University of Illinois Extension

Planning a Garden

Make the Most of Your Space

A well-planned garden is easier to care for. It saves time in the garden and is more productive than an unplanned garden.

Start planning your garden well in advance so you will be ready to get to work when planting time arrives.

If the soil was not tilled in the fall, that must be done early in the spring. Fertilizer should be added as described in the section titled 'Planting.'

Choose a Spot

The success of your garden depends greatly on the location. Although you may be limited in the choice of locations, consider the following:

Good Soil - A loose, level, fertile, well-drained soil is best. If possible, avoid clays and very sandy soils unless you are able to add adequate organic matter.

Sunlight - Sunlight is necessary to produce healthy high-quality vegetables.

Avoid Trees or Shrubs - Trees and shrubs compete with garden crops for sunlight, plant food and moisture. Especially avoid walnut trees as the roots produce a toxin that prevents vegetables' growth.

Water Supply - When possible have a supply of water near your garden site. Watering is particularly important when starting seeds or transplanting crops.

Close to Your Home - If possible, your garden should be near your home for convenience, especially during harvest time.

Picking A Garden Plan

Consider the following points when planning your garden:

Garden Size - The size of your garden plot depends on how much land is available, how much time you intend to spend in your garden, and how much garden produce you can use. Don't overplant.

Types of Vegetables - Choose vegetables that you and your family enjoy. Make sure they can be grown successfully in your garden considering space and sunlight conditions.

For shady gardens use this rule of thumb. The sunniest spot goes to vegetables grown for their fruits or seeds such as corn, tomato, squash, cucumber, eggplant, peppers, beans, and peas.

Plants grown from their leaves or roots like beets, cabbage, lettuce, mustard, chard, spinach and turnips can be grown in partial shade.

For small gardens plant vegetables with a high yield per plant space such as bush snap beans, bush lima beans, leafy greens, tomatoes, bell peppers, and bush squash.

Vegetables that take a lot of garden space for a long time and produce less are vining melons, squash, pumpkins and sweet corn.

Variety recommendations are available from your county Extension office. Selecting hybrid varieties often gives you better disease resistant and more productive plants.

A hybrid results from crossing (breeding) two parental lines that differ in one or more important characters. Hybrids combine disease resistance and improved quality.

How Will Your Garden Grow?

Locate vegetables according to their growing seasons. Separate the early plantings from the quick growing vegetables so that after harvesting, this space can be used for later plantings.

Perennial crops such as asparagus, rhubarb and berries should be planted toward the side of your garden since they will remain in the same location from year to year.

To avoid shading plants, the taller crops should be to the north or east of shorter crops.

Rotating Crops - Do not grow the same vegetable or related vegetables in or near the same location more often than once every three years. Rotating crops every year helps to control diseases that survive in the soil over the winter.

Successive Planting - This provides a continuous supply of vegetables. Don't plant too much of a crop at one time.

Two or three small plantings of leaf lettuce and radishes may be made one week apart in early spring with additional ones made in the fall.

Onion sets for green onions may be planted every two weeks until they are used up.

If space is available, there can be at least two plantings of beans, beets, broccoli, cabbage and carrots - one early in the spring for summer use, another in the summer for fall use and storage. Make several plantings of sweet corn.

Later crops can be planted on the same spot where earlier plants were harvested. Early harvested crops such as leaf lettuce, spinach, radishes, green onions, and peas can be followed by plantings of beans, beets, carrots, cabbage, sweet corn, late spinach, late leaf lettuce and turnips.

Spacing Between Rows - Proper spacing is important for plant growth, cultivation and efficient use of space. Check for individual requirements.

Seeds and Plants

Purchase seeds in advance in case you need to order them from a seed catalog. Seeds left over from last year may not be as viable if they have not been stored properly.

Most vegetable seeds except onion, parsley and parsnip can be stored. They should be kept in jars or in cans that are tightly sealed against moisture, insects, and rodents. Store in a cool place such as an unheated room or refrigerator.

Some plants such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, peppers, and tomatoes do best when they are transplanted into the garden. These plants may be grown at home or purchased from a store. When buying transplants, avoid plants that are yellow, spindly or too large.

Sketch A Plan

Put your garden plan on paper. This will give you a guide for planting. The sketch should include:

  • Location of each vegetable
  • Length of row for each vegetable
  • Spacing between rows and between plants in rows
  • Planting dates
  • What plant is to follow when each vegetable is harvested