Here in the Pacific Northwest January is usually pretty dreary and cold and the last thing I normally want to think about is our summer vegetable garden. And it’s not because I don’t like to garden I actually love it but when it’s so cold and rainy I don’t want to be outside. But all the more reason to start planning for the garden now because if you wait until March depending on where you live you can miss out on beginning plants inside.
Now this post focuses on plantings and vegetable garden prep in Zone 8b, which is the area we are in here in my part of the state. Check out the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone to find information on your planting zone. If you aren’t familiar the plant hardiness zone is the standard by which gardeners can determine which plants will thrive in their specific location. You will also want to find out when your usual last frost date is, the best would be to Google this for your area. Most seed packets will tell you something along the lines of “start seeds indoors 8 weeks before the last frost.” For my area that date is usually mid-March.
When you are planning your garden and taking trips to the nursery you will notice on the tags or descriptions that it will indicate which zone the plant or seeds are hardy to. This will tell you if this plant will thrive in your area. Most nurseries will usually only stock plants that are hardy to your zone already.
So now on to planning and what you should do in January. First you will need to assess how much space do you have. Do you have a patio, space for a couple raised beds, a large plot of dirt? For us we have a large dirt area that is roughly 1/4 of an acre. At our previous house we had a small raised bed so we are familiar with the limitations of a small yard and area to have a garden.
Small Garden or Raised Bed
The options of patio gardens and plants that are a dwarf variety are very vast these days. If you have limited space but still want a garden definitely look for these type of plants in seed catalogs or ask at your local garden store. A large pot of any type would be great on a patio or small deck. When looking through the seed catalogs it can definitely get exciting but overwhelming at the same time with all the options available. My advise if you have a small area is to pick 3-5 plants that you know you would love to grow in the summer to have fruits and vegetables available for eating or snacking.
When we had our raised bed we would grow basil, usually a cherry tomato and a beef steak tomato and 2 different pepper plants. I also liked to have zucchini so I would plant some seeds in our flower beds where there was some space.
Last year I dug some strawberry runners from my parents and planted this in a trough type planter on our porch so don’t just limit yourself to vegetables. There are many types of strawberries that don’t spread so rapidly that would work great in a raised bed or patio. Territorial Seed has a great Rainbow Type Strawberry seed that works great in containers or raised beds.
I have linked several types of dwarf plants below that would be great if you are limited on space, have a small raised bed or need plants that will work in pots on a patio.
All the seeds linked here are from Territorial Seed Company which is an Oregon based company that ships all over the US. I really like their seeds and that they are grown in an environment similiar to mine. There are many other seed companies available such as Gurney’s, Johnny Seed, Burpee and Fruition Seeds (these are specially formulated for growing in the Northeastern US)
Large Garden Space
Now if you have a large space for a garden the possibilities are quite endless. Although you need to take into account the plants growth at maturity. I made this mistake the first year we lived here at the farmhouse and planted our pumpkins and squash way too close and our tomato plants over everything! We had pumpkins growing through our tomatoes and into the next row of peppers! I know I won’t make that mistake again! (see the pic below!)
I like to plan out our garden on paper before we start planting just to see what our options are and it is easier to “move” plants on paper than it is to dig them up after the fact. I don’t get too technical when planning on paper but really I use this to get a rough sketch in place knowing that I need space for aisles to walk on and to accommodate for vine growth, etc.
There are several apps out there for help with garden planning that you could use a phone or tablet with which might be helpful but I haven’t tried any of these. If you have please let me know as I would love to hear your feedback!
So to sum up all the information in this post follow these steps to get started with your garden:
- Decide how much space you have for your garden/raised bed/patio
- Based on your space decide which plants you would like to have in your garden/raised bed/patio
- Go to your local garden center or find an online merchant to order seeds