Page 1 of 2Think you’re ready to get your nails dirty in the garden? Before you begin planting, the best way to keep organized and execute your dream garden is to create and then follow a garden plan. This will usually include a list of what you are planting, when you planted it, and where. Such a plan can help you time your harvest for optimal yield, provide a reference point for next year's crops, track plant growth, and aid you in cataloging your successes and failures in the garden.
How much space do you have?
Begin by reflecting on the space you have available and sun exposure your plot receives. Space and sunlight will ultimately determine how much you can grow—and where. While it might be enticing to attempt something exotic from outside your hardiness zone, it is very difficult to make up for climate differences; a plant will not reach peak production if the sun isn’t compatible with its needs. Take a look at the plot you have and compare that to the special needs of what you might want to plant. Some plants require a lot of space; melons can take up to 20 feet, for example. However, if the foods you want to plant are bigger than the plot you have, some can be grown up a trellis to save space. Cucumbers, pole beans, dwarf melons, peas, squash, or non-edibles work well that way. What you don’t want is a space too crowded. A seed packet or starter plant will always come with instructions on planting, spacing, and thinning. Trust the packet! Plants will never be a bountiful when crowded or "competing" will too many others nearby, so let your plants stretch their roots out by spacing them wisely and thinning as necessary.
How much sunlight is available?
Next, consider the sun exposure needs of the plants you want to grow. "Full sun" means exposure for at least six full hours per day, and partial sun/partial shade is between 3-6 hours per day. This bit of information will help you plan the arrangement of your plants and the location of your plot. The tallest and most sun loving of your garden, like corn or anything grown vertically up a trellis (beans and peas and the like), should be on the north side. The next section of your garden should include medium-tall edibles such as tomatoes, peppers, and cabbage, followed on the south side with the shortest varieties like radishes, carrots, and other tuberous plants. This method ensures that the taller varieties do not shade the other plants around them. To help you determine the space you need for different varieties of edibles and the possible yield, check out this handy calculator from plangarden.com.