How to Plan Your Garden - from Dream to Reality

How to turn your garden dreams into reality and grow healthy, organic food for your family!

You have a dream.

Your heart longs to grow your family's produce and provide healthy, organic food with no pesticides or other unhealthy chemicals.

Then you started reading about succession planting and companion planting and season extenders and frost dates.... and your eyes might have glazed over and you stood in a state of inertia, unable to take even a first step.

This post contains affiliate links; if you click on a link and make a purchase I might make a small commission but it doesn't affect the price you pay. Read my disclosure here.

If you've ever grown a vegetable plant or herb before - even if it was a single tomato plant in a container - you should consider yourself a gardener! You can do this!

And if you haven't yet tried, I hope you will soon jump right in.

Yes, it's high summer already. But you can start with a fall garden this year, or spend the winter planning and preparing: lay out your garden on paper, spend long evenings dreaming over seed catalogs, and get your hands dirty in the spring. If you try your hand at a fall garden this year, write down what you did and tweak your plans for spring. (Keep reading, we'll talk more about this.)

Where to put your garden

If you're starting from scratch you have the luxury of deciding on your garden's location armed with knowledge. I have three suggestions for you when deciding on location:

  1. Plan your garden's location in an easy-to-get-to spot - near enough to the house and your daily activities that it is easily accessible and visible. Don't let "out of sight, out of mind" ruin your garden dreams. 
  2. Choose a place that is in full sun if possible, with six or more hours of sunlight. If your yard doesn't have full sun all day long, notice which areas do get the most sun during the day and put your garden there. 
  3. Locate your garden near a water source. Dragging a hose across the yard is much better than hauling buckets and buckets and buckets of water!

My current garden location was not my first garden location. It is, in fact, the third. Both the first and second were too far from our water spigot AND in out-of-the-way places. The third location was the best; those first two failures showed me what I needed and I learned from my mistakes.

Those first two locations were in full sun, but I had to make an effort to go out to the garden. The current location is one I pass several times a day on my way to and from the barnyard. I'll glance over as I walk by and notice that the grass in the pathways needs mowing, the tomatoes need staking, the compost pile needs turning. It's much easier to pop in and pull a few weeds as I walk past. The fact that it's shaded by a large oak tree in the morning doesn't seem to bother the vegetable plants at all.

Grow healthy, organic food for your family with these tips on planning a vegetable garden!

How much space do you need?

Actually, this question is more about how much space you have available. A small yard in suburbia often means a small garden, but there are ways to increase your garden's yield: intensive gardening, for instance, or vertical gardening, and even placing ornamental containers with vegetable plants in sunny spots in your yard.

Companion planting and succession planting are also ways you can increase your garden yield without increasing its size.

I recommend fencing your garden for several reasons. My fence keeps my dogs from walking through the raised beds and digging up plants. It keeps most of the wild rabbits out. It does keep out the armadillo that ransacks our yard under the cover of darkness.

My fence does not keep out the raccoons that steal melons the night before I plan to pick them. (I've never eaten a melon from my own garden! How frustrating is that?) I'm not bothered by deer in my garden, but your mileage may vary on that count.

Be sure that the gate in your garden fence is wide enough for wheelbarrows, lawnmowers, and tillers to get inside.

Turn your garden dreams into reality - tips on planning a vegetable garden.

How will you garden?

Do you envision orderly rows of vegetable plants? Or do raised bed gardens fit your mental picture?

Your decision to plant in the ground or in raised beds is sometimes dictated by your location. If your yard is rocky or your "soil" is packed clay, raised beds would be a good alternative to planting in the ground. Raised beds enable you to provide rich, well-draining soil.

Find out how to build a raised garden bed here, even if you're not proficient with power tools.

If you have fertile soil to begin with, as we did when we lived in the Upper Midwest, planting in the ground might suit you better.

You can even build raised beds on top of a concrete slab and grow food! And don't rule out a container garden if you live in a rental home or don't have any "ground" to speak of.

Start a garden! How to plan your garden and grow healthy, organic food for your family with these tips.

What will you grow?

Now for the fun part! What do you want to grow?

Make a list of the vegetables and fruits you want to raise at home. The sky's the limit: write them all down!

The next step is to whittle that list down a bit, because if you're like me, you do not have enough space for all of it. Am I right?

Cross out any vegetables that your family won't eat. No matter how pretty the photos are in the seed catalogs, if no one will eat swiss chard, there's no reason to grow it.

If you're the only person in the family that will eat tomatoes - and you love tomatoes - you can still grow them, but don't plant a dozen tomato plants. One or two plants will probably yield all the tomatoes you can eat fresh over the summer. If you plan to can tomato sauce, plant more.

If you are limited to a very small space, consider focusing on the vegetables your family loves and eats most often, or growing some of the fruits on the Environmental Working Group's "dirty dozen" list of foods that are grown commercially with the highest amounts of pesticides.

Tips on planning a vegetable garden so you can grow healthy, organic food for your family.

Where do you live?

Your location will also help determine what vegetables and fruits you can grow in your garden.

My gardening daughter lives in zone 5A, with a growing season of about 114 days. She's limited to growing short-season vegetables. She has learned that beefsteak tomatoes require too much time to ripen in her garden, so she grows cherry and slicing tomatoes, which ripen much earlier. Her peas are just now, in mid-July, beginning to ripen. She could plant lettuce seeds right now and have a "fall crop," right after her "spring crop" has been harvested.

That's succession gardening, by the way: planting something else as soon as the first crop is done. Nature abhors empty space and will fill it with weeds; we should fill it with food instead.

In contrast, my zone 7B garden in central Oklahoma has a growing season of approximately 208 days. Instead of looking for short-season vegetables, I need heat-resistant and drought-resistant varieties. It's much too hot in mid-July to even think about cool crops like lettuce.

To find your USDA growing zone, go to and enter your zip code.

To find your average frost/freeze dates, go to Dave's Garden and enter your zip code.

Turn your garden dreams into reality - tips on planning a vegetable garden.

How to benefit from experience

We've lived here at Oak Hill for over fifteen years now. I've discovered the gardening method that works best for me (raised beds), the best location, which vegetables grow best in my garden (tomatoes, peppers and herbs) and which ones are nearly impossible for me to grow (carrots). I started with a small garden and have increased the size as I gained more confidence.

I know when to start looking for squash bug eggs, and that I need to wrap the stems of the squash plants to keep vine borers from attacking.

I know what grasshopper damage looks like on the comfrey leaves and onion tops. I've learned that growing onions from plants works better for me than growing them from sets. I like growing hardneck garlic better than softneck, even though softneck is recommended for Southern gardens.

Experience is the best teacher - and to get the most from your gardening experience I suggest taking notes! Write down what you did so you'll know later what worked and what didn't. I won't remember what I did last spring when it's time to plant next spring; I need to refer to my garden notebook.

I don't have to look up what garden zone I'm in or my average first frost date because I've written them down. I also write down when we actually do get that first frost every year, because there are pockets of warmer/colder temperatures in every garden zone, depending on your unique location; we have our very own average first and last frost dates.

My blogging friend Joy at Joy in this Mom Journey has developed a set of garden printables that make keeping a garden notebook easy. In fact, these printables are derived from her own notes and experience in her garden.

Turn your garden dreams into reality - tips on planning a vegetable garden.

This 30-page set of printables includes advice on when to plant each vegetable, how much space each plant requires, the optimum time to plant them, and how many plants you'll need to feed your family. There are forms to fill out with your seed wish list, another for a list of the seeds you have on hand, and more pages about succession planting and developing your own succession-planting and companion-planting plans.

You can take a look at her garden printables here, and save 10% off the regular price of $12 for the 30-page set. Print as many copies as you need for your own use, and use them year after year. The more you use them, the more they'll help you!

Grab a spare binder notebook and print off these pages, then spend the winter dreaming about and planning your perfect garden.

Turn your garden dreams into reality - tips on planning a vegetable garden. #vegetablegarden #garden #gardening #growyourown #organic

Tips for planning a vegetable garden so you can grow healthy, organic food for your family. #vegetablegarden #garden #gardening #growyourown #organic

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What to plant in a container garden

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  1. This is such an encouraging, enabling post, Kathi! I love your ideas, especially the fall garden, and the idea that 'nature abhors a vacuum so fill it with food'. Sharing on the Hearth and Soul Facebook page later today. Thank you so much for being a part of Hearth and Soul!

    1. Thank you, April. I'm glad you enjoyed it and hope it was helpful! Have a great week.

  2. This wonderful post is a GARDEN feature on the August You're the STAR blog hop:

    1. Thank you, Angie! I'm so excited!


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