How To Plan a Garden

How to Plan a Garden

Planning a garden in January?

Why not? It’ll give you something to do in those slow, cold days before the spring rush. Besides, depending on where you live and what you’re growing, it’ll be time to start some seedlings indoors before you know it.

So grab a pencil and a cup of coffee and start drawing. Take advantage of your down time to get ready for the coming gardening season.

You Will Need


  1. Make a list of everything you want to grow. Mostly stick to things that you know you will eat and that should grow well in your area, but include a few experiments, as well.
  2. Choose a scale for the map of your garden. Write it down on the graph paper or in your journal.
  3. If you already have a garden, draw it to scale on graph paper or in your journal. If you are starting from scratch, you’ll have to estimate how much room you will need. Mel Bartholomew, author of All New Square Foot Gardening, recommends 48 square feet of space for every adult and 27 square feet for every child in the family. A third of this space is used to grow daily salads. Another third supplies the non-salad vegetable needs, such as tomatoes for soup and onions for cooking purposes. The last third is for vegetables to preserve and for unusual plants you want to grow just for fun. This is probably a good starting point; as you gain experience, you can always expand the garden.
  4. Calculate how much produce you can handle and jot it down on your plant list. If you have no interest in canning or otherwise preserving vegetables, you probably only need one cucumber plant and a couple of tomatoes, for instance. Start small. You can always plant more next year. With fast-growing vegetables, you can even plant more later this year.
  5. Start arranging your chosen vegetables within the outline of the garden plot by drawing squares and rectangles on your map. Reserve some of space for long-term commitments like tomatoes first. Divide the remaining area among fast-growing vegetables. With these space-efficient plants, you can be as specific (lettuce here, radishes there) or as general (some combination of lettuce and radishes here, depending on what we’re hungry for at the moment) as you are comfortable with.
  6. As you draw, shade in areas for paths. These paths should generally be about two feet wide—narrower paths are hard to navigate, while wider paths only increase the area that must be weeded without increasing the harvest. That said, if you are seriously klutzy or have difficulty maintaining your balance, you may benefit from paths that are three feet wide.
  7. Do you have more plants than garden space or vice versa? (It’s very rare to plan a garden where everything works out exactly.) If you have too much garden space, either till less or add more vegetables, if you’re sure you can use them. If you don’t have enough space, check your list carefully to make sure you didn’t get a little carried away. You can till more ground if necessary, but you may be overwhelmed with the produce.
  8. Once the map is finished, take a fresh sheet of paper or your garden journal and note your average last spring and first fall frost dates.
  9. Using these two dates and the information found on seed packets, in your favorite books, or in our online guides, write down planting dates for each of the plants you have chosen. Try to plan successive plantings of vegetables whenever it makes sense. For instance, if you have room, you can plant things like radishes and lettuce every two or three weeks. Also note when seedlings should be started indoors, when they should be hardened off, and when they should be transplanted.

Using Your Garden Plan

Put your map and your planting schedule in a convenient place where they won’t get lost. (It’s not a bad idea to make photocopies of them if you are using loose pieces of paper instead of a journal.) Refer to them often throughout the growing season.

You may, or rather will, need to adjust both the map and the schedule to adapt to changing weather conditions and to what your family needs in the way of produce. If a late frost threatens, don’t put out the tomatoes even though your schedule says it’s time. If you have more lettuce than you can readily use, skip the next planting. If you spot a vacant space after a harvest, fill it with something you don’t have enough of. Keep notes in your garden journal along the way. Stay flexible. That’s part of the fun of gardening.

Helpful Resources

The Family Garden Journal

The Family Garden Journal
We have designed this Homestead on the Range book to make both planning and record keeping easy! Includes a shopping list, a map, a planting schedule, and more. Learn more.

All New Square Foot Gardening
You really don’t need as much space as you think. This book demonstrates how easy planning your garden can be. Read our full review.

Starting a Garden or Orchard
More planning advice for those of you gardening for the first time.

By hsotr

Pulling from nearly 20 years of experience, Michelle Lindsey started Homestead on the Range to help Kansans and others around flyover country achieve an abundant country lifestyle. Michelle is the author of four country living books. She is also a serious student of history, specializing in Kansas, agriculture, and the American West. When not gardening or pursuing hobbies ranging from music to cooking to birdwatching, she can usually be found researching or writing about her many interests.