Mother, child watering garden

Planning your garden is at the top of any gardener’s to-do list because it saves time, money and disappointment. Get started with these tips.

Sun and shade

Take time to observe your garden and discover where sun and shade falls. This will help you to decide where to grow different crops. For instance, tomatoes, peppers and other tender crops prefer full sun throughout the day if possible, but salad leaves and some herbs such as chives do better in partial shade, especially in hot climates.

You can create pockets of shade in a sunny garden by growing taller plants in front of shorter ones; for instance, growing sunflowers to cast shade on lettuces.

A sheltered area, not windy

It’s also important to note which parts of your garden are windy and which are more sheltered so you can decide which crops to grow there. Pole beans for instance may be damaged if grown in a windy spot, while corn needs a light wind to ensure good pollination.

Rotating crops

Crop rotation is important to reduce a build-up of pests and diseases in the soil and to prevent the soil from becoming exhausted. Different crops use up nutrients in varying amount, so hungry cabbages, for example, are best grown after beans or peas which actually add nitrogen (an essential plant nutrient for good growth) to the soil. The cabbage will soak up a lot of nutrients, so once they have been harvested the soil will be less fertile, and can be used to grow crops such as carrots that don’t need very rich soil.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac offers a garden planner at http://gardenplanner.almanac.com/ that is free for seven days, then available by paid subscription.

A good garden plan includes a sowing and planting schedule to make sure you start the right plant at the right time.

The Virginia Cooperative Extension offers a guide for planting times in Virginia as a downloadable pdf at www.pubs.ext.vt.edu/426/426-331/426-331.html.

Maximize your space

Succession planting — planting a fresh crop as soon as one is harvested — maximizes your garden’s productivity. Make sure to choose plants that can be grown during the remaining season. That planning will allow you to double the number of harvests you’ll get from the same patch of soil.

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