How to Get a Head Start on Your Garden Planning

Fall Garden · Gardening Tips & How-to's · In the Garden · Spring Garden · The Beginner's Garden Podcast

It’s never too early to start your garden planning. In fact, with every season that passes, I find myself planning a bit earlier than I did the last year. And you know what? It’s paying off.

Unless this is your first year gardening, you have experience that can make a huge difference in your next garden. As early as your second season, you can begin building upon lessons you’ve learned and know what needs to change.

But the problem is, well, we’re all kind of forgetful. We think we’ll remember everything from year to year, but trust me, we don’t. Oh, we’ll remember the highlights, but some of our greatest tools to a successful season lie in the details.

In this episode of the Beginner’s Garden Podcast, the blog post below, and the live workshop, I’m going to help you evaluate your previous year’s garden and craft an action plan to help you get a head start on next year’s garden planning.

The Garden Planning Step You Can't Afford to Skip

Evaluating your previous year’s garden is the one garden planning step you can’t afford to skip.

Whether you’re an early bird reading this in the fall, or you’re starting your garden planning in the spring, these principles will help you learn from your past so you can plan a future successful garden! (Click below to listen to the podcast episode or continue reading.)

5 Ways to Get a Head Start on Your Garden Planning

Are you ready to take an honest look back at last year’s garden so you can look forward with excitement and confidence? First, before we dive in, be sure and grab your free Beginner’s Garden Head Start Worksheet. It’s one thing to learn the information here, but it’s another to act on it. And as a gardener, I already know you’re an action-taker!

5 Easy Ways to Get a Head Start on Next Year's Garden

1. Identify Your Successes

tomato harvest

Even in the most challenging of seasons, chances are you can identify a few successes from your garden. This is such an important step! Why? Because usually, you want to repeat them.

Of course, there are exceptions to this. For example, maybe you grew a crop that did fantastic but your family didn’t enjoy eating it. (Hello, kale.)

But most likely, you will want to repeat your successes, and in your garden planning you’ll use these as your starting points.

It’s easy, I’m sure, to think about your biggest successes, but you might be surprised that some of your wins are more easily overlooked. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Which crops grew and produced the best?
  • Did the timing of my planting work better in some cases than others?
  • Was there a difference in the growth of certain plants based perhaps on how I amended the soil or fertilized?
  • Did a specific organic pest control method work well?

Take Action: On the Beginner’s Garden Head Start Worksheet, write all the successes you can think of for the past season.

2. Identify Your Disappointments

Septoria Leaf Spot

The next step is to identify the things that didn’t go so well in your garden. Again, it’s probably easy to think about that major mishap. But a garden is comprised of a plethora of moving parts, so let’s look a little deeper. Even the small details hold potential for learning and adjusting in the future.

  • Which crops did not grow or produce well?
  • Could the timing of the planting of certain crops have caused negative effects?
  • Were there certain plants that didn’t seem healthy overall?
  • Did I battle specific diseases?
  • Were there pests that overtook my plants?
  • Did I have problems with wildlife eating my plants?
  • Were weeds a big issue?
  • Did the plants seem to compete with each other?

In this exercise, it’s important to focus on the “what” and not yet on the “why.” We’ll get to that in step 5.

Take Action: On the Beginner’s Garden Head Start Worksheet, write all of your disappointments, taking care to write down the “what” only.

3. Consider Mother Nature

corn damaged by storm

I like to be in control, but if there’s one thing gardening has taught me, it’s that Mother Nature has the last say. And it seems each year she throws something different at me!

It’s easy to slip into the thought process of blaming the weather or outside factors and using them as excuses. But, we need to be realistic. For example, a wet spring could have contributed to a bigger problem with early blight, or an early heat spell could have caused tomato blossoms to drop before they could start producing.

Considering a particular year’s nuances will help you in planning for next season. It could inspire you not to give up on a particular crop, or it could motivate you to change the timing of planting.

Here are a few questions to get you started:

  • Was the spring wet, dry, or average?
  • Did your last frost come early, late, or average?
  • Was the summer wet, dry, or average?
  • Did your summer heat arrive early, late, or average?
  • Did spring or summer storms blow over your crops or did you experience hail?

Take Action: On the Beginner’s Garden Head Start Worksheet, evaluate the weather patterns for your previous season. 

4. Consider You, the Gardener

There’s another factor to our garden we might not think of, and that’s ourselves. I’ve heard it said that the best fertilizer is a gardener’s shadow. The point is, the more we’re out in the garden, the more successful our garden will be.

But perhaps some factors prevented this. Maybe you experienced health issues or had to attend to a family member more than you expected. You might have underestimated the time required when you planted your garden, and you couldn’t keep up. Maybe you took a vacation right as the tomatoes ripened.

As you plan next season’s garden, you may need to adjust your plans due to your own limitations or lessons you’ve learned. I know I realized after planning a two-week vacation in the middle of July that our family needed to plan future vacations for earlier in the year.

Consider these questions:

  • How much time were you able to spend in the garden? Was it too little? Just enough?
  • Did you experience health issues, extraneous stressors, or unexpected demands on your time during the season?
  • Did the timing of a vacation impact your garden?

Take Action: On the Beginner’s Garden Head Start Worksheet, write out your observations on how you were able to attend to your garden last season.

5. Implement Action Plans

Garden Goals

Now that you’ve written the “what’s” in Steps 1-4, you can start to consider the “why’s” and “what now’s.” I’m guessing even as you wrote down your observations, conclusions or other questions came to mind. In this section, we’re going to implement action plans so those lessons don’t just sit there. Instead, we’ll use them as a jumpstart to planning next year’s garden.

While you may want to go through each step individually and make notes on what you want to do differently next year, I’ve identified a few key areas most gardeners can and should put into place. Though these steps can be implemented anytime, I personally think fall and winter is the best time.

Test Your Soil.

You may have noticed issues related to plant health. Perhaps plants were stunted or showed signs of stress or discoloration. It’s important to know if your soil is deficient in certain minerals or if your pH is too high or low. Then, you can address these issues armed with knowledge instead of guessing.


Now that you know what issues your garden has faced — such as plant diseases or pests — you can begin researching solutions. Most of us come across problems mid-season and resort to the quickest fix, which doesn’t always promote the overall health of our gardens. For example, if you know you have issues with the squash vine borer and you want to maintain an organic garden, start researching ways to combat the pest before the season begins.

Begin Composting.

Regardless of your soil condition, compost is one all-encompassing path to soil health. Though we can begin composting anytime, I personally believe fall is a great time because you’re less busy with planting work and you have excess weeds and overgrowth you can use as a base. And for those of you with leaves from deciduous trees, you can start collecting those leaves either for your compost bin or as a mulch for your garden.

Build Raised Beds, Trellises, Etc. 

I love adding raised beds and trellises to my garden, and my favorite time to work on these projects is in the fall. Your normal garden upkeep is at a minimum, and you can devote time to building and dreaming.

Plan to Plan. 

Garden planning can seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Particularly if you begin early, you can plan slowly and enjoy the process. I recommend getting a garden planner as soon as possible (of course I have to recommend mine — the Simple Garden Planner). You also want to get the tools you need for your garden before you need them. (See my recommendations for Tools for Planting, Weeding, and Harvesting here.) And if you want more of a step-by-step plan to get your garden off to the best start, take a look at my online course, the Beginner’s Garden Shortcut.

If you’ve skimmed this article and you’re ready to start putting these principles in action, be sure and get my free Beginner’s Garden Head Start worksheet here. My hope is that you can get a head start on next year’s garden so it can be your best ever!

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  1. Jill,
    Great podcast and info once again! When funds are low, fortunately there are still a lot of ways we can improve fertility in the garden for very cheap. I have watched videos from David the Good on Youtube where he focuses on this topic and the many different options available, such as: Making a tea from the weeds pulled in the garden/ yard and using as a foliar feed in a similar way as a compost tea, using used coffee grounds that many coffee shops will give away for free and sprinkling in the garden, collecting seaweed from the ocean and using to make a tea/ mulch, using leaves as mulch which have a lot of trace minerals, etc…

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