Some people become inspired to plant a garden only once the sun comes out and tulips begin to pop out of the ground. Others stare at the snow drifts covering their yard in February and wish that they could be mucking about in the soil then and there. If you live in a place with four seasons, winter is a time for you, and your garden, to rest. But if you are feeling the itch to start planning your garden as soon as possible, the good news is that there are a lot of tasks that you can cross off your list while winter is still around!
After putting on your cozy socks and brewing some cocoa, the first thing I recommend doing is sitting down and taking a little walk down memory lane. Think about your past gardening experiences, whether it was last year or ten years ago. (If you have zero gardening experience, that's okay too - just skip ahead to the next step.) Think about what went well last time and what didn't. What did you like growing, and what do you want to do differently next year? Do you want to go bigger or smaller with your gardening endeavors, or try something completely different? This step is a great time to either look back in your gardening journal to jog your memory, or start a new one!
Once you've weighed your past gardening experiences, it's time to take stock of how much space you have for growing. If you have a yard, which areas do you plan to utilize? Do you want to create an in-ground bed or a raised bed? If you have a patio or a balcony, consider fabric grow bags or a container garden, which could also work in a sunny indoor area. Regardless of the setup, take stock of what you will need to do to prepare the area for planting and what equipment you will need. Now is a great time to obtain tools, soil amendments, and materials to protect your plants from pests as soon as they become available at your local gardening center or non-profit gardening organization.
Consider planning for a fence or barrier to protect your plants from animals.
It's also important to start thinking about layout. Does the area you plant to use get a lot of sun during the growing season, or is it shaded by something? Does the amount of sunlight change as the day goes on? While you might have to wait until spring to measure the hours of sunlight a particular area gets each day, it's good to estimate whether it's sunny, partially sunny, or shady so that you can choose plants accordingly. Some plants, such as tomatoes, watermelons, and cucumber, need full sun, while others do great with just a few hours of sun each day.
Besides sunlight, there are some additional factors you'll need to consider when deciding which plants you want to grow this year. Some fruits and vegetables can be trickier to grow than others, so you'll want to take into account your experience level and the amount of time you can dedicate to gardening. Once you've selected a crop, it's very important to research which varieties of that plant grow best in your area. This depends on climate, soil composition, pests, and other factors. Your local gardening society or agricultural extension office should be able to recommend some good varieties for you to try.
Another task you can take care of is to obtain seeds for the plants you want to grow. Many garden centers begin to stock seeds in early spring, but you can also order them directly from seed companies, which provide online or paper catalogs describing their offerings. If ordering mail-in seeds, it's best to do so as soon as possible, as they can sell out fast! If you don't want spend a lot of money, there are many cheap or free options for obtaining seeds and plants as well.
There are a lot of interesting plant varieties out there, such as these heirloom tomatoes. For a list of companies that sell unique seeds, check the Resources page.
The last step to planning ahead is to create a timeline of the things you will need to do moving forward into spring. I recommend printing out a calendar and marking the last and first frost dates for your area, since the last frost date is the earliest estimated day that you can start planting outdoors for most vegetables. If you have seeds that need to be started indoors ahead of time, look up the number of days the seedlings need to grow indoors and write down the date you need to start each variety. Timing your garden is not a hard science, but it is good to have a rough understanding of when you will need to take care of certain tasks.
If you have any questions or tips for winter planning tasks, please comment below!
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