Plant Spacing and Garden Planning Strategies

It’s finally time!  After a seemingly endless winter, now is the time to get plants in the ground!  Depending on where exactly you live, you may want to wait a few more weeks to put the frost sensitive plants out, but for many people you’re in the clear.  Woohoo!  This point in the season is a time of explosive plant growth- peaking at the summer solstice and then waning through the remainder of the summer into the fall.

Old timers say to look for the blackberry buds- if the blackberries have begun blooming you’re in the clear to plant your frost tender plants. 

Frost tender plants are ones in the nightshade family (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant), ones in the cucurbit family (cucumbers, summer and winter squashes) as well as corn, basil and some lettuces.  Other plants can handle colder weather- crops like peas, kales and other greens like it a little cool.  There are also plants that need special planting- such as corn.  It’s wind pollinated so it needs to be grown in a block with at least 10 plants to yield a crop.  Other plants like beans want to be trellised.  Get to know the plants you’re wanting to cultivate this year.

The first thing to do is to assess exactly how much space you have to plant in and what you like to eat.  There’s no point in planting kale if you’re not going to eat it!  Once you get a good idea of how much space you have, then you can have a better idea of what you want to go where.

The best way to think about where things will go is to make a list of all the plants you’re planning on growing and group them by type.  Plants in the same family tend to have the same watering needs and similar spacing, timing and trellising needs.  This also informs your master plan.  If you have tomatoes in one area- then you’ll know that that area won’t be available to plant again until next year because tomatoes are a long season crop.  But if you have arugula planted in a spot, because it grows quickly, you can replant other crops in that bed!  Make a sketch of your garden area and play around with what goes where.

Also, if you block plants together by family that makes crop rotation easier.  There is a whole art and science to rotating your crops to prevent disease buildup and nutrient stripping- but the basic idea is not to plant the same thing in the same place each year.  

Essentially, you want to plant heavy feeding plants where light feeding plants were and vice versa.  Heavy feeders are plants that are in the ground for the whole season taking up nutrients (tomatoes, kale) and light feeders are crops that are only in for a short time (like lettuces, beets, radishes etc).  This is a big oversimplification of a more in depth gardening concept, but it gets the job done.

The next thing you’ll want to think about it just exactly how big these plants are going to get when they are full grown!  A common issue when planting your garden in the spring is to over plant a small space because it’s really hard to imagine these little plants taking up so much space!  But they really do (and not just aboveground either- generally a plants roots and the branches mirror each other).  And when plants are growing too close together, they are in competition for resources such as water, nutrients, space and light.

If you aren’t sure how big a plant will get in its mature state, just google it!  Also, there are always instructions how plant spacing on seed packets and in growing guides online.  And make sure you are planting and leaving yourself room to access the plants.  Most people leave 18-36 inches for a pathway- but if you are growing in a raised bed you may not need to do that at all.

Try to keep a garden journal so you remember what you did- it will be invaluable for next year’s planning.  Were your lettuces tiny this year?  Try wider spacing next year!  Remember gardening is an experiment and to have fun with it.

This article gives a basic overview of how much space each plant needs if you’re looking for numbers.

Ok- for the review:

  1. Assess how much space you have to plant
  2. Group your crops by family/type
  3. Find out how big they will get
  4. Make a basic plan of what you want to place where giving consideration to how long each plant will be in the ground- sketch it out
  5. Make sure not to plant them in the same spot as last year
  6. Keep a journal so you remember what you did
  7. Plant, irrigate, weed repeat
  8. Harvest and eat!