It may seem counter intuitive, but as we head into the cooler seasons, it’s the time to start thinking about planning your spring garden.  It’s the best time to dream, plan, research and begin the ground work.  (Pun intended!)  In late fall before the ground gets too cold and too hard is the best time to pick your garden location and prep the soil.

Spring Garden Prep:

First Things First

As you begin to plan your spring garden, the first assignment is to find a good site that gets at least four hours of full sun.  If the trees in your yard have lost their leaves, keep in mind come spring when they fill in again the trees will cast heavy shadows.  You also want to have easy access to water.  You can lengthen your hose with extensions but you don’t want to be carrying watering cans back and forth to the site.

If you are a beginning gardener plan to start small.  Maybe one raised bed or a 10 x 10 plot.  Many enthusiastic beginners jump in with plans that can easily become overwhelming.  Ease into gardening and get a feel for the work.  You can always expand from year to year.

If you have more experience with gardening and want to grow heavy crops, then consider three to four garden plots so you can rotate your plantings.  Typically vegetables with similar requirements are grouped together.  Most common groupings are brassicas which include cabbages, broccoli, cauliflower), root crops (carrots, potatoes, parsnips) and legumes (beans, peas).  Tender vegetables can make up another grouping (tomatoes, zucchini, squash).

Dividing your crops is a good plan because it allows you to rotate the groups every 2-3 years.  This reduces the chance of pests and disease build up. Rotating crops also offers the opportunity to prep and fertilize soil accordingly for each grouping.

Soil is King

Successful gardening starts with good, rich soil.  It’s the foundation for a fertile environment that produces a high yield of vegetables.  So when you are planning your spring garden you need to consider how to optimize growing conditions.

The soil in the garden bed needs to be turned over well in advance of planting, ideally during late fall or winter.  Plan on digging in and turning over the soil to a depth of at least six inches but preferably 12 inches.  You will need to add organic matter which can be compost or leaves.  Good compost can often be obtained through local community sources at little or no cost.  And if it’s not available through the community, gardening centers can sell you high grade organic matter.

Be sure to work the compost into the soil.  In the spring when the soil starts to warm up, you can use a rake or pointed shovel to break up the soil making a hospitable environment for seeds or seedlings.  Remove any debris or stones from the bed.  Depending on your crop, it is recommended to allow weeds to germinate and be pulled before putting your seeds or seedlings into the bed.

Research and Organize

Now that your beds are ready for spring, take the fall and winter to thoroughly plan your spring garden.  A good way to get started is to order seed catalogs.  This will get you excited about the process when you see so many vegetables varieties that are available.  The catalogs will also offer good information on the planting season and growing requirements.

Once you have narrowed down your list of crop choices, then do research on what varieties do best in your planting zone, local soil and length of season.  You will need to think about cool weather crops (which typically go in the ground in February and are harvested in early spring) versus warm weather crops (which will need to germinate after the last chance of frost and are harvested throughout the summer).

You will also need to plan space requirements.  Vegetables like squash and melons take up a lot of square footage while climbing varieties like beans and tomatoes can be grown vertically up a cage or pole.  It helps to buy some graph paper and actually plot out the location of plants based on how much space they will need.  Overcrowding can lead to some voracious varieties taking over smaller plants.

There really is a lot to consider when planning your spring garden.  That’s why it’s best to take the fall and winter to really educate yourself and get organized.  But what a wonderful way to spend those gloomy winter days dreaming about the terrific crops you will be pulling from your garden next season.