Planning Your 2016 Garden

Curious about taking those first steps in planning your garden? In lieu of Opening Day this Saturday, this week we’re featuring a special guest blog post from Northside Community Gardener and Garden Mentor extraordinaire, Ingrid!

Join Ingrid for a free Garden Planning Workshop on Thursday, April 28th, from 5:30 – 6:30 at the Orchard Gardens Community Barn, 210 N. Grove St. All are welcome and it’s sure to be both an educational and fun time!


During winter’s short days and longs nights, my garden sleeps under a blanket of mulch and snow. Except for a few hardy sprigs of creeping thyme that edge my walkway, my garden patiently waits for spring. I, on the other hand, am planning. Where should I put carrots this year? And the peas? And the bean towers so they don’t shade the Swiss chard?  In my mind and on paper, my 2015 garden has already begun.

My perennial beds where I grow herbs and flowers are fairly static. Once plants are established, I don’t rearrange the beds except to split overgrown plants and to occasionally share a zealous grower with friends or neighbors. My vegetable garden, on the other hand, changes dramatically from year to year.

I grow vegetables in my shady yard and in a community plot rented through Missoula’s Garden City Harvest.  Both planting spaces are fairly small and I always have to be conscious of what is planted where and how large any given plant will grow. As I begin my planning, I gather paper, pencil, and last year’s written plan. With my limited space, my biggest concern is planting so I don’t repeat vegetables in the same piece of ground year after year.

I work on the plan for my yard’s vegetable garden first. Three full-grown maple trees shade my yard. My house and garage also send afternoon shadows across my garden space. Only shade tolerant vegetables will produce a crop in these limiting conditions. Almost all vegetables love sun. When they don’t get enough light during the day, they don’t produce. Over the years, I’ve discovered the following vegetables will produce in a partially shaded area:  leaf lettuce, cilantro, arugula, radishes, parsley, ox-heart carrots (small, round variety), and pole beans. The pole beans are an anomaly. They prefer full-sun, but with a tall enough bean tower, they’ll grow up to the light and produce wonderful beans. The only problem, I have to use a step-stool to reach the beans! Once I’ve decided what I’m planting this year, I take a quick look at last year’s plan, and try to reorganize so that each vegetable has a “new” spot in the garden. So, last year where I had the bean towers, this year I’ll plant cilantro and ox-heart carrots. Where I had cilantro last year, I’ll plant radishes and arugula, and so on. This practice is basic crop rotation.

Rotating where a gardener places vegetables benefits not only the plants, but also the soil. Soil that has the same crop planted in it year after year can become depleted in nutrients, leading to stunted plants and poor vegetable production. By varying where vegetables are sown from year to year, the soil can better support healthy plant growth and production. Another benefit of crop rotation is a reduction of insect pests. For example, the wire worms that attacked my turnips last year are still in that same spot in the garden. If I plant turnips in the same area, I’m simply providing them an easy feast and ensuring my turnips fail. If I plant bush beans where I had turnips last year, I’m forcing the wire worms to at least wiggle their way across the garden before they infest my turnips. As a general rule, I like to rotate from root crops to peas and beans to tomatoes, and then back to root crops. But, given the small space I have, I don’t always make that three year rotation.

In the sunny community garden spot I rent, I plant sun-loving vegetables: squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, tomatillos, broccoli, onions, and Swiss chard.  I also use this space to try out new vegetables or varieties. Last year, I put in four artichoke sets. They were amazing to look at and did produce eight small heads, but I won’t plant them again. For the amount of space they took up and the number of aphids I hand-squished on their stalks, I didn’t find them worth the effort.

This leads me to another planning factor I haven’t mentioned: weighing the “pay-off” from my investment of energy, time, and seed cost. What does this mean? Well, is what I grow in my garden worth the effort in not only a monetary sense but also in a culinary and esthetic sense? For example, I no longer grow potatoes. Why? They take up too much of my valuable space and I can purchase organic potatoes at the farmers’ market that taste as good as any I could grow. Tomatoes, on the other hand, I am willing to plant and pamper as my own homegrown paste tomatoes make the best salsa. Not even the excellent farmers’ market tomatoes can compare.

So, I’ve figured out what goes where and mapped my gardens out on paper. This “mapping” is a fluid process for me. I simply draw an outline of my two vegetable spaces and define areas: onions, winter squash, peppers, etc. Gardeners more particular than me purchase graph paper and draft out rows to scale. I don’t find this necessary and my planning is just the first step in paging through catalogs and ordering seeds. Once I’ve planned what vegetables I want to grow and where I’ll plant them, I’ll make my seed orders.


There are as many kinds of gardens and ways to organize a garden as there are people.

“The only wrong way to garden is to not garden at all!” – Patrick Long


A huge thank you to Ingrid! Download Ingrid’s Garden Planning Worksheet which walks you through where to begin, what to ask yourself, and important things to consider before planting. It’s a great resource and gives you a taste of our upcoming workshop.

See you all out at the gardens for Opening Day this Saturday! (Remember, 10:00 – 12:00 for returning gardeners, 12:00 – 2:00 for new gardeners).