yourself is you have total control over the variety of plants you grow. This will allow you to grow organic, non-GMO, and even heirloom plants that will produce beautiful and delicious fruit!

If you are looking for information on how to start seeds and the supplies you need to get started, check out this blog post!

A seed tray with 5 plant labels throughout.

Where do I Buy Seeds?

There are lots of places you can buy seeds from. You’ll be able to find them at any garden center. This year I ordered my seeds online from Johnny’s Seeds. My sister, who is a flower farmer also gets many of her seeds from Johnny’s. Here are additional websites you can get your seeds from that will be non-GMO, organic, and heirloom quality.

Gary Ibsen’s Tomatofest

Baker Creek Seeds

Survival Garden Seeds

Seeds scattered with four seed packets.

What We are Growing In Our Garden This Year

In case you were wondering what we were attempting in the garden this year, here is my plan!

VegetablesHerbsFlowers
Tomatoes (paste, slicer, cherry)DillSunflowers
CucumbersCilantroStrawflower
Bell PeppersBasilZinnias
Jalapenos ThymeDahlias
OnionsParsleyCelosia
Green Beans Cress
LettuceCosmos
Spagetti SquashNigella
CarrotsChina Aster
CabbageCalendula
Pumpkins
Potatoes
Garden Crops
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Step 2: Choosing a Method of Gardening

There are many different methods of gardening. You can use the traditional gardening method of tilling the soil, you could build raised garden beds, you could plant into containers or you could try a newer but very effective no-dig gardening method which I have learned about from Charles Dowding. In my research and talking with my sister, the flower farmer, we decided the no-dig method was the approach we wanted to take with our garden.

Conventional Gardening

Conventional gardening often uses chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. Crops are grown in rows or beds with a focus on getting a high yield but controlling any pests and weeds with chemicals. Additionally, the soil is tilled every year. You can also have a tilled garden but done organically, which can be a great option for a garden.

Raised Garden Beds

Raised garden beds are elevated planting areas constructed above the ground level. They are enclosed by a frame or border and filled with soil. Raised beds allow for easier access when planting, and weeding. A raised garden bed can be a great option if you have limited space or poor soil quality. Raised Garden beds can be built to be aesthetically pleasing and transform your outdoor space into something really beautiful.

Raised Garden Beds

No-Dig Gardening

A no-dig or no-till garden is an approach to gardening that leaves the microbiome of the soil intact without disturbance. Charles Dowding teaches and shares about his no-dig gardening approach, which is what we are deciding to do in our garden this year. We will put a layer of cardboard to help prevent weeds. Then we will bring in compost to put on top of that to create garden beds. We will add wood chips for path ways between the beds. For more information, check out Charles Dowding’s YouTube channel.

Image Source: Simple Sparrow No-Dig Garden

Container Gardening

Many plants grow well in containers as well! Especially herbs, lettuces, and tomatoes. You may have some planter boxes, pots, or even a planter like a Greenstalk planter which will allow you to grow a lot of produce in less space becuase it is a vertical planter.

Plants in bots with a watering can.

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Step 3: Mapping Out Your Garden

Once you know what you want to grow and your approach to gardening then you need to make a map of your garden. We will be planting our garden up the road at my in-law’s house because they have a great space for a large garden. We don’t have room for a garden here becuase we live in an HOA, but we will have some containers of lettuce, herbs, and beautiful flowers to bloom on our patio throughout the summer!

Birds Eye View

First, make a bird’s eye view of the space you have to work with. I mapped out our no-dig garden, accounting for the beds we will plant in as well as pathways between the beds. Our beds will be 4 feet wide with 2-foot wide paths along all sides of the bed. We mapped out a garden that is 26 feet wide by 30 feet long. Allowing us to make four 4-foot wide by 26-foot long beds.

For our method of gardening, we need to bring in supplies (dirt, cardboard, and wood chips) for our garden beds. I used this drawing to calculate how much of each product we need. We planned to do a 4 inch deep layer of compost and roughly 2 inches of wood chips in the pathways.

A map of a garden.

Spacing and Quantity

This is where my brain was stretched, the planning out of the actual number of plants to put into the garden and how to space them appropriately. Each plant needs a different amount of space and some seeds you also will continually sow throughout the season to have a continual harvest. My sister, who is a flower farmer has an amazing resource to help you think through your cut flower garden. But this will also help you apply many of these principles to growing vegetables. Check out her Free Cutting Garden Primer here! After going through her resources, here are some of the big takeaways that helped me navigate our spacing and how many of each plant to start from seed.

  • Consider the size of the mature plant and plant taller plants on the north side.
  • If possible, run your rows north to south to not have shadows cast on the plants.
  • Start double the number of seeds you want the actual number of plants in your garden. Some won’t germinate and others may die before they make it into the garden.

There are so many more tips that I found helpful as I was thinking through how to plan my garden. Get The Cutting Garden Primer here!

A promotion for "The Cutting Garden Primer" with a bouquet of fresh-cut flowers.

I broke down each bed with a more detailed plan with each plant I plan to grow, the height it grows to, and the spacing it requires. Then, I arranged my plants in the diagram keeping the tallest things on the south side and the shorter things on the north side. When I figured out how many of a certain plant I wanted in the garden, and it was something I needed to start from seed, then I doubled that number, to account for plants that die. It can also be helpful to plan to plant crops that will go into the ground at similar times. For example, we planted cabbage, carrots, onions, and potatoes all in one bed which are all frost-hardy plants. This will make planting convenient with both timing and spacing.

Step 4: Making a Sowing/Planting Calendar

There are many things to remember, especially if you are starting your seeds inside before you can plant them into the ground. By doing this you can extend your growing season by weeks for some plants. Especially where I live, here in Minnesota, we have a relatively short growing season. Plants like tomatoes and peppers would never have time to produce fruit before the next frost would kill them if we planted the seed directly. On the other hand, many plants do best sown directly into the soil. Make a master calendar of when to start seeds, transplant, or direct sow. Also, make a note of the last possible day to plant crops for you to get a harvest that season.

Indoor sowing schedule for a garden.

Indoor Seed Starting Schedule

To know when to start your seeds indoors you need to figure out the average last frost date for your area. Our Average last frost day is May 1st. I will work off of that date regarding when to start seeds. Your seed packet will tell you how many weeks before the last frost you can start them inside. You don’t want or need to start things too soon becuase then they will outgrow your indoor space, which will require you to start potting up your plants. For some seeds, you don’t need to start inside from seed and you can just directly sow them into the ground after the risk of the last frost is gone. Other plants, actually like the cooler weather and may be planted before the frost is gone. Each plant is different, so make sure to check based on what you are growing.

Seed cell tray.

Direct Sow Schedule

Some plants do best when they are sown directly into the soil they will grow in. This may be the garden, a raised bed, or even a container. Some plants you will want to plant sow every few weeks so that you can have a continual harvest, this is called succession planting. You will want to make note of those sowing times on your calendar.

Transplant Schedule

Whether you are growing your plants from seed or buying the plants to put into the garden, there will be slight variations in the timing for things getting into the garden. Some plants tolerate cold better while others need to have any danger of frost gone before they are safe to go in the ground. Make note of these dates or the weather circumstances (night temps, soil temperatures, etc.) you need before transplanting. As you come up to these planting days you will want to look at the forecast as well to make sure there are no storms or strong winds which would affect the success of your plants being transplanted.

Schedule of sowing a garden.

Conclusion

That is how I planned our garden out this year! Quite honestly it took me a lot longer than I thought. Before getting started I didn’t realize how many details and factors there were to consider. It feels so comforting to have a plan even though I know it will likely stray away from the plan, it is good going into this first year with and idea of what I hope for this growing season! I am so excited to watch these tiny seeds become big and beautiful plants!

Raised garden beds with text overlay that says "4 easy steps to garden planning"

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