How to Plan and Plant a Garden – A Guide for Beginners

Two weeks ago, I explained how to select plants for your new garden. We looked at annuals and perennials, then at light and water needs.

Then I got busy and forgot to write part two. Sorry about that.

This week, we’ll talk about putting the plants you picked into the ground in your garden. I’m assuming you’ve chosen enough plants to fill up your planned garden space.

How to Plan and Plant a Garden

Spacing

Think about whether you like a garden that looks like a big mass of green – plants a little crowded – or a garden with plants that are like islands in a sea of mulch. Most people favor the islands in a sea of mulch plan because it’s easier to get between the plants, prune and care for individual plants, and it’s neater. You already know that I’m not neat and tidy; I like my plants to grow next to and amongst each other.

My garden sometimes looks like a big old mess, especially at this time of year, but it is full of flowers and lushness. I like it.how to plant a garden

I’m not sure what my neighbors think, and I don’t intend to ask them. It’s my garden.

{Still feeling a little prickly over the assault on my garden a few weeks ago.}

Anyway.

For the next step, you’re going to need the tags out of your plants. However, if you pull all the tags out of your plants, you may forget which is which. So. Write the name of each plant on its pot with a silver Sharpie or a piece of masking tape.

Trust me, if you have more than 3 plants, you are not going to remember which is which, so please label them and save yourself from the big blunder of putting the wrong plant in the right spot.

Once they’re all labeled, pull the tags out of your plants and take a look at them. Pay attention to the spacing and the height, those are the numbers that will help you decide which ones go in which section of the garden space.

Plan your garden out in your mind. If you’re especially cautious, you may want to draw it out on paper, like a blue print. Depending on the size of your space, you may want to space your plants into one, two, or three rows, into zones, or into some other more elaborate design.

For the sake of explanation, I’m going to help you plan a garden with 3 sections – front, middle, and back.

Sort your plants into 3 groups by height. Let’s say you have plants that range from 4 feet tall down to 6-8 inches tall. You might decide to make 3 groups: 3 feet tall and taller, 18 inches to 3 feet, and smaller than 18 inches.

I think this is obvious, but always put the tallest plants in the back (or in the center if it’s a bed that will be viewed from all sides, like a circle in the middle of your yard) and the shortest plants in the front (or around the edges of a bed that will be viewed from all sides).

If you have procured plants without tags or a friend gave you plants and you don’t know their full sizes (it sounds far-fetched, but this happens to me every single year), you might have to put them in the ground and hope for the best. You can always dig them up and move them – or leave them where they are and overlook the fact that they’re obscuring the plants behind them.

Once your plants are sorted by height, plan what will be on the left, in the center, and on the right. You might want to put contrasting colors next to each other or you might want similar colors together. I always put similar colors together because I like things to match, but that’s just me. My mom spreads her colors out all over the place.

Pay attention to the spacing suggested on the plant tags. You don’t have to abide by the suggested spacing, but you do need to be aware of it. If you want to have some mulch space between your plants, add 6-12 inches to the recommended spacing. If you don’t mind having very little or no mulch space at all, you can take 6 inches or more off of that spacing.

If you are as neurotic as me, you might set out your plants in the garden and try to imagine them fully grown. At some point, you have to take a leap of faith and stop messing around with the planning. Put the tags back into the plants and get ready to dig.

Finally – Planting the Plants

If you want your plans to live, you’re going to have to start digging some holes. You might want a full size shovel (if you’re planting large pots of perennials or shrubs) or just a small hand trowel (if you’re planting mostly annuals and small perennials). I also recommend a good pair of gardening gloves (I like this kind, with rubberized fingers and palm) and a pair of pruners or shears, especially if you’re planting near any trees or large shrubs. The pruners will be handy if you have to dig through roots.

If you don’t have superb soil, you’ll also want to have a little potting or garden soil (I like the stuff with moisture control best.) handy.

Starting in the back of the bed, set your plants in the dirt where they will live. For each plant, dig a hole that’s a little deeper and a little bigger around than the plant’s root ball. Remove the plant from its pot, and tease the roots out a bit. You don’t want them to be tightly packed together when you put them in the ground; give them some room to stretch out and grow.

Put a scoop or two of your really good garden soil in the hole and mound it up a bit. Place your plant’s now loose (or looser, anyway) roots on top of that.

The next step is to fill in the hole with the soil that came out of it. Make sure that soil is broken up completely. You want it to be loose, made up of very small pieces, to pack in tightly around the roots. Roots can’t do their job if they’re surrounded by air.

Put all of your plants into the ground in the same way, working from the back to the front. You do not want to lose your balance while shoveling and step on one of your new baby plants.

Once your plants are all in the ground, give them a drink of water. Watering helps to pack the soil around their roots, and it also decreases the shock of transplanting.

Give your plants more water than you think they need. Really.

Water them the next day and for subsequent days, at least for 2 weeks, longer if it’s really hot and dry where you live. You undoubtedly broke some of your plants’ roots, so frequent thorough waterings help those roots to regrow.

 

That’s it. You have a garden. As long as you choose the right plants for your garden, and you take care of them properly, they should all become established in a few weeks.

Take some pictures of your garden and share them on my Facebook page.

© 2012, Tara Ziegmont. All rights reserved.

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