Backyard resolution: Plan ahead for a successful backyard garden

Image by David Hawgood

We may still be caught in the throes of winter, but it is the perfect time to start planning your vegetable garden, especially if it is your first one. Strolling into your backyard to pick your own produce is quite a romantic notion, but it is something that requires some thought and careful planning if it is going to be successful. So while the ground is still frozen, pull out your notebook instead of your spade and make sure your gardening season is a fruitful one.

Start by learning about your growing zone. Knowing what hardiness zone you live in will help you determine when to plant and what to plant. If you live in a colder climate, your growing season will be shorter and your last frost will come later in the year. For other people in warmer hardiness zones, gardens can be planted much earlier. Determine when your final frost date will be and mark that day on your calendar.

Plan your planting around this last frost date. Items like lettuce, beets, carrots, radishes, dill, cilantro, cabbage, broccoli, celery and kale can all be planted two weeks before your last frost day. Other more delicate plants, like okra, eggplant, squash and tomatoes should be planted after this frost date. If you live in an area with a short growing season, consider starting seeds inside to take advantage of as much good weather as possible.

In addition to extending your growing season, starting seeds indoors has other advantages. Seeds are less expensive than young plants, which can make a big difference in the number of items you are able to plant. You also have control of the entire growing process, from germination to harvest. This allows you to keep your plants organic and free of any fertilizers or pesticides you may not what want to expose to your family. When you should start your seeds depends on the plant and your hardiness zone. As a good rule of thumb, seeds should be started between mid-January and the end of February.

In addition to your climate, consider how much space, time and money you have available for you garden. If you have a small area, you may want to opt for a container garden. Plants like beets, carrots, broccoli, cucumbers, onions, peppers and small varieties of tomatoes tend to do well in containers and yield a nice harvest. If you have enough space for a larger garden, you may consider raised beds, square foot gardening or the traditional in-ground garden bed.

If you are pressed for time, space or funds it is also important to think about yield when selecting what to plant. Items like Brussels sprouts, sweet corn and melons, aren’t high producing plants and might not be worth your effort. On the opposite end of the spectrum, items like tomatoes, eggplants, bush beans, onions and greens are high yielding crops that will reward the time or space constrained gardener well.

For more information on starting your own backyard garden, visit some of these helpful sites:


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