Planning The Garden, Here’s How

Choosing where to plant different vegetables in your garden can be overwhelming, to say the least! It can be much easier if you take the time for planning the garden. Here’s how!

Words get thrown out such as, “companion gardening,” “crop rotation,” “spacing,” and more, but what all do they mean for YOU and YOUR gardens?? As we are preparing our own gardens for Spring planting, and deciding on our planting plans for the season, I figured I’d put together a little how-to to help you along on your planting journey!

First off, why do we need to plan out the garden? Seems kind of silly, perhaps?

NO! Planning out and mapping your garden can help you determine what to plant, where to plant it, and when to plant it, coordinating watering schedules, sun exposure, harvesting time, etc., with similar plants. This will ensure your planting is thriving and producing all season long! What more could you ask for??

vegetable garden in raised beds with pathways
The Vegetable Garden is Growing Beautifully

Map Out Your Garden

First things first: Sketch out your garden map. It is helpful to draw this to scale (more or less).

Once this is completed, you can review what seeds/starters you would like to grow, what spacing they require, how often they need to be watered, how long they need until harvesting, and what type of sun exposure they require. The goal is to a) not overcrowd the plants, and b) plant plants with similar needs together, so you can stay organized.

Here is an example of a plant list that a gardener near me used last year.

You can see how many plants of each variety they want to plant, how far apart they should be planted, and how many will be in each row.

Plant list with number, spacing, rows
Plant List with Spacing (Old Farmer’s Almanac)

Here is an example of a garden map.

This is drawn to the scale of their actual garden. The garden is 12′ x 14′ large.

garden plan with measurements and plants
Garden Plan (Old Farmer’s Almanac)

With your sketch in hand and knowledge of how much space each (individual) plant will need, you’re ready to get to work on mapping where everything goes! Bear in mind, it is important not to overcrowd your garden beds.

I like to map out my beds as a grid, so my beds are uniformly spaced and easy to water, prune, and get sunlight to.

Square Foot Gardening

You might consider the square foot gardening method. This is similar to what I do, though it’s a bit more uniform than mine is. I tend to wing it with my approximate measurements. If you plant your plants too close together, they will compete for nutrients, water, and reduce airflow. They will also more easily harbor pests and pass diseases along to the other plants.

When mapping the garden, select plants that require the same or similar amount of spacing, water, and sun exposure needs to be placed into the same areas. You can see an example of a mapped vegetable garden here.

Here is an example of a 4′ x 4′ square foot garden. There are a total of 16 squares that you would plant one plant into each square.

square foot garden example with wood squares filled with plants 4 x 4
Square Foot Garden

Companion Gardening

I also recommend looking into companion gardening. This is an idea that growing specific plants together can help each other produce more crops, bring beneficial insects, keep away pests, help nutrient balance in the soil, and many more benefits. You can read more on this in this article, published by the Old Farmer’s Almanac.

As an example for you, here are the companion plants for tomatoes and some of their benefits to the tomato companion.

  • Asparagus – repels nematodes
  • Basil – repels whiteflies, mosquitoes, spider mites, aphids
    • also attracts bees, which improves pollination, tomato health, and flavor
  • Borage
  • Calendula (Pot Marigold)
  • Carrot
  • Celery
  • Chives – improves health and favor
  • Cucumber
  • Garlic
  • Monarda (Bee Balm) – improves health and flavor
  • Nasturtium
  • Onion
  • Parsley – draws insects away from tomatoes
  • Pepper

drawing of vegetable garden with companion plants in raised beds
Companion Planting Plan (Old Farmer’s Almanac)

Crop Rotation

Something to consider: crop rotation! But what does that even mean? Well, in the context of garden mapping, it is recommended to rotate your plant families between different areas from year to year. Similar plant families require the same nutrients and are susceptible to the same diseases.

For example, if you plant tomatoes in the same spot every year, they are more likely to be in soil that has depleted nutrients for their specific needs and they’ll have a higher chance of contracting the diseases that might have been present in the soil from last year.

However, if you plant, say, broccoli this year in the bed where you planted tomatoes last year, the broccoli has different nutrient needs and may not be susceptible to the same diseases, allowing them to thrive and give you a nice harvest.

Here’s an example of how to rotate your crops from The Old Farmer’s Almanac.

crop rotation for four vegetable beds with red arrows
Four Bed Crop Rotation Example (Old Farmer’s Almanac)

The five plant families we focus on for our gardens are:

  • Legumes: beans & peas
  • Brassica: bok choy, mustard greens, cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, etc.
  • Solanaceae: potatoes, tomatoes, tomatillos, eggplant, peppers
  • Cucurbit: cucumber, pumpkin, squash, zucchini
  • Allium: garlic, leeks, onions, chives

Additional vegetables such as carrots, lettuce, radishes, corn, and various herbs can be planted in the additional leftover spaces. You can read more about crop-rotation here.

Tall Plants On Trellises

But what about tall plants? Vertically-growing (or trellised) plants should be placed in such a way that they don’t shade the other plants too much.

UNLESS! You conveniently have plants that don’t like much sun, in which case, planting them in a spot where they get shaded by trellised plants is a great idea! Because of how the sun is placed in the sky during the summer months here in Enumclaw, we like to have our trellised plants planted on the North end of each bed. This includes our pole beans, bush beans, sugar snap peas (my personal favorite!), tomatoes, tomatillos, and squashes (pumpkins, zucchini, cucumbers, etc.).

I am using cattle fencing as the trellis for my cucumbers and melons to grow in this picture. Inexpensive and very strong!

cucumbers and melons growing up on a steel trellis in raised bed
Trellis for Raised Beds

Succession Planting

Speaking the lingo, now you’re ready to think about succession planting. If planned carefully, through the use of succession planting, you can get multiple harvests out of the same garden bed in a single season! How, you ask? Like I said, careful and methodical planning and planting. 

Quick-growing crops such as beans, peas, spinach, radishes, lettuces, and other greens can be planted early-on. They are then ready to harvest within a couple of weeks! You can remove the bolted leftovers after they are done. Then either continue to plant and harvest more of the same thing, or you can plant something entirely different and more-suited for colder weather (below 70 degrees F). This includes broccoli, cabbage, chives, onions, garlic, and more.

Even better, we like to plant a row of radish seeds, let it start growing, then a week or two later, plant a new row of radish seeds (or whatever root vegetable you choose that doesn’t take up a lot of space width-wise), that will be ready to harvest a couple of weeks after your first harvest. This way, we have radishes all Summer long! For more information, I liked this article on succession planting.

red radish with green top is ready to pull from the ground
Radish Growing

Get Started Mapping Out the Garden

And there you have it! You’ve mapped out the gardens, and you’re ready to start planting!

Now comes the fun part! You, working in the garden getting it prepped for the season. If you’re at a loss of where to start, you can read up on this from one of my previous posts here.