3 ways to plan your garden: paper, virtual or template

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garden planning and crops collage
Ivory Harlow photo

There are many benefits to planning your garden. First, planning keeps you realistic about available space. Knowing how much room you have to work with helps to prioritize which plants to grow and pinpoint the best places to put them. Planning saves money by determining the exact amount of seed, soil amendments and supplies to purchase. It saves time looking around the garden scratching your head in spring, not knowing where to start.

Garden planning also provides accurate records after the season has ended. You can use the records to plan future growing seasons’ crop rotation schedules and identify top-performing plant varieties. Last, plotting out plants identifies sunlight interference by existing structures or crops, such as a shed or tall sweet corn overshadowing sun-loving tomatoes and cucumbers.

Related: Recordkeeping for the garden

Now that I’ve convinced you to plan your garden, let’s look at pros and cons of three ways to plan: paper, virtual and template.

Paper

Pros

  • Free
  • Effective, time-tested method
  • No computer literacy required
  • Pencil and eraser make easy modifications
  • Easy to store records
  • Portable; can update in the garden

Cons

  • Separate pages needed for diagram, varieties, notes and sowing and harvest dates
  • Difficult to draw to scale
  • Not as accurate for spacing
  • No preloaded varieties, growing information, climate, planting and harvest timeline

Virtual planner

Some virtual garden planner computer applications are sold as software, but most are online and require username and password to access.

Mother Earth News and The Old Farmer’s Almanac both offer online virtual garden planners. Zukeeni garden planner is a top pick for vegetables. Better Homes and Gardens design tool includes more landscape features like trees, shrubs and flowers.

Pros

  • Preloaded plant varieties with growing information
  • Consolidate diagram, planting and harvest records in one place
  • Tells you when to start seeds and transplant seedlings based on your zone’s frost dates
  • Provides a planting and harvest timeline
  • Eases crop rotation by helping you plan which crops follow others
  • Notes feature to record plant performance
  • Creates and stores garden records
  • Offers a visual of how your garden will look throughout the season
  • Portable; mobile versions available

Cons

  • Cost. 7-10 day free trials are common. After that, expect to pay between $20 and $40 for a 1-3 year membership.
  • Potential lost records if you do not renew membership
  • Requires some computer literacy

Templates

Templates offer the best of both worlds. You can create your own templates using Microsoft programs or download free pre-made garden planning templates from Microsoft Online. Sign up for a Microsoft Office account and download this fantastic free planning resource https://templates.office.com/en-us/Garden-planner-TM00000057

Pros

  • Free
  • Create diagrams and database tailored to your needs
  • Reuse templates each year for accurate comparison
  • Requires access to computer to update
  • Consolidate diagram, planting and harvest records in one place
  • Resize Excel boxes to make a planting grid for straight lines and scaled spacing
  • Store multiple years’ records in a handy desktop file
  • Insert Excel comment to record plant performance and notes

Cons

  • Requires some computer literacy
  • If you build your own templates, expect to spend some time designing
  • Lack of visual extras of virtual planners
  • No preloaded varieties, growing information, climate, planting and harvest timeline
  • Not portable

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