Winter planning and garden design work during the coldest months can set you up well in your garden for the year to come. Winter is a time to pause, reflect, look back and look forward in your garden. The jobs won’t stop entirely, of course. And, especially if you have a polytunnel or greenhouse, there will still be a number of jobs to do. If you have an undercover growing area there will be things to tend, harvest and eat throughout the whole year. But through the winter, it is likely that you will have a little more time at your disposal.
You will have time to think about what has gone well. And about what has not gone so smoothly. You’ll have time to plan for the chilly months and the warmer ones that lie beyond. And you will be able to think about what you might change when it comes to your garden design next year. It might also be a time when you can order seeds, and create plans for the growing season that lies ahead.
Here are some of the things to think about when it comes to winter planning and garden design:
Winter Planning for Dormant Season Planting
First of all, it is important to remember that not all planting needs to be put off until spring. There are plenty of bare root trees, canes and shrubs that should be planted during the dormant period. So early winter could be a good time to plan. You could plan a forest garden, a fruit tree and guild, ornamental trees for your garden, or a shelter belt or windbreak hedgerow, for example.
Another thing to consider is that you could bring spring forward in your garden by installing a polytunnel or greenhouse if you do not already have one. Or, if you do have one already, by using cloches or other extra protection inside. Spring in an undercover growing area can arrive quite a bit sooner than it does outdoors.
Winter Planning Annual Bed Designs For Next Year
Winter planning can also help you work out how and where exactly to grow annual crops next year. If you plan to grow your own for the first time, or expand your growing efforts next year, it is important to consider annual bed designs.
When we talk about bed design we are not just thinking about your plants and where you place them within each bed. We are also thinking about the shape, size and other characteristics of the growing areas you choose to create.
Remember, either in a polytunnel or outdoors you might create a range of different types of annual beds or vegetable plots. You might think about:
A traditional row-type vegetable plot, with crops grown in the ground.
Mixed polycultures of fruits, vegetables etc. grown in the ground.
A large raised bed of irregular shape (keyhole gardens, for example), or a series of smaller raised beds (e.g. a square foot gardening system).
A ‘lasagna’ bed or hugelkultur mound (with organic materials composting in place).
A hot bed (with gentle heat given off by decomposing materials below).
Straw bale beds (for straw bale gardening).
Wicking beds (or other beds linked in with an irrigation system).
Hydroponic or aquaponic systems (growing plants in water rather than soil).
Vertical gardens and/or container growing.
Winter planning can allow you to reflect on a system you have chosen. It can help you choose the right options for your situation and where you live. If you already have a garden, considering different ideas could help you increase the yields you can obtain.
Don’t Just Plan For Spring – Think About Successional Sowing and Crop Rotation Plans
Of course, once you have decided on a system and your annual bed design, you should also consider the layout of your plants. It is a good idea to create a garden plan with optimal plant spacing so that you have a good idea of what will be sown and planted where next year.
Many gardeners making garden plans for the first time, however, plan only for spring/ early summer. They forget to make a plan for the rest of the gardening year. It is important that you don’t just plan for spring. You also need to think about what happens after initial crops on your plan are harvested.
It is very important to think about successional sowing, so you can enjoy certain crops over a longer period. You should also make your initial plans with longer-term crop rotation plans in mind. Think about what will come after the initial harvests for year-round growing, and then also what will follow in the next year. Making longer term plans can definitely be very useful in making the most of what you garden can provide.
Consider Plant Choices For the Year Ahead (Including Companion Crops)
On your layout plans and in crop rotation schemes, it is likely that you will have written things like ‘tomatoes’, ‘lettuce’ and ‘peas’… But remember that you will also have to decide which varietals to grow, as well as which fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers.
Winter planning can allow you to really sit down and think about all your options. And can let you decide whether you will go with tried and tested favourites. Or opt for new and interesting heritage varieties next year.
Taking time on garden design during winter planning sessions can also allow you to delve more deeply into companion planting options. You’ll be able to do some research and discover new plant combinations that may be beneficial in your garden.
Ask Yourself What Infrastructure You Might Want to Improve or Renew
Your beds and growing areas and what you choose to sow, plant and grow in them is, of course, very important. But there are other parts of your garden that are also essential to long term success. There might be some infrastructure in your garden that you may wish to install, improve or renew. To start a strong garden or to continue to strengthen and improve your garden over time you need certain things.
For example, you might want to spend some time setting up or improving your existing rainwater harvesting/ water management/ irrigation system. Using water wisely and well is crucial to the long term success of any garden.
Winter planning could also help you identify ways to improve your existing composting system. You might already have a composting system in place. If you do not, you should set one up right away. If you do have such a system, make sure it is functioning as it should. And consider ways to improve it. Though making small changes or adopting a slightly different approach, you may be able to get compost faster, and improve the quality and nutritional composition of the end result.
Winter planning and thinking about garden design can definitely help you as you continue on your journey. So this year, as you put your feet up over the festive season, make sure you take at least a little time to think about how your garden is going, and how it can be improved or made the very best it can be in the years to come.
What do your winter planning sessions involve? What do you like to think about in terms of garden design over the coldest months? Let us know 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.