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Published March 14, 2022

Time to Plan Your Garden

Written by
Charlene Nelson
| The Dakotan

Right now it looks like spring is a long way off. But don’t be fooled — before you know it, it will be time to plant your garden. That makes this the perfect time of year to sit down and plan what you want this year’s garden to look like.

When to plant

When and what you plant depends on where you live and what the average frost date is for your area. Find your USDA Hardiness Zone on the interactive map. The Hardiness Zone tells you how cold it gets and which perennial plants, bushes, trees will survive in your zone. Then find out what the average first and last frost dates are in your area. For most of us in North Dakota, the average last frost date is mid- to late-May.

USDA Plant Hardiness Zone map

So does that mean that you cannot plant anything until late May? No, you just shouldn’t plant anything that will not survive freezing temperatures. But there are many cold-hardy vegetables that do just fine in cool weather. You can start planting those as early as 3-4 weeks before the average last frost date. I’ve included a link to a planting calendar that tells you when to plant your different crops.

What to plant

The “when” to plant is the first part of your garden plant. The second part of your garden plan is “what and how much.” So, how much should you plant? Ah, well that depends on several factors:

  • How much space do you have? This will be the biggest limiting factor.
  • What does your family like to eat? This is the second most important factor. You might want to keep a record for a month or so of how many and what types of vegetables you buy at the store. This will give you an idea of what you should plant in your garden. 
  • Are you new to gardening? It’s very tempting for new gardeners to go all out and plant a dozen different crops. If you’re a first-time gardener, you should keep it simple, limit yourself to 6-8 varieties of the things you like the most. As you get more experience, add more.
  • Are you going to preserve any of your produce? A dozen bean plants will be perfect for a family of four if you don’t plan to preserve any for winter. But if you want to freeze or can enough to last all winter, you’ll want three or four times that much. Use the planting calculator as a starting point. It will give you plenty to eat all summer long and some extra for preserving. We eat lots of vegetables in our house, so I find I need to almost double what’s suggested here.

  • Where do you live? Your climate and growing conditions not only limit when you can start gardening, they will also dictate some of what you can grow. For example, some gourds have such a long growing season that they are almost impossible to grow in North Dakota. Sweet potatoes are another difficult crop to grow here. It can be done, but you’ll have to do a lot of mulching and take precautions to protect the plants from cold.

Where to plant

The final part of the garden plan is “where.” Where will you plant your garden? Your garden needs just two things to be successful: Plenty of sunshine and a steady supply of water.

Choose a location that gets at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight per day. You don’t want the shadows of trees, shrubs, or buildings blocking sunlight. Something facing south is ideal.

If you will need to water your garden, locate it where your garden hose or sprinklers can reach. Avoid low-lying areas where water tends to accumulate and doesn’t drain quickly. You also want the ground to be level so that seeds and dirt aren’t washed away in heavy rain.

I’ve made a three-part video series on everything you need to know to get started gardening. Part one of the series is linked below.

Planning your garden now will not only ensure a more successful garden, but is a great way to shake off the winter blues. With a little planning, you are certain to have a wonderful garden this year. Happy spring!

How to calculate how much to plant to feed the family: https://morningchores.com/vegetable-garden-size/
Timeline for gardening in our area: https://www.ufseeds.com/zone-3-planting-calendar.html
Interactive map to find your hardiness zone:  https://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/pages/view-maps
Find your average frost dates: https://garden.org/apps/frost-dates/
Part one: https://www.bitchute.com/video/cfiQNzQ8PndE/

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