Even if there’s still snow on your lawn, now is the time to start thinking about your garden. A plot full of fresh veggies and beautiful flowers is not as far away as it might seem right now–and for green thumbs that’s a good thing and a source of stress. Gardening is rewarding for your mental and physical health, and can save you money, but it does involve some planning and work.
If you’re starting from seed, you need time to get them going inside so they’re ready to transplant when the weather cooperates. And if you’ve never gardened before, you want to give yourself a few weeks to do some research and figure out what you want to grow, and how. But if you start planning your garden now you’ll have time to bring everything together in the right way. Here are some tips to help you get started.
Find Your Growing Zone
You might have dreams of growing citrus trees and dinosaur kale in your backyard, but what works in one part of the country will not go as well in the other. Before you decide what you’re going to grow, you need to know your growing or hardiness zone. This determines which plants will grow successfully where you live. You might be disappointed to learn that your favorite fruit just won’t grow well in your backyard, but ultimately it’s more satisfying (and more environmentally responsible) to grow plants that work with your climate and landscape.
While you’re at it, figure out your frost date–that’s the key to knowing when to start your seeds and when to plant outside.
Test Your Soil
Different plants like different kinds of soil. Vegetables like soil that’s rich in nutrients and well drained. If you aren’t sure what kind of soil you have, you can get a soil-testing kit–ask at your local nursery. And there are things you can do to improve your soil, like enriching it with compost, and prepare it for planting. If your soil is beyond saving, consider raised garden beds or container gardening; both options give you full control over the soil.
Vegetables and fruit love sun and need good daytime exposure–consider this when planning what you’ll plant and where. If you have shady areas that you’d like to use for your garden, look into shade-friendly plants that work in your growing zone. The Old Farmer’s Almanac recommends against planting your garden near a tree; aside from the problem of shade, the tree will take away nutrients from the garden.
Start Your Seeds
Starting your garden from nursery plants is easier, but starting from seeds is much less expensive. Also, there’s a magic in watching a plant go from a tiny seed to a seedling to a full-blown plant to food on your plate. Some seeds need weeks inside before they’re ready to be transplanted, so get started now. Fortunately, browsing seed catalogs is a lot of fun.
Don’t Overdo It
It’s tempting to start dozens of seeds and try to grow every type of produce you enjoy eating. But it’s better to start small and set yourself up for success, then expand on what you learn over time. As the Old Farmer’s Almanac says, it’s better to be proud of a small garden than to be frustrated by a big one.