I started writing this post in February, because for me, February is my prep month. I’ve already ordered my seeds and have continued on my way to making an indoor salad bar (more on that later!). But, for a lot of people, it’s still winter. Like, very winter.
Cut to March, and I, along with much of the rest of Canada and any other cold region, am going a little stir crazy. I’m ready to start planting my garden, I’m ready to start sitting out on my deck, I’m just ready to stop wearing 5 layers every time I mosey on outside. Regardless of my feelings, March is my planning month. It’s time to get the seeds sprouting to seedlings, it’s time to start drawing out my garden with a dose of reality (no, I cannot plant 30 rose bushes to climb over a trellis that is made only from reclaimed wood that I scavenged myself).
For those who aren’t sure whether they want to garden yet, or for those who haven’t started, but are eager, March is the perfect month for you to start planning your first garden. Because, gardening takes a little bit more than just plopping a plant into the ground and hoping for the best. This planning is especially dependent on your zone.
A zone is how well plants grow in the area you live in. Some plants will never thrive, while others can be forced into producing in the hot summer months in my zone (3b). For more information on your own zone, check out this handy guide for the US and Canada by the Farmer’s Almanac.
Figure out What You’re Doing
Before starting anything, decide what type of garden you want.
Are you planting a small garden? Click here for veggies that are perfect for small gardens. Just a few flowers or carrots for fun? A balcony garden to spruce up your space? An indoor garden? Are you starting your garden from seed, or will you be buying plugs that you can, you guessed it, plug right into the ground? Do you just want flowers or only vegetables?
I know, I just hit you with a ridiculous amount of questions, and you could’ve answered yes to every single one of those. I have a balcony garden aka my deck, I’ve my own indoor herbs and veggies growing all year round, I start from seed and I buy plugs that are already half grown and ready to produce. I also have flower gardens and veggies all over the place. You don’t have to choose just one of the above, but if you live in an apartment and don’t have access to a community garden, you may be limited to space.
You may not yet know what you want, and that’s okay! You don’t have to figure it out all this year; hell, I’m still figuring out what I want from my garden and tweaking it every year. Which is why keeping a gardening journal is so helpful.
When I first started, my garden was a small raised garden bed in my tiny backyard. Then, the next year, I turned the side plot of soil that usually held flowers into some corn and my own little strawberry patch. A year, or two, after that, I moved outside the city and tackled two large plots of land that were previous gardens. I was excited to have two HUGE vegetable gardens, flanking the sides of my yard. But, one side proved to be way too much work and has now been turned into my orchard, which is still growing bigger every year.
This year? We’re planting more trees and flowers in the one huge garden, and building two raised garden beds. I’ve also added indoor all-year-round gardening and am looking towards adding more pots of veggies on the deck.
Gardening gets addicting! Changing things, getting excited for the next season, seeing what you can and cannot grow, it can be fun and so satisfying as you watch a little seedling grow into a huge plant, providing you with nutritious veggies or fruits.
But, you see why I went slightly off tangent here, right? It’s to help you realize that, if you choose flowers this year or a huge vegetable garden, you can change it. You’re not stuck with what you’ve done the previous year, even if you planted all perennials. You can uproot them without ruining the plant (usually) and move it to a new and better home. Just don’t keep uprooting your poor perennials every year. They won’t like that.
You don’t have to stick to one or the other, you can co-mingle flowers and vegetables and make a pretty oasis for yourself.
Plan it Out
I absolutely love plans. I especially love gardening plans. It just feels so exciting and hopeful, planning out your garden and trying new things. But, there are a few things you need to figure out and plan ahead of time before you get too carried away.
Figure out how much room you have and what you absolutely want this year. Is it a few fresh veggies to add to a salad or BBQ? Are you hoping to feed your entire family all summer and into the fall? Or, maybe you just want some cut flowers for the house so you don’t have to buy any!
Or, maybe you’re feeling a little stressed about gardening and are hoping to just start with some herbs in your kitchen.
Don’t worry. Sit down, write your wish list, then compare to what you have available to you, including time.
Maybe you’re a balcony gardener. Plan out what you need to buy. Is this your first year? You’ll need pots, soil, and of course, seeds and plants.
Maybe you have a big garden you haven’t used yet and are ready to till it up and plant until your heart’s content. Look at the space of your garden, how often you will be ready and willing to weed, and how many plants you can fit in there without going overboard and walking into a mess of vines and leaves.
Plant What you Like
The moment my seed catalogue comes in the mail, I am excitedly leafing through, looking at any new seeds or plants the three companies I order from have to offer (T&T Seeds; West Coast Seeds; and Veseys) . I’m always looking for more interesting plants, flowers, and veggies to add to my garden. But, while I always add one or two new types of vegetable or fruit or plant, I’ve found a lot of seeds that I like and that work for me. I know that those will be the ones I will order, again and again. And, again, and again, and again. I do like to try out new seeds, pinning them against each other to see what works and tastes better, but it’s not necessary.
Nor is it necessary to plant brussel sprouts when I hate them. I’m not planting them for a friend (hello, bunches of cilantro for my good friend), and I’m definitely not going to eat them, so why in the world would I order them and spend my time on them?
When ordering your seeds (or buying seeds/plants in the store), look at what you eat the most. Do you live like a rabbit, eating copious amounts of carrots and lettuce? Then, go wild with those two things! Go wild and plant as many as you think you can eat. Do you love tomatoes and eat them like apples (no, thank-you)? Plant different types of tomatoes and enjoy!
There’s no need to waste seeds if you’re not going to eat what comes out of them. Seeds can only last a certain amount of time, so don’t over-order.
It’s so easy to over-order seeds, because it’s hard to realize that ONE zucchini plant can yield 5 to 10 POUNDS of zucchini. That’s a lot of zucchini muffins to make. Unless you’re storing and baking and absolutely go nuts for zucchini, 1-2 plants should do ya. Zucchinis produce like motherfuckers and are perfect for first-time gardeners as they’re so easy to grow.
Remember to Stagger your Plantings for a Summer Full of Veggies
You know what’s not the best way to start out your new gardening life? Planting row upon row of lettuce and cucumbers and radishes and getting so many you can barely manage to pluck them before the sun wrinkles them into bitterness. But, when you’re just starting out, this is a problem that often happens. I ended up doing this for a few years until I realized that I could stagger my plantings to gain more veggies over a longer period AND not end up eating salad for every meal for two weeks because my lettuce is getting out of hand.
Succession planting is NOT impossible if you’re in a colder zone, I promise you. You may not get plants all summer, but you can still get lettuce, peppers, radishes, and scallions growing for most of your summer. If the plant can weather the cold (root vegetables) or do well in cooler temperatures like early spring or early fall (whaddup, lettuce), then it’ll work nicely.
Start your plants indoors to get the most out of your season, but know that it’s not necessary to get a full garden. If you’re in zone 3, like me, your growing season is short. Which means, I start my lettuce in pots for the deck, then into the ground as early as possible, and I keep seeding every week until the weather starts to get too warm.
Happy planning, y’all!