Planning Your Garden

Being stuck inside may have you dreaming of planting your summer garden in the warm sunshine. We’re still a few weeks away from the prime planting season — the best time to start is after Mother’s Day — but now is the best time to plan your garden.

Planning your garden is a crucial first step. The Kemper Center for Home Gardening offers the following tips for planning your backyard garden:

  • Start with a map. If you’re working with a new garden space, or are just reimagining an existing area in your yard, the best way to begin is to draw an aerial map of the area. It doesn’t have to be high quality, but it should include existing trees, shrubs, buildings, paths, and retaining walls. Graph paper is great for this task. Start by drawing the boundary of the area, using the squares on the graph paper to represent predetermined distance. After you draw boundaries, sketch in existing features that will remain. Make a few copies of this version of your map. Then, try out multiple designs to see what you like best.
  • Keep basic garden design principles in mind. A few basic principles can apply to any garden.
    • Varying the heights of plants to add a sense of movement and draw the eye across the scene.
    • Group plants with varying leaf sizes and textures to keep your garden bed from appearing muddled and busy.
    • Avoid planting only one kind of each plant. Our minds are naturally drawn to patterns, so repeat a few key plants in your design to help knit the components together.
  • Picture all four seasons. Classic spring flowers like daffodils, tulips, azaleas, and bluebells are lovely, but when you’re planning your garden, you want to make sure it has beauty year-round. Considering including plants that bloom at all points of the growing season or look showy when not in flower or dormant. In addition to creating a beautiful landscape, this is beneficial to pollinators that require nectar and pollen sources throughout the year.
  • Look at the area from a plant’s point of view. What is the condition of the soil? Does it have a high proportion of clay? How much sun does the area receive? Is the area sloped? These site characteristics can affect which plants will thrive in your garden and which will struggle. The Garden’s Plant Finder database is a great place to narrow your plant list based on the unique characteristics of your site.
  • Be patient. Coming home from the nursery with arms full of new plants is an exciting feeling! But don’t jump right into planting. First position all the plants where you want them in your garden while they are still in the pots. Then take a step back and adjust the spacing as needed. This is especially important for vegetable gardens, where good spacing is crucial both in terms of maximizing yield and minimizing diseases.

For more advice on planning your garden, visit the Kemper Center’s visual guides for tips on gardening with native plants, shrubs, trees, and many other topics.

Catherine Martin
Public Information Officer

Leave a Reply