Do you know what the ultimate sign is that shows you’re officially an accomplished adult with all your ducks in a row?
When you’re a person that has a plan. A schedule. A scheme. An ultimate goal. An evil ploy to rule the world (okay–maybe not that one).
Whatever it is you want to call it, you have it marked down specifically… Every little piece you need for the year, the month, the day…
Do you know what I’m not the best at?
Planning. Scheming. Goals written on paper that can’t flutter away in the wind of my brain with all my other thoughts.
So, this year I’m asking myself some tough questions in hopes of making a bonafide plan so that I know without a doubt I’ll have a successful farming and homesteading season.
These last few years have had me overwhelmed for many reasons. As a result, my flower business hasn’t been as productive and our personal garden has been an utter failure.
It’s no secret that having a plan will set us up for success. Plans can change, but their foundation is always there helping us stay on track. And I’m ready to stay on track this year. Are you?
But what do we need to do to plan out our gardens for Spring?
Maybe this past year was your first year having a garden. You learned A TON and now you want to put those lessons learned to good use.
Maybe you’re an experienced gardener, and you’re looking to shake things up.
Let’s dive into some questions we can ask ourselves to help us better prepare for next season, and I’ll also share some takeaways from my own experience, too!
Questions to Ask When Preparing Your Garden for Next Year
What went well in the garden last year? What was I not successful growing? What has potential?
These questions may seem like no-brainers, but I promise you that most of us are just irrational when it comes to what we grow in our gardens. We are intrigued by pretty pictures in a seed catalog or the lovely photography on the plant tag. I have found myself growing flower varieties that have no business whatsoever my cutting garden, and even when they don’t perform, I insist that I’ll give them just one more year.
However, just because we are told a plant will grow well in full sun in zone 6 (or whatever your case may be) doesn’t mean that it will. Each of our gardens have their own microclimate (average temperatures and rainfall), not to mention our soil is vastly different from place to place.
Also, some plants and varieties are simply not vigorous growers. There’s a reason why these varieties aren’t commonly grown. In reality, they may not be what they’re cracked up to be.
Sometimes plants struggle in the garden because we made a mistake about the planting location or possibly we forgot to water them in a period of drought.
We know that we can grow that particular plant, but due to environmental factors something just didn’t turn out right. It’s good to make a note of why you think that particular plant struggled and use those notes to better prepare for next year.
But there are other times when it’s really just the plant. Don’t be afraid to unfriend those plants that struggle. If they require more effort from you and don’t exactly bring a high level of joy for you later, they’re likely not worth it!
Tip: Make a list of the plants that met or exceeded your expectations in the garden last season, and then make a list of plants that struggled. Highlight the plants in your “struggle” list that you feel have potential in the garden. Decide whether they’re worth growing again for next year.
Unless you’re a dead set on mastering the culture of a particular plant, cross out all the plants that aren’t highlighted on your “struggle” list. Use your metaphorical machete and slash those plants out of your life. Be ruthless.
How much space do I want to dedicate for the garden next year? Do I want to expand? Do I want to downsize?
Be honest with yourself when it comes to how much space you want to use for garden next year. Sometimes we want to grow a lot, but the bigger the space, the more energy required from you.
This was a very hard concept for me to grasp when I first started flower farming. I felt I needed to have a huge garden in order to grow everything I needed.
For example, I have a dedicated field space that is about 70 feet long by 100 feet wide. Some of that space is now taken up by perennials, but the vast majority of it is taken up by annual beds.
You know what plants I have mostly grown in the last 4 years of flower farming?
Weeds. Lots and lots of weeds.
In fact, this year I fulfilled all my flower subscriptions working within two rows instead of the 7 rows I planted. The remaining 5 rows were overtaken by weeds early on, so I began mowing them periodically to keep the grasses down.
I was shocked that in my fourth year of flower farming, I fulfilled more flower orders out of less space than I had in the last 3 years. You don’t need a ton of space to grow flowers or vegetables. Start small and grow as needed.
If you know you were overwhelmed last season, then try downsizing your garden. Cut out the plants on your list that maybe didn’t provide that much value or, if it’s a vegetable, maybe plants that you really don’t eat.
Tip: Use your list of plants that you want to grow and do some research on plant spacing. Sometimes spacing between plants can be tightened so you can fit more plants per square foot. Also, decreasing spacing between plants can help reduce weed germination and growth.
What are some physical or cultural things I need to change in the garden? Do I need to fix drainage, apply amendments, or try out a different style of growing?
Fall is a great time to fix up the garden in preparation for Spring. Oftentimes the high amounts of rainfall in Spring can mean that we won’t be able to get into the garden until after our ideal planting time.
Also, sometimes we may need to apply amendments to our soil in order to fix characteristics that are undesirable in our soil. For example, lime may need to be applied to raise the pH of the soil, or if you’re planting blueberries, you may need to acidify the soil by adding sulfur. Another amendment you may want to apply to increase organic matter and nutrient content of the soil could be animal manure.
When applying amendments in hopes to change the soil long-term, applying them several months in advance will allow the soil to change in the way you want it to without affecting your plants.
For example, manure collected straight from the animal pen can sometimes “burn” plants if applied immediately to the soil, but if manure is applied well in advance and incorporated into the soil, it can then break down enough that it won’t harm plant tissues.
You may need to physically adjust your garden beds in order to prepare for next year. Planning this out in advance will help you prepare for when it’s time to plant.
Maybe your garden is in a low-lying area that collects water. You may decide you want to use raised beds next year, so you’ll need to purchase supplies and make the beds in advance of Spring. Or you may decide to dig ditches around your garden for better drainage.
Maybe you decide to grow pole beans instead of bush beans next year in order to conserve space. This is a completely different style of growing, so you will have to purchase supplies for a trellis and then install this trellis before you’re ready to plant so you are all ready to go.
Whatever the case may be, try to think ahead of time about the physical differences you are going to implement in your style of growing for next year.
Tip: Plan ahead by making a list of materials you may need for your garden so you can order and receive materials in advance of when you will need them.
Where am I going to order seeds from for next year’s garden? Do I want to order perennials?
It seems funny that the time to order seeds, bulbs, and plants can often not be the time that is best for the garden.
One example I can think of is in Spring I see a lot of big box stores selling bulbs and peony roots. While you can possibly plant these plants in Spring, the best time to plant bulbs and peonies is in the Fall. Most bulbs need a certain amount of chilling hours. Sometimes companies will pre-chill bulbs, but that’s not a guarantee.
A lot of people also wait until the rush of Spring to order their seeds, but the best time to order seeds is in the Fall, if not before then. You can beat the rush and the backorders if you order early.
To learn more about ordering seeds, bulbs, and plants, and to check out some of our favorite resources, you can read our blog post on this topic by clicking here.
What are my goals? Do I want a simple garden that supplements our diet? Do I want to grow 80 to 90% of what I eat? Do I want to sell extra vegetables and/or flowers to others?
What you’re wanting to accomplish with your garden will likely affect your answers to the questions above. It’s important to know what your goals are so you can reach them.
If you want to grow just enough to supplement your diet or even your kitchen table (with flowers–we can never forget flowers!), then your garden will likely be much smaller in size. You don’t need to till up half the yard to grow some spinach for a salad and one or two cherry tomato plants.
If you’re wanting to lean more towards commercial vegetable or flower production, then you’re going to have to plan to use more space in order to do so. However, in most commercial operations, plant spacing is pushed to the limit, so you may not need as much space as you originally think.
Maybe you have a goal of growing most of what you will consume during the growing season. This can be a daunting task at first, but over time you can add more and more vegetables to your grow list as you master the art of growing a particular plant or plant family.
The goal of this post was not to leave you feeling bogged down or tired. The goal of this post was to lift you up! Light a fire under your butt! Get your wheels-a-turnin’!
It’s time to take control of our futures and our gardens. Let’s think about what we really can grow, what we want to grow, and what steps we can take to achieve our gardening goals.
What are you looking forward to in this next gardening season? Drop a comment below and share!
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