January is a good time for garden planning. It is important to plan ahead, even when winter is still in full swing. Of course, if you have a polytunnel or other undercover growing area, you will grow all winter long. But spring is a busy time in the gardening year and a little planning and preparation now will make that period a whole lot easier. To help you, here are 12 tips for January garden planning:
Make Sure You Know Your Garden
Understanding your own specific garden is always key to gardening success. Observing winter extremes can make things easier. For example, it can be helpful to know where there are frost pockets. And which areas take longest to warm up in spring.
Looking at ice and snow in your garden can answer some big questions. So make sure you spend plenty of time outdoors in observation, even when it is cold. Think about sunlight and shade, temperature, wind, and soil. All of these factors will help you make decisions over the months to come.
Catalogue Your Resources
Observation of the winter garden will also help you recognise what the garden has to offer. There are often plenty of natural resources in a garden. And it is easy to miss what you have when thinking about creating something new. Reclaimed resources can also be abundant – so think about the potential of waste materials from your home and immediate environment too.
Natural and reclaimed resources can be very useful in seed starting, in creating new growing areas, and for other jobs and projects in your garden. So successful garden planning always involves looking around to see what you already have. This month is a great time to start thinking about this topic.
Determine Your Goals
In order to have a successful gardening year, it is important to know clearly where you want to end up. Determining your goals will help you determine the right direction for your time and efforts. It will give you focus. And will be essential in working out what you will need to do in your garden, and when, to achieve what you want to achieve.
For example, your primary goal might be to grow more of your own food. It might be to provide more resources that will allow you to live in a more sustainable way. You might also wish to improve your garden to attract more local wildlife, and help fight biodiversity loss. Of course, you may well have multiple goals. But focussing on key missions can help you make sure you are headed in the right direction.
Think About How Ambitious You Want To Be
One factor that people often overlook when planning a garden is the personality type of the gardener. You are just as important to the system as all the other elements. You need to take your own strengths, weaknesses, preferences and desires into account.
When garden planning, it is important to think about how much you are really willing and able to take on. How much time and effort you want and are able to put in will determine how ambitious your plans should be. Many garden problems arise due to gardeners being overly ambitious in their garden plans. Slow and small solutions are often best.
Prepare for Good Water Management Through Garden Planning
When planning your garden, it is important to remember that the systems are as important as tending the plants. Rainwater harvesting and water management techniques should be key to garden planning. If you do not already harvest rainwater in your garden, or have an irrigation system in place, now could be a good time to consider these things.
Think about where the water for your garden comes from, and how to catch and store water effectively in containers, and in the plants and soil of your site. Good water management is an essential element in good garden planning.
Prepare to Maintain Fertility Over Time in Garden Planning
Another essential element in garden planning is thinking about how to maintain fertility over time. If you do not already have a composting system in place, set one up right away. Composting is one important way to return nutrients to the system. And to maintain fertility over time.
Using mulches and organic liquid feeds are other important practices to plan for in your garden. Plant choices, weeding practices and more can influence the options available to you later in the year.
Make Sure You Create New Growing Areas in Time For Spring Planting
Though winter still reigns, this can be a good time to start thinking about making new growing areas in your garden. You might like to think about adopting a no dig approach and building new lasagna beds or hugelkultur mounds. This is also an excellent time to consider undercover growing areas (greenhouses or polytunnels) in your garden planning.
Whichever methods, techniques and structures you choose to use, make sure you plan now so they’ll be ready for spring sowing and planting.
Improve Environmental Conditions Through Garden Planning
When planning new growing areas for your garden, there are also other things to consider. You might like to think about how you could improve environmental conditions. For example, you might create new borders or windbreak planting, with bare root plants purchased and placed during the dormant period. This could help improve conditions on a windy or exposed site.
Ordering perennials, shrubs and trees for such planting schemes now could be a good idea. As you can get these in place before the main annual season begins.
Remember Access Requirements When Garden Planning
When considering the layout of your growing areas in garden planning, don’t forget access. Paths are important in garden design. And getting them right can help ensure everything else falls into place. Think about how easy it will be for you to tend and manage each part of your garden. And consider how quickly you will be able to get from A to B.
When determining the size and shape of each bed or border, think about how you can reach all parts of each. Remember, to protect the soil, it is best to make sure that you will not tread on or compact the growing areas.
Choose the Right Plants for the Right Places
Choosing the right plants for the right places is a crucial precept when it comes to garden planning. But it is surprising how often this simple idea is overlooked. Make sure you know what different plants need, and where they will thrive. Work with nature in your garden planning rather than fighting it.
Think About Key Crops and Companion Plants
When choosing what to grow in your garden, make sure you consider not only the key crops but also companion plants. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket and increase biodiversity as much as possible. Increasing the number of beneficial interactions between plants (and wildlife) in your garden increases your chances of success. Companion planting ideas should be integrated into your garden planning wherever possible.
Plan For the Whole Year Ahead, and Years to Come
Garden planning does not just involve deciding how to lay out your paths and growing areas. It does not just involve thinking about what to plant where (and with what) in spring. You should also think about planning for the rest of the gardening year. Consider such issues as successional planting and cover crops.
You should also think about crop rotation, and how decisions you make now will determine the planting scheme in your garden in the years to come.
These tips are just a starting point. There are, of course, lots of things to consider in garden planning. But whatever decisions you make about your garden, starting early in the year is a good policy. It will give you the time you need to make the right choices and prepare for the successful gardening to come.
If you have your own January garden planning tips to share, please feel free to share them in the comments below.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.
To get in touch, visit https://ewspconsultancy.com.