Boom, That’s A Garden Plan

So the past week my kids have taken turns with the sickies. First the girl spent a week coughing her lungs out, then just when she had recovered enough to return to school, the boy spent a night puking all over me. Good times, good times.

So, what does this have to do with gardening? Everything! Two sick kids was just the enforced down-time I needed to finalize my 2013 gardening plan. You what I found tremendously rewarding? Since I codified my year-round planning method into something that I can actually explain to people as a step-by-step process, I’ve found my own planning is made even easier. If you want to really know something, teach someone else, right?

So, I’ve got my plan and I’m loving it. The garden is 100% perfect right now, because it’s 100% imaginary, but I think I’ve got a fair shot at pulling most of this off out in the big, bad, slug-infested real world too.

You can download a PDF of the whole thing here, or by clicking on the image below.


So, how did I make this garden plan, and how can you make one too? Well, don’t let the massive blocks of text put you off, its really pretty simple, actually.

What Do You Want To Grow?

You’ve already got this figured out, no doubt. It’s been months of seed catalogs by now. Maybe your seed order is already in your hot little hands, maybe you are still trying to decide between different kinds of beets. (I was stuck on summer squash this year and, predictably, just over ordered.)

It’s a good idea to have a list of your seeds in front of you when you decide what you’ll be growing this year. If you have some seed that’s probably still good but might be losing viability, you can opt to give it one last big planting to finish the pack, or just use it for sprouting or “mixed greens blend” or something where perfect germination isn’t as critical.

What’s Your Garden Look Like?

I started, as I do every year, by making a drawing of my garden. Actually, because of the way my garden has grown into multiple sections, I made three drawings – one for the front beds, one for the back beds and one for the hugelkultur area. The garden planner I use (and sellahem.) has 1/4″ grid paper which I print out, then make 1/4-inch to 1-foot scale drawings of my beds. This level of precision is not necessary – a simple sketch will do just fine – but it does help if you are trying to cram as many plants as possible in your space.

Garden Plan 2013

If you’re gonna have a garden, I say you might as well make it pretty. Or else, you know, just have a yard and be done with it. For this reason, I often mix up plantings in my beds or plant in patterns. A typical pattern I like to use in my beds is a row or two of climbing thing to the North, grown up a trellis, with some large framed stuff like tomatoes or cabbage in the middle of the bed, and a border of little, ideally colorful things, like beets or onions. I repeated that pattern a lot in my garden planning this year as you can see. It seems to maximize space and variety and it looks good.

I designated beds as either Summer or Fall beds, just like I talked about in my recent Succession Planning post. Something that occurred to me that I didn’t mention in that post is that, by simply alternating back and forth between Summer/Late Crop and Spring/Fall beds, a pretty decent level of year-over-year crop rotation will naturally happen. Bonus!

Once the bed/zone drawings are in place, I just start penciling in my crops. Summer crops went into summer beds and Fall crops went into fall beds. Then I made notes for what Spring and Late crops would coordinate with the main plantings. I use pencil for a reason – this is an iterative process as you add a cabbage here and subtract a tomato there.

How Many Plants Can You Cram In There?

Most of us urban gardeners want to maximize our yield in minimum spacing. In terms of plant spacing, if you aren’t sure how much room a plant is going to take up, I recommend reading up on the Square Foot Gardening method’s plant spacing guidelines. SFG is an excellent starting point just to wrap your head around efficient grid spacing while planting.

It is my experience that the Square Foot Gardening spacing is 50-25% too small if you are interested in growing full sized vegetables, particularly the fall and winter crops I get so excited about (If your mature January King cabbage takes up one square foot of space, you did something wrong. Sorry.). But despite some limitations it’s probably the simplest place to start for spacing info.

Photo: Mother Earth News

If Square Foot Gardening is a bit too simplistic for your style, and you think I don’t put out nearly enough charts and gardening spreadsheets on this blog, then you might adore the plant spacing methods in John Jeavons’ How To Grow More Vegetables, possibly the most chart-heavy gardening book sold to the layperson. (Personally, I find How To Grow More Vegetables to be quite tedious, and I am inclined to love garden geekery, so that’s saying something, but many people absolutely swear by this book.)

The best way to learn plant spacing is just to observe your plants over a few years. I know that’s not much help to brand new gardeners, but it’s the most honest method. The ideal spacing for your plants will depend on your soil, the plant variety, and if your goal is big veg or small, so in the end this, like most things in life, is negotiable.

Plug and Play

On the grid-paper drawing I made I started to rough out about how many plants I thought I could squeeze into my primarily 4×8 beds. I made a note of this, which will help me when I start seeds or buy transplants. I always start too many plants, and I’m trying to moderate that impulse a little bit, to save time and money on seed and potting soil.

I finalized my detailed planting plans, in terms of what varieties and what quantity of plants I plan to grow, using my basic Year Round Planting Spreadsheet. You can download your own copy for free on the Downloadables Page. (It’s towards the bottom, right under the Apricot Jam labels. One of these days I’ll organize that page!) This spreadsheet breaks down your garden into various growing zones.

Each bed, container or growing zone gets a row, and each row is broken up over twelve columns, one for each month. Then, you just note what crop will be occupying what space durring what month. Pretty simple.

Most summer stuff goes out in May and is done by late-September or early-October, so under the appropriate bed I listed the varieties of summer crops I plan to grow in the May to September cells. Any very late or overwintering crops that I planned followed these.

Spring and Fall crops were put in the same way, with most Fall crops going in July (many as transplants started in mid-June).

I double checked varieties, making sure that my Fall varieties were, in fact, cool-season appropriate and my Winter crops were as hardy as they come. I also checked that things like lettuce and carrots would have a rather continual harvest, and that I wasn’t over-represented in anything.

Two things I’m opting not to grow this year are Brussels sprouts and corn. While we like both these crops, I want to focus on other veggies that have a bit more bang for the time and space buck.

That’s it! Massive year round garden plan. I feel very good about this plan, but, as with everything related to gardening, I look at it as a guideline to make my life easier, not a horticultural straightjacket I’m zipping myself into. If the weather doesn’t cooperate, and things run long or short of typical, or if my eyeballs stop working for another several months, I’ll just adjust on the fly and just do the best I can.

Do you plan your garden? Please share your favorite methods and any tips you’ve picked up.


  1. Bess says

    I picked up a copy of How to Grow More Vegetables last month because I know some people swear by it. I haven’t been able to read more than a couple pages. Once I discovered that he capitalizes GROW BIOINTENSIVE the entire book, I lost the desire to read it. The author is quite possibly more annoying than the Square Foot Gardening(TM) guy, and that is saying something.

    • Shirley B. says

      Haven’t read this one but I know what you mean about the SFG guy. WOW! He’s something allright. I’m seriously considering NOT putting a grid on my SFG simply because I’ve been told that I MUST use a grid!

  2. Richard Wyman says

    I use the Mother Earth News Garden Planner. It isn/t cheap at $25 a yaear but the e-mail planting reminders really help my plantings. It is very much like your grid drawing but it will tell you how many of each plant to start in its given area.

    • says

      That’s probably the best online type planner, and there’s a lot about it I do like. You know what cracks me up about that planner, though? It’s rebranded by at least 4 or 5 different organizations – and probably more. Territorial has the same one, Kitchen Gardeners has the same one. So someone out there has made the base web software that everyone is rebranding. :)

      • Dan says

        The nice thing, however, is they are all tied together in a central server. So you can login from any of them and get the seed catalogs from different providers. I generally use the Growveg login because it is most comprehensive.

  3. Paula says

    I take a few sheets of graph paper, cut out the sizes needed for each garden space (I too have a few, lol) and then make my list of what I am growing and how big they will be. Then I take some more graph paper (made on my printer out of scrap paper made from mail inserts and the likes) and cut out that spacing- like if my squares are each one inch, then I would cut a six by six square one for each type of lettuce/spinach I am planting. I do this for every crop I am planting. Then I write on them what (Lettuce, red, leaf, six inches, March) I need to know for each piece of pattern. If the patterns are too small, I color them and keep a color code next to me so I know what each one is. Then I start lying them on my garden plots. I keep the pattern pieces, because I do plant a lot of the same each year, or every two years (pie pumpkins- every two years!), but this way I can see what room I need, and by adding big capital M’s and N’s here and there, I can plant my marigolds and nasturtiums to keep the garden bug free as well. I have my garden plots and patterns covered in tape (poor woman’s laminate!) and so I can put bits of tape on the back of the patterns and place them or move them as needed.
    Not for everyone, but works for me!

    • says

      This reminds my of the “Post-it note” method of organization and I love it. I’m really visual and that kind of method really works for me, too.

  4. says

    I mostly us The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible for my garden planning. I am heavy on the companion planting for our garden.

    I did try SFG one year and it was such a massive failure that I swore I’d never do it again. I had never had such a huge pest problem as I did with his plans. I agree that his spacing is much too close (1 sf for tomatoes is ridiculous) and we actually only got 6 tomatoes that year off of 7 plants. I even used his soil mix which I found to hold too much water which caused root crops to just rot in place. The plants that were grown in boxes with native soil and compost did much better, but the spacing was still much too close.

  5. says

    I am a devoted eclectic, taking the good from as many systems as possible. This includes both Steve Solomon, whose “Gardening When it Counts” counsels wide plant spacing, and Mel what’s his name of Square Foot Gardening fame. It makes me laugh how both authors exhort their readers to not just listen to what “everybody else” counsels. Mel is a retired navy man, while Steve is an old hippie. Guess who I feel more comfortable with, :)

    I love the square foot method of precision seeding, especially for things like carrots and leeks. But as you point out, the square foot measure is too small for many plants. It just so happened that my beds were 3×21. The three was deliberate, the 21 just happened. In beds where I do use the square foot method I measure out squares of one-and-a-half feet. That works almost perfectly. For some plants, like carrots, Mel’s spacing works fine. In that case I simply put in more seeds. As for the mix, I have not used it. The good part of SFG is that it will encourage some people to garden who might otherwise not do it. Steve Solomon’s latest tome has the reverse effect.
    I reviewed it here.

    • says

      Ien, thanks for the link. I tried to comment on your site (from my phone) but got locked out and then had to go to bed. Great review of the Solomon book. I’m a devoted GVWotC groupie, but have not had the most positive of experiences on that soil forum, and frankly, have turned more toward the Permie-influenced stuff than the Albrecht-influenced stuff for now. I’ve also struggled with the practicality and expense of custom-designed soil amendments based on soil tests when every one of my 15 raised beds + all the other areas of my garden all will have slightly different soil compositions. I mean, I’ll invest in my garden, but I’m not running 20 lab soil tests every year. This seems more practical for row-cropping style gardens, where you can ensure a fairly consistent soil mineral content over a large area via tilling. I’ll seek out the new book, though, and give it a go. I hadn’t actually realized that it was published. Thanks!

      • says

        Ah, now I see what you meant about duplicate comment. Thanks for coming to my humble blogspot abode, it feels like being visited by royalty, :) And by that way, I finally got some sheets with squares printed. I love playing with my garden planner!

  6. Grace says

    As always, Erica, You. Are. Awesome. The best of total geekery.

    This year, I’m going to do the farmer’s market thing and not grow any vegetables at all. “Wooooo”, said in a Craig Ferguson voice. Actually, I’m going to give over my whole plot (which has actually been *reduced* by 40%, “What???”) to my kids for them to use as their own farmer’s market. They can sell anything they grow out on the sidewalk and by bicycle this year. I will provide the seeds, water, and chicken-poop. They have to do the work. The rest of the space that they aren’t planting, I will be trying to ramp up a cutting garden for the same sidewalk farmer’s market (but I get the $$), and then we’ll compare and see what’s the money maker.

    Why? For one thing, I reduced the farming area significantly (WTF?) so that I can expand the chicken coop (oh, whew, had me going there), and paving, yes, paving, the path to the coop so we won’t get muddy feet all winter. In actuality, the path is under water right now, so I have to add more gravel. Then when I rebuild, the chickens will stay contained and NOT scratch up the vegetable garden.

    All in the master plan of making things more efficient instead of wrestling with impractical fencing, poor spacing and poor watering techniques. I figure, even with less space, I can be more efficient. So I’ll probably rejigger your planting plan for annual and perennial flowers for sale. Thanks for the inspiration!

  7. says

    I’m so impressed with the detail and the thoroughness in your plan and strategy. Me, I grab a piece of binder paper, do a quick and dirty sketch of my four raised beds on one side and a square for my p-patch plot on the other side. Then I plug in veggies. I’m not that adventurous when it comes to gardening, so I stick to things I know we’ll eat and that are generally low maintenance. One bed gets potatoes; peas, squashes, tomatoes, beans, carrots, basil and kale get bopped around from bed to bed each year. The p-patch has asparagus (which I get to eat for the first time this year!) and that’s where the onions and garlic go. Could I get more out of my garden(s)? Probably, but this is what works for me these days. Maybe I’ll get more intensive about growing and planning some time when gardening full time is possible/preferable.

    • says

      And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, either. :) I like doing this kind of thing – it’s like garden tetris – but growing a great garden doesn’t require it.

  8. Elizabeth says

    I did the SFG up until 1993 when moved to house we are in now. It worked wonderfully for me, very little weeding, very productive. I have no complaints. The house we are in now came with a large garden, about 20 ft x 45 ft. So much more trouble with weeds, hard to keep mulched etc.

    For a guide to vegetables I have used the Wisconsin Garden Guide by Jerry Minnich @1982 for years and years. It covers fruits and vegetables and also trees, shrubs, perennials specific to WI.

  9. Erin says

    Hi Erica,
    I’ve never commented on a blog before, but as a fellow PNWer, I read yours religiously and so adore your advice, perspective and ideas, that here I am, my first comment!

    I have 8 4×12′ (ish) raised beds my DH build me a few years back. I order seeds based on whim, to be honest. Then stand in my garden during that warm week in Feb. that we always have, too excited to wait, then lament the seeds sitting in boggy muck for 2 months. I’m way too haphazard and never have a plan. I don’t get great yields, but enough. This year I acutally made a seed inventory chart and tried not to over spend on seeds. Perhaps I’m ready to turn over a new leaf and try out some garden planning.
    Thanks for making so many resources available. And for having such an awesome site!

    • says

      Thank you so much for commenting, and for your kind words! I think there is a lot to be said for haphazard planting, actually, but I do highly recommend having a good seed list! The number of times I’ve nearly bought seeds I already had -and would have without my seed list!- has convinced me of the value of keeping that info in one easy-to-check place.

  10. says

    I love how sharing information condenses it for me. Maybe that’s part of why I blog. Thanks for sharing your spreadsheet so we can be copycats! I can understand it even better because of the talk you gave.

  11. Steve in Eugene says

    I notice all your melons (no snickering!) are in containers. Care to comment?

    Also, it looks to me like someone once head over heels in love with Territorial is having a fling with Johnny’s.


    • says

      What’s that quote, “Ye shall know them by their fruits?” Well, I think you know me by my seeds! Yes, this year about 45% of my order was Territorial, about 30% was Johnny’s and about 25% was High Mowing, so I’m definitely straying. There’s a few reasons for that. The first is that I just like the Johnny’s catalog more than the Territorial catalog right now because there is so much grower info in there to learn from. The second is that I want to have a broader range of seed house and grow out experiences to reference when I talk to people about this stuff.

      Melons: yes, my goal this year is to grow and ripen melons! Down in the tropical paradise of Eugene (hah!) I think you have a few more heat units to work with than I do up here on Puget Sound. So the plan is, dark colored large containers (I’m using big Rubbermaid totes) right up against the south wall of my house for maximum root warmth and a warm microclimate advantage. I’ll let you know how it works out.

  12. says

    Woah, did I see melons in tubs?? I would love to see a post on that!!! PS I am completely jealous over you suburban sized lot and the amount of beds you can fit in there. Holy space batman!!!

    • says

      Yeah, we have a third-acre. Roughly half is house and back area that isn’t suitable for most edibles. Maybe something like half the remainder is under some kind of edible cultivation or supports edibles (coop, paths between beds, etc.) so we have (very roughly) about 1/12th acre growing stuff we eat, including the fruit trees and berry bushes in the otherwise “ornamental” borders and stuff.

  13. says

    Ha! I love it! My husband thinks I’m loony for my obsessive excel planning sometimes. I have manually created around 80% of your templates by trial and error over the years but love this idea for stagger planting each bed!

    New follower, I look forward to reading your previous articles and following along!


  14. Morgan says

    I like to plant fast growing plants around the ones that will get huge. Example would/could be, radishes around cabbage/brocc sprouts, or baby salad greens around my still baby tomatoes. I like to plant things that I thin as I eat them, so everybody gets more room as they grow up.

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