Photo by Melody

Off season garden planning

By Susanne Talbert (art_n_gardenJanuary 14, 2014

Before winter cabin fever bites you too hard, get your creative juices flowing by preparing your spring plan of action. Whether you need a major overhaul or just want to add an extra perennial bed, planning ahead is your best bet. Get a pad of graph paper, a few good landscaping books, and a sharp pencil and you will be on track for making the next growing season your best yet.

Gardening picture (Editor's Note: This article was originally published on January 11, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)

Draw to Scale

When you start to plan any major garden changes, it is important to draw your mockup in scale. Perfect square footage may be necessary for any deck or hardscape planning, but for bed or water feature planning exact measurements probably aren't crucial. However, to get the best picture about which plants and garden elements will fit into your grand scheme it is best to be as accurate with scale as possible. Make sure the spatial relationships between large
objects are correct. Don't do it by memory, you will be surprised at how wrong you can be! Brave the chill a little bit, maybe with tape measure in hand, and make sure of your estimates.


The easiest way to make a scale drawing of your garden is to start by measuring the largest landmarks. Set an amount of squares to equal each foot. For example, every 2 squares on the graph paper can represent one foot; therefore every 4 boxes equal a square foot. Keeping your drawing in scale will help you plan for things like large plants and walkway widths. Remember you don't have to draw your whole yard in every plan: start small with a side yard or just a small portion of your garden area. Sketch in your house or fence to set the framework for your drawing. Once you have the correct scale, then you can begin to play around with bed placement and garden feature arrangement.

Draw Multiples
After you sketch in the "permanent" things (i.e. house, fence, cement walkways, etc.), then you can copy this sketch multiple times in order to play with as many different ideas as you come up with. Sometimes what we see in our heads doesn't always look as good or work out quite as well on paper. Working it out several times can help work out the kinks in our ideas.


In the drawing above, I have sketched a space in which I want to put a water garden. I have spatial boundaries in a terraced section of my backyard of 10' x 15' for the pond next to a 10' x 20' deck, but other than that my options for shape and size are endless. I draw the parameters multiple times and then play around with my plans. Because I use multiples, no idea is off limits. If drawing is not your forte, run your original off on a copy machine several times. Eventually through the multiple drawings, you will be able to work out which is the best use of land as well as the best use of your money.

Get Inspiration
Whether you peruse Dave's Garden all winter or bury yourself in landscape books and seed catalogs, it is necessary to research to make a better garden every year. Try adding a new forum to your Dave's repertoire, something you might not ever think you'd be interested in such as Heirloom Vegetables, Xeriscape Gardening, Organic Gardening or the Hypertufa Forum. You might discover a new passion over the winter that you want to integrate into your gardens.


Gardening books are an excellent source of ideas to borrow, copy, and jump off from. Your local library and are excellent sources for free and inexpensive books that can inspire you through the winter. Most seed catalogs are free and can easily be ordered online. Seed catalogs are excellent references for new cultivars and each plant's specific growing needs.

Plan Hardscapes...
Planning hardscapes in advance will save you precious time once the weather warms up. Will you need a retaining wall, bed borders, decking, or a new sidewalk? Decisions like these are best made after lots of research and planning prior to when the first Redbud opens.

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And Garden Structures
Garden structures such as arbors, pergolas or gates can add dimension and beauty to your garden. An arbor with vines growing on it entices guests to look closer at your garden. Trellises add precious surface area for more vines and can also provide needed shade to an otherwise sunny backyard.

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Building plans for wood structures like decks and pergolas can easily be found online and in books. Many companies offer ready-made structures and assemble-at-home kits which can be an easier option than building from scratch.
Greenhouses can also be a wise investment to plan for in winter and build when the weather warms. You won't want to waste gardening time to plan structures. Get your plans ready now so that when it is warm enough, you are ready to build.


Research Plant Material
Whether or not you made any major changes for next year, researching new plants is one of the most exciting parts of winter planning. Once you know the final shape of your beds and any new structures you will add, you can start to address growing conditions and quantity needs. Winter is also a good time to watch different sections of your garden for light conditions, drainage issues, and to amend your soil.


While no plan is perfect, getting a design idea ahead of time will help your gardens be more successful. Get researching and drawing now and plan for a great 2008 growing season!

1. Susanne Talbert (art_n_garden)

2. Cox, Jeff. "Better Homes and Gardens: Home Landscaping: Plants, Projects, and Ideas for Your Yard," 1996.

3. Strong, Graham and Alan Toogood. "The Mix and Match Color Guide to Annuals and Perennials," 2004.

  About Susanne Talbert  
Susanne TalbertI garden in beautiful Colorado Springs, half a mile from Garden of the Gods. Since we bought our first house two years ago, I have been busy revamping my 1/4 acre of ignored decomposed granite. My garden passions include water gardening, vines, super-hardy perennials, and native xerics. By day, I am a high school ceramics teacher as well as a ceramicist and painter.

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