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How to Plan Your Garden Using Lessons from Last Year

Have you ever planned your garden based on the lessons you’ve learned from last year? In this post, I’ll share the process of planning the garden for the upcoming year and making informed decisions about things like plant selection, layout, soil preparation, and pest management.

Believe it or not, it’s that time of year when I start planning for this year’s garden. A lot is riding on how much planning and preparation is done during these winter months for the upcoming growing season.

As I prepare to plan my garden for 2024, I can’t help but look back on the lessons and experiences from my 2023 garden. It was a journey filled with successes as well as challenges, both giving me valuable insights to guide me in this year’s plan.

So, grab your gardening gloves and a notepad as I share some of the planning steps that work for me and my garden year after year.

Planning Your Garden from Last Year: summer cottage garden in full bloom

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I’m a self-taught hobby gardener, not a Master Gardener. Everything I share with you on my blog is my personal opinion and things that have worked for me.

zinnias in the cut flower garden

A garden is like a story that unfolds season by season. It offers us a chance to learn, adapt, and grow each year as gardeners.

On every garden planning journey, one of the best ways to make choices for the year ahead is to reflect on last year’s garden.

Planning Your Garden from Last Year: blazing star, lilies, coneflower, gladiolus in cottage garden overlooking the bay

Take some time to think about what your successes were from last year’s home garden.

What plants thrived beyond your expectations? Did you experience an abundant harvest of a certain cut flower or vegetable in the garden? Make a list of those achievements and how they can provide a foundation for your garden this year.

Try to determine what factors contributed to these successes. It could be a specific plant variety, favorable weather conditions, or a new gardening technique you tried.

Once you identify the key reasons behind these gardening accomplishments, it will be easier to duplicate them in the coming year.

shade cloth covering cut flower garden

Now that you’ve identified your gardening successes, what were some of the challenges in your garden last year?

Look at issues such as plant diseases, poor soil quality, or pest issues. Did you have a consistent watering schedule or experience an unexpected climate-related challenge?

I’ll give you an example of a weather-related issue I had in my garden one year. We had three days of 100°F. plus temperatures at the end of June. This had never happened before so I wasn’t aware of using shade cloth protection until day 2 of the heat wave.

overwatered plants

Although I saved most of my plants, some were scorched. I also overwatered my less-established plants, thinking they were wilting because they were dehydrated. They sadly suffered root rot and died.

When you look at the areas that didn’t go as planned in your garden, you can start to find solutions for this coming year.

You may not believe it now, but one of the most valuable things you can use to improve your gardening skills are the lessons you learn throughout the years. Encountering setbacks is actually a gift to help you adapt and improve your gardening skills throughout the years.

Planning Your Garden from Last Year: snapdragons covered by shade cloth

I have had an unexpected curveball thrown at me every year I’ve been gardening. Every year!

Whether it’s a severe drought that hit your region or an unseasonal frost that took you by surprise, these challenges can teach us to be more resilient and resourceful.

Reflect on how you navigated your way through these obstacles and what you did to protect your plants in the previous years. What did you learn from those experiences?

As you plan your garden this year, keep these unexpected challenges in mind and start to prepare for any unpredictable hurdles that may come your way.

yellow sunflowers and black-eyed Susans in garden

Goal setting is an important step in the garden planning process. It provides direction and purpose throughout the growing season.

Here are some ways you can define your gardening objectives and how they will shape your garden for the year ahead.

Planning Your Garden from Last Year: cream dahlias with yellow centers and bee pollinating

Take some time to your goals for this year’s gardening season and write them in your garden planner.

Some common gardening objectives can include:

  • Creating a pollinator-friendly garden to support local biodiversity.
  • Growing cut flowers to sell or to enjoy personally.
  • Exploring new and unique plant varieties to expand your gardening skills.
  • Growing your own organic vegetables for a healthier option and cost savings.
  • Encouraging a sense of connection to nature and promotes relaxation.
  • Sharing your garden’s harvest with neighbors and friends.
  • Witnessing the growth and success of your garden can be gratifying.

Your goals may be a combination of these or something completely different. Identifying your gardening objectives will help guide your decisions throughout the garden planning process.

greenhouse and cut flower garden with marigolds and tomatoes

Are you interested in a flourishing flower garden, a vegetable and herb garden, or a combination of both? Determining the type of garden you want will influence the selection of plants, maintenance, and layout design.

Planning Your Garden from Last Year: late summer garden flowers

Before starting this year’s garden planning process, assess your available resources.

What is your budget for seed orders, plants, and garden supplies? Do you have the tools and equipment needed to grow a garden or do you need to purchase items before the growing season starts? How much time do you have to dedicate to gardening each week?

These are all things to ask yourself before you start planning your garden this year.

Set realistic expectations and align your goals with your available resources and you will plan a garden that fits your lifestyle and is an enjoyable gardening experience.

sunflower in the garden

This is the step where your garden’s personality begins to take shape. Here are some tips for choosing the right plants and varieties to bring your garden to life.

Selecting plants that are well-suited to your specific USDA Hardiness Zone and growing conditions is key to a successful garden.

Different regions experience varying temperature ranges, rainfall patterns, and soil types, all of which can significantly impact a plant’s ability to thrive.

Here are some ways you can research which plants are more likely to flourish in your region:

Planning Your Garden from Last Year: chocolate lace flower and greenhouse

Think about adding a few unique plant varieties each growing season to experiment and learn more about gardening.

You’ll not only add more diversity to your garden but will deepen your gardening knowledge in the process.

vintage flower container with summer flowers

The plants you select should align with the goals you’ve set for your garden area and the available space you have to work with.

If you’re focused on creating a pollinator-friendly garden, choose nectar-rich flowers that attract bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.

Consider the size of your raised bed garden or vegetable beds when selecting plants. Some, like pumpkins and squash, need enough space to spread out. Others, such as compact dwarf varieties and vertical growing options are perfect for small space gardens or a container garden.

Planning Your Garden from Last Year: planning tools for the garden

A well-thought-out garden design can maximize space, optimize sunlight exposure, and create a visually appealing and functional outdoor space.

Whether you are an experienced or new gardener, sketch out a rough layout of your garden on graph paper before you start planting.

Look at factors like the size and shape of your garden beds, the spacing between the plants, and any pathways you want to include.

This will help you visualize the arrangement of plants you will need and ensure that your garden beds are organized and attractive.

marigolds growing in the cut flower garden and white picket fence

Strategically placing plants that benefit each other when grown together is known as companion planting. Some plants can deter pests, enhance soil fertility, or provide shade and support to neighboring crops.

By incorporating companion planting strategies into your garden layout, you can promote healthier, more productive plants, and reduce the need for pesticides or fertilizers.

Here are a couple of combination examples that create a harmonious flower and vegetable garden plan:

  • marigolds planted alongside tomato plants can help deter nematodes
  • growing basil near tomatoes can improve their flavor and health
  • corn, bush beans or pole beans, and squash (three sisters): corn provides support for beans, beans fix nitrogen in the soil, and squash acts as a ground cover, shading out weeds
  • nasturtiums repel aphids, cucumber beetles, and other pests that commonly affect cucumber plants
  • lavender attracts beneficial insects and repels aphids, helping to keep roses healthy
  • onions deter carrot flies and other pests that can damage carrot roots, while carrots help deter onion flies
Planning Your Garden from Last Year: colorful sweet peas and strawflowers in garden

Consider the size of mature plants. Be sure to provide adequate spacing to prevent overcrowding, which can lead to competition for resources and hinder growth.

Determine how the sunlight falls on your garden throughout the day. Most flowers and vegetable plants thrive with at least 6-8 hours of full sun daily.

Make sure the taller plants don’t cast excessive shade on the shorter ones, and arrange your garden beds to capture the most sunlight possible.

Be aware of the flow and accessibility of your garden layout. Create clear pathways for ease of maintenance, watering, and harvesting. Always keep in mind the most convenient way to access all areas of your garden without trampling on plants.

bare raised beds in cutting garden

Healthy, fertile garden soil provides the necessary nutrients, water retention, and root support for your plants. Preparing your soil and adding soil amendments are important in creating an optimal growing environment.

You have to understand your soil’s current condition before you can try to improve it. Soil testing is a valuable tool that provides insight into its pH levels, nutrient content, and overall health.

You can purchase DIY soil testing kits or contact your local cooperative extension office for professional soil testing services.

Once you know what deficiencies need addressing after your soil test, you can make decisions about the type and amount of soil amendments your soil needs.

Planning Your Garden from Last Year: wheelbarrow filled with mulch

Soil amendments are substances added to the soil to improve its structure, nutrient content, and water-holding capacity.

The specific amendments required depend on your soil test results and the needs of your plants. Here are some common soil amendments:

  • Compost: Rich in organic matter, compost improves soil structure, enhances nutrient availability, and promotes beneficial microbial activity.
  • Organic matter: In addition to compost, other organic materials like well-rotted manure, leaf mold, or shredded straw can increase soil fertility and improve water retention.
  • Lime or sulfur: Adjust the soil’s pH levels as needed to create the proper environment for your plants. Lime raises pH (for acidic soils), while sulfur lowers pH (for alkaline soils).
  • Mineral amendments: Depending on nutrient deficiencies identified in your soil test, you may need to add specific mineral amendments like bone meal (for phosphorus), blood meal (for nitrogen), or Epsom salt (for magnesium).
  • Gypsum: Ideal for improving clayey soils, gypsum enhances drainage and aeration while reducing compaction.
mulch layered on top of soil in raised beds

Before adding the necessary amendments to your garden beds, begin by loosening the soil to a depth of at least 6-12 inches, breaking up any compacted areas.

Evenly spread the amendments over the soil surface based on your soil test recommendations.

Use a garden fork or tiller to work the amendments thoroughly into the soil.

Planning Your Garden from Last Year: zinnia seedlings in greenhouse

Another important aspect of planning our gardens for the upcoming year is to create a planting schedule, which sets the stage for a productive and successful garden.

Understanding your USDA Hardiness Zone or equivalent climate zone will help you determine when it’s safe to plant each type of flower or crop.

Climate zones provide guidelines for the average annual minimum temperatures in your region, which can help you avoid planting too early or too late.

Your local cooperative extension office or gardening resources specific to your area can provide valuable information on recommended planting dates based on your climate zone. By following these guidelines, you’ll increase the chances of your plants thriving in their planned environment.

planting seedlings in the raised beds

When creating a planting calendar, start by listing all the plant varieties you’ve chosen for your garden, along with their recommended planting dates. Look at factors like the average last frost date in the spring and the expected first frost date in the fall. These dates will define your gardening window.

Arrange your planting dates on a calendar, taking into account the plant’s growth requirements, such as days to maturity and preferred temperatures. This helps each plant to receive the care it needs at the right time.

Planning Your Garden from Last Year: sunflower seedlings growing in the greenhouse

Succession planting is a strategy where you plant multiple rounds of the same crop throughout the growing season for continual harvest.

This technique maximizes the use of available garden space and extends your harvest over a more extended period.

As you create your planting calendar, consider which crops can benefit from successful planting. Fast-maturing vegetables like lettuce, radishes, and beans are excellent candidates for this type of planting.

By staggering your planting dates, you’ll enjoy a steady supply of fresh produce and flowers rather than a single, overwhelming harvest.

pink roses in the garden

Unwanted pests and diseases are one of the biggest challenges when it comes to gardening. Preventive measures and strategies to safeguard your garden against these common problems are crucial to growing a healthy garden.

Educate yourself on common issues that can threaten your plants such as aphids, caterpillars, slugs, and powdery mildew.

Local gardening resources, extension offices, and gardening books can provide valuable insights into the specific pests and diseases prevalent in your area.

By identifying potential threats early, you can take proactive steps to prevent their infestation and minimize damage to your garden.

Planning Your Garden from Last Year: lime zinnia with strawflowers behind

Prevention is often the most effective approach to pest and disease management. Here are some preventive measures to consider for your garden:

  • Crop rotation: Rotating the location of your plants from year to year can disrupt the life cycles of pests and reduce the buildup of soil-borne diseases.
  • Companion planting: Strategically planting certain flowers and herbs can deter pests or attract beneficial insects that help control garden pests.
  • Good garden hygiene: Keeping your garden clean and well-maintained by removing debris, spent plants, and weeds can eliminate hiding spots and breeding grounds for pests and diseases.
  • Proper watering: Water your garden at the base of plants rather than overhead to minimize moisture on leaves, which can contribute to fungal diseases.
  • Mulching: Applying mulch to garden beds helps regulate soil temperature, retain moisture, and reduce weed growth, which can indirectly prevent some pests and diseases.
  • Healthy soil: Maintaining nutrient-rich soil through proper amendments and practices can strengthen your plants, making them more resilient to pests and diseases.
lavender growing in the garden

Despite your best preventive efforts, pests and diseases can still show up in your garden. Being prepared to address these issues promptly can prevent them from spreading and causing extensive damage.

Try using organic and environmentally friendly solutions for pest and disease management such as neem oil, insecticidal soaps, or beneficial nematodes.

Research the symptoms of common diseases so you can diagnose and treat them early if necessary.

I have implemented integrated pest management (IPM) techniques in my garden which focus on a combination of preventive measures, monitoring, and targeted interventions when needed. This approach minimizes the use of chemical pesticides and promotes long-term garden health.

Planning Your Garden from Last Year: Chantilly mix snapdragons growing in the garden

Effective watering techniques and irrigation strategies are the key to a thriving garden.

The water requirements for your garden will vary depending on factors such as the type of plants you’re growing, your local climate, and the soil’s moisture-holding capacity.

Different plants have different watering needs, with annual flowers and vegetables typically needing more consistent moisture, while established perennials may be more drought-tolerant.

young plants growing in the garden with irrigation system

Selecting the proper irrigation system can make a significant difference in your garden’s water efficiency and the health of your plants. Several common irrigation methods include:

  • Drip irrigation: This system delivers water directly to the base of plants through a network of tubes and emitters. It is highly efficient and minimizes water wastage.
  • Soaker hoses: Soaker hoses are porous hoses that allow water to seep out slowly along their length. They are excellent for delivering targeted moisture to garden beds.
  • Sprinklers: Overhead sprinkler systems can cover a large area but may result in water loss due to evaporation and overspray. Choose low-flow, efficient sprinklers when using this method.
  • Hand watering: For precision and control, hand watering with a hose or watering can allow you to deliver water directly to each plant’s root zone.
  • Rain barrels: Collecting rainwater in barrels is an eco-friendly way to provide natural irrigation for your garden. Rain barrels can be connected to soaker hoses or used for hand watering.
Planning Your Garden from Last Year: strawflowers growing along the white picket fence

Tining and consistency are key when it comes to watering your garden. Establishing a regular watering schedule based on your garden’s specific needs and the climate in your region is essential.

Early morning watering is typically the best practice so it allows the plant to absorb moisture before the heat of the day.

Use a moisture meter or finger test to assess soil moisture levels. My favorite method is to stick a finger into the soil near your plant’s roots. If it feels dry 1-2 inches below the surface, it’s time to water. Avoid overwatering as it can lead to root rot and other issues.

Adjust your watering schedule during periods of heavy rainfall or cooler weather to avoid waterlogged soil. Be prepared to increase watering during hot and dry spells.

greenhouse and apricot colored strawflowers growing in the garden

It’s time to shift the focus from planning your garden to the ongoing care and maintenance required to nurture a thriving garden.

Establish a regular maintenance routine to stay on top of tasks, prevent issues from escalating, and keep your garden healthy and beautiful.

Here are some routine maintenance tasks to include in your routine:

  • Weeding: Regularly remove weeds to prevent them from competing with your plants for nutrients and space.
  • Pruning and deadheading: Trim back overgrown branches, spent flowers, and damaged foliage to encourage healthy growth and flowering.
  • Fertilizing: Apply appropriate fertilizers or compost as needed to provide essential nutrients to your plants.
  • Mulching: Replenish mulch around your plants to conserve moisture, suppress weeds, and maintain a consistent soil temperature.
  • Pest and disease monitoring: Keep a close eye on your garden for any signs of pests or diseases and take prompt action if needed.
  • Staking and support: Provide support for heavy or taller plants to prevent them from bending or breaking under their weight.
Planning Your Garden from Last Year: coneflowers and blazing star growing in the summer garden

As you spend time in your garden throughout this year’s growing season, recording and tracking your progress can elevate your gardening game.

A garden journal is like a gardener’s diary, capturing successes, lessons learned, and reflections on the gardening journey.

These notes and documentation on your gardening experiences will help you to improve your garden year after year.

variety of seed packets

A garden journal is a dedicated notebook or digital document where you can record important information and observations about your garden.

Whether you’re a seasoned gardener or just starting out, keeping a garden journal can be incredibly valuable. Here’s the information you can include:

  • Planting dates: Document when you planted your warm-season crops, cool-season crops, or flower variety and whether you started from seeds or transplants.
  • Weather observations: Note weather conditions, including temperature, rainfall, and any extreme events like storms or heatwaves. This information can help you identify patterns and understand the impact of weather on your garden.
  • Pest and disease observations: Record any pest or disease issues you encounter, including the type of pest or disease, when you first noticed it, and the actions you took to address it.
  • Harvest yields: Keep track of the quantity and quality of your harvests. This data can help you plan for future growing seasons and determine which crops perform best in your garden.
  • Successes and failures opportunities: Jot down what worked well and what didn’t. Celebrate your gardening triumphs and reflect on the challenges you faced.
Planning Your Garden from Last Year: summer cut flower garden

A garden journal is a powerful tool for learning and improving your gardening skills.

By documenting your successes and challenges, you have insights from previous years as to what works in your garden and what doesn’t. Overtin=me, this information can help you refine your gardening practices.

For example, if you notice that certain plants consistently thrive in specific locations or under particular growing conditions, you can replicate those conditions for future plantings. But also, if you encounter recurring pest or disease issues with certain crops or flowers, you can research preventive measures to manage them.

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row of dahlias growing along the white picket fence

I’ve shared the various stages of garden planning, from reflecting on the previous year’s garden to setting clear goals, selecting plants and varieties, and the importance of soil preparation, watering, and pest management.

We’ve also talked about maintaining and caring for your garden and how documenting your garden’s progress in a garden journal is important in how you plan for next year.

Gardening is a journey of discovery, patience, and resilience. And your garden is a reflection of your ability to learn, adapt, and grow, just like the plants you grow.

May your 2024 garden be a source of joy, inspiration, and connection, and may it continue to bring you closer to the beauty and wonder of nature.

If you have any questions or additional suggestions, feel free to share them in the comments below. And be sure to share this blog post link with anyone who may find these gardening tips useful.

Until next time,

Happy Gardening!

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