How To Plan Your Spring & Summer Vegetable Garden

By , March 5, 2011

Good grief, it’s already March! Planning my spring & summer vegetable garden is on the agenda for this coming week, and so I’m re-posting my instructions from last year on the planning process I devised and use every year. Hopefully it’s helpful to you!

Today I’m going to give you a little tutorial on how to plan your vegetable garden. Over the years I’ve developed a planning method that works well for me. Admittedly, I don’t really like garden planning very much. I do love looking through all my seed packets and deciding what to grow for the year, but the process of actually planning what to put where is a task that takes literally hours of mental work (for me at least). It’s a lot of thinking, decision-making, & considering all different garden plan configurations (and past years’ plant placements) in my head before I even put pencil to paper.

That said, though, there comes a feeling of satisfaction and excitement when I’ve completed the plan and am thoroughly happy with it. Each year’s plan is different, depending on what I want to grow and also considering what grew there last year.

I have three 4’x8′ raised beds, one 2’x8′ raised “lasagna” bed (a story for another day!), another 4’x8′ raised bed against the south side of the house, plus various pots here and there for extra tomato growing space.

Here’s my basic planning process:

1. Decide what you want to grow. Look through seed catalogs or go to a garden center to get seeds, or if you’re like me and already have wayyy too many seeds to choose from, go through all your seed packets and set aside what you think you want to grow. (I like to start all my veggies from seed, but you could just as easily decide what you want to grow, and then buy plants from the nursery.)

Once you’ve narrowed down which veggies you want to grow, write them all down on a piece of paper.

2. Determine which vegetables will be in the Spring plan, the Summer plan, or both plans. If you’re planning both a spring and summer garden (which I do), you’ll have 3 categories of vegetables:

– Early-spring-planted veggies that you’ll harvest before summer (like spinach, peas, lettuce, etc.)

– Early-spring-planted veggies that you’ll leave in the garden through the summer — the “spring carry-over veggies” (like cabbage, onions, parsley, potatoes, cilantro, dill, chard, carrots, etc.)

– Summer-planted veggies (like tomatoes, squash, peppers, cucumbers, etc.)

Click here for a comprehensive list of which veggies fit into which categories.

As you can see in the photo below, I mark my piece of paper with “Sp” (for “spring”) to the right of the spring-planted veggies, and “M” (for “main” summer) to the left of the summer-planted veggies. Vegetables with both “Sp” and “M” will be in both garden plans. As I place each vegetable into the plan, I put a check mark next to it.

3. Draw two outlines of your garden plots on paper — one for spring, one for summer. For my plans, I have one piece of thick paper; on one side I have Spring, on the other side I have Summer. Be sure to also note the year somewhere on your garden plan. On both plans, draw in any perennial vegetables that have overwintered.

Graph paper isn’t necessary, unless you like to use it. I draw my plans free-hand, and just eye the scale of things. The first year that I did a formal plan, I got mathematical about it and used graph paper, with “one square = 6 inches” and all that, but in the end, I found it unnecessary to be so precise, and I haven’t used graph paper since.

Also, always work in pencil! 🙂

Draw your garden plots, and draw in any overwintering perennial vegetables.

4. Plan your summer garden first. I find it easier to plan my summer garden first, and then my spring garden. To plan my summer garden, I decide on the location of both the spring-planted carry-over vegetables as well as the summer-planted vegetables.

I begin with deciding where I’ll put my tomatoes…though in doing this, you’ll be thinking about all your vegetables — not just the tomatoes. But I like to put the tomatoes down on paper first, as this makes it easier to place other things.

I also place the tallest vegetables (tomatoes, plus anything grown on a trellis) at the north end of each of the raised beds, so that they don’t block the sun from reaching shorter veggies.

I also consider the locations of last year’s vegetables, and try not to plant the same thing in the same place the next year. It doesn’t always work out that way (for instance, this year’s cabbage will be partially in the same spot as last year), but to me, that’s okay.

I like to plan the summer garden first.

5. Plan your spring garden based on the summer garden. Now, on your spring garden plan, copy down the spring carry-over veggies that you placed in your summer plan. Then, fill in the empty spaces with all of your spring veggies that will be harvested before summer, like the lettuce, radishes, spinach, peas, etc.

I plan the spring garden based upon which veggies will be carrying over to summer.

6. Check your veggie list to be sure you’ve placed everything, and then you’re done! Now it’s time to plant your spring garden!

Click here to read about how I amend my soil each year to get ready for spring planting.

And as a side note…if you start your own seedlings inside (rather than buying from a nursery), that adds another step to the spring preparation process, but it’s not bad. I definitely prefer to grow my own seedlings! Mostly I start my summer stuff inside, like tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, and peppers, but this year I also started my cabbage inside and it’s germinating better than when I plant it directly into the garden. But other than cabbage, I plant all my spring stuff directly into the garden, without starting it inside. Anyway, I’ll share more about all that soon, too.

*UPDATE 3/5/11: The past couple years I’ve just planted cucumbers and squash seeds directly into the garden rather than starting them inside. I’m much happier with this method since it’s SO much easier and the difference in fruiting times is not appreciable enough to be worth the bother of starting them inside. So I’ll stick to starting tomatoes, peppers, and cabbage inside. I might also start my celery inside, too, since it never quite took hold when I direct-seeded last year.

4 Responses to “How To Plan Your Spring & Summer Vegetable Garden”

  1. Cary says:

    Thanks so much for sharing your series on planning veg garden, Spring/Summer, and transitioning from seasons. I am from warm and sunny grow just about anything yearround and now am in New England zone 6B, and fitting lettuce and peas in with tomatoes and peppers was overwhelming. Your articles on planting and particularly on transitioning, have saved my sanity. Thanks so much!!! Will be back often!

  2. Lindsey says:

    Hi Cary!
    Oh my, what a wonderful compliment! I’m so glad this was helpful to you!
    Best of luck in your new location!


  3. Matthew in L.A. says:

    Lindsey and everybody!
    Confession Time: I am a Lazy Man.

    Anything that makes any job easier and faster is a Good Thing in my book. This blog reminded me of some tools that I use which make garden-planning eaiser, faster and also kinda fun.
    These are all online resources which do not require money, membership, hardship or obligation. Good news, huh?

    First is the Gardener’s Supply Company online garden planner.
    <— hopefully you see an image there and not a buncha HTML code.,default,pg.html
    On this page, your eyes should be drawn to two wide green buttons. On left, pre-planned garden designs. They're a good beginner's Start. To right, "Plan Your Own Garden" is where you put together your own garden plan. It's intuitive design is pretty self-explanatary and easy-to-use. Note the buttons that offer the options to save a design or email it to yourself. Handy.

    The other Planner site I was going to post looks awesome… it's from Mother Earth News… but then I read it and it turns out it's a free trial. "Your first 30 days is free, then the Planner costs only $25 per year if you choose to continue."
    If you want to check it out (I didn't), it's here:

    Here's a Guide to garden planning from Almanac .com

    Also from Almanac is this guide for when to plant which seeds, indoors or out – just type in your ZIP code and it'll give you customized data.

    Hopefully something here helps someone.

  4. jodi says:

    I love the mother earth garden planner, well worth the 25 dollars after the free trial. It helps you plan succession plants, spring summer etc. Also keeps track of what you planted where each year so you can easily see what not to plant where. It even has a square foot garden feature. WELL WORTH the cost.

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