Planning this year’s garden? At the start of a new year, I take time to reflect on the past year and learn valuable lessons from my garden. Why bother? As a life long ‘student’ in Nature’s garden ‘classroom’, I make incredible discoveries and observations every year and always learn new things that make gardening more enjoyable and easier. You can too!
3 Tips for Planning this Year’s Garden
1. Learn Lessons by Observing
When you literally ‘stop to smell the roses‘, you not only slow down for a few minutes to relieve stress with beauty and fragrance, but this action can open up a whole new world of discovery. You may notice aphids and ants or spots on the leaves.
Rather than going unnoticed, these observations can help you learn how to remedy or prevent any potential problems. Instead of feeling disappointed when you notice ‘problems’, consider them ‘learning opportunities’!
By studying details like how plants grow under diverse weather conditions or how insects interact at different times, you can start to form patterns and learn so much about your garden.
What to Observe in your Garden
For example, I spend time observing the various microclimates; plant varieties; which cultivars do well and those that don’t. I have discovered which plants tough it out without water for months (little champions!) and which plants are vulnerable to pests or diseases.
The insights are fascinating and valuable data for decision-making. I know which plants are easy, low-maintenance and highly productive and those who don’t deserve a space because they’re too ‘precious’ and a pain in the neck! Grow more of what works and less of what doesn’t.
I record these observations with lots of photos and brief notes in my Garden Journal. After several years of comparing notes, I now know exactly what to expect at the same time each year. Patterns have formed. The trees and plants have gifted me their secrets. I can now predict what will happen when, with ever-increasing accuracy and make decisions accordingly.
For example, which trees will lose their leaves when stressed and when fruit trees will be in flower or set fruit. This information is so valuable because I know when these trees will provide me with a free resource (leaves for mulch or compost) or need more support (moisture and nutrients).
“A garden is always in a flux of giving and taking through the seasons. If you treat the relationship with your plants like a friendship, you’ll soon learn when to back off or lend a helping hand.” – Anne Gibson
As a ‘plant parent’ I am gently guiding and watching over my garden, knowing which plant babies and youngsters need help and those that are all grown up and managing on their own. Rosemary and garlic chives, for example, are fiercely independent! Whereas my lettuces and leafy greens need regular pampering. My garden is like my extended plant ‘family’!
I encourage you to spend time with your plants and keep a journal on what you observe. You’ll be richly rewarded. Here’s a FREE DOWNLOAD to get started.
2. Reflect Back on Last Year
Before planning ahead, take into consideration relevant factors from the past 12 months. A few quick notes can help you remember the most important aspects and avoid repeating the same mistakes!
“If nothing changes, nothing changes. If you keep doing what you’re doing, you’re going to keep getting what you’re getting.” ― Courtney C. Stevens
- Climate and Weather. How often did it rain and how much? Was your rainfall pretty average for the year or less than normal? How will this affect the decisions you make going forward about what you grow and water management strategies? What challenges did you have with wind, heat, drought or other conditions? Did you overcome these issues or do you need to plan new strategies this year?
- Plant Selection. What grew well? Which varieties yielded your best harvests? Did you have disappointing results? Think about what factors may have contributed. What can you do differently next time?
- Pests and Diseases. What were your biggest problems? What solutions did you try and did they work? If you felt overwhelmed, focus on building soil health as a priority this year. Pest and disease problems tend to primarily occur with unhealthy, stressed plants.
- Garden Design. Are all plants doing well or do you need to move some to different spots? More sun or shade? Do you need to reorganise some of the elements in your space because they’re not working as you’d hoped? Did you attempt too much or feel frustrated? Maybe consider scaling down and start small so you grow in confidence as you succeed with container gardens or bite-sized projects instead. Get some help if you need it.
Affiliate Links: Your support of this site is appreciated!
3. Dig Deeper for Details
Micro gardening is about being observant and stopping to really see what’s happening in a small space, rather than glossing over those little things that don’t seem important or relevant. If I see a new insect on a plant, I take a photo to identify it so I know who the new visitor is. My goal is to discover if they are a friend or foe.
Many insects go through various ‘costume changes’ during their lives, altering their appearance as they develop. So what may appear to be different insects, may actually be the same species just ‘changing their clothes’! Sometimes this makes identification a tricky business so take the time to look over the entire plant at different times.
This ladybird, for example, looks like a crawling hairy yellow baby but grows into a mature adult all dressed up in a glossy bright orange outfit with gossamer wings.
The usual insect culprits tend to turn up each year so I’m waiting and ready! I see less of them now than in the early years because so many birds and spiders are residents in the healthy ecosystem in my kitchen garden. There’s a balance of pests to predators that takes care of itself 95% of the time.
Less Pests and More Predators
I love our expanding family of resident magpies (mum, dad and 2 kids) that follow me around the garden. They are so interested in whatever I’m doing, are incredibly intelligent birds and watch every action I take. If I pluck a few grasshoppers off a plant to hand feed them, they remember and are quick to enjoy a feeding frenzy in that same spot. Days later there are no grasshoppers in residence! Four hungry mouths in that family make quick work of grasshopper protein. It’s a win-win.
I rarely need to ‘fix’ such pest problems now – I just let nature take its course. Birds are always hungry. With chemical-free habitat, seed-bearing plants and clean water, they’ll soon see where there’s food and help with pest management. Have a think about how you can improve this aspect in your garden this year.
Little details can make a BIG difference. Nothing lives in isolation. Everything is connected.
When planning this year’s garden, it also helps to get some inspiration for ideas. There’s plenty on this site. Grab a gardening book or two from your library, visit my Pinterest boards and Houzz ideabooks, and start dreaming!
So, by thinking about your garden as a source of valuable data or a ‘bank’ of information, you can make more informed decisions when planning this year’s garden. If you’d like some help with your garden, check out my consulting services or learn more with the resources below.
- 17 Garden Goals for your Health and Wellbeing
- Why a Garden Journal is your Most Valuable Tool
- 5 Simple Secrets to Building Healthy Soil
- Guide to Using Kitchen Herbs for Health – A how-to manual for getting results fast
- 7 Sustainable Garden Design Tips
- 9 Secrets for a Low Maintenance Easy Garden
Like this article?
Please share and encourage your friends to join my free Newsletter for exclusive insights, tips and all future articles.
© Copyright Anne Gibson, The Micro Gardener 2020. https://themicrogardener.com. All rights reserved.
Some links within this article are affiliate links. I only recommend products or services I use personally or believe will add value to my readers. If you purchase a product via an affiliate link, I will earn a small commission (and I mean REALLY small)! There is no additional cost to you. It’s a way you can support my site, so it’s a win-win for both of us. You directly support my ability to continue bringing you original, inspiring and educational content to help benefit your health. Thanks! Please read my Disclosure Statement for more details.
Fantastic article Anne
Thanks Lynda. Glad you found it helpful. All the best this year!
Thank you for your wonderful tips. You mention having the birds as an asset to the garden. I thought so too and was planning on putting in a bird bath. I grow tomatoes and someone told me that attracting the birds was bad for the tomatoes because they love to feed on them as well. How do you handle that or what are your thoughts. Thank you.
Thanks for your feedback. Great question! I think having birds in the garden is more of an asset than a liability. Personally, I’ve never had birds steal my tomatoes although fruit-lovers will help themselves to fruiting crops unless they are protected. Birds are great foragers. From early morning till dusk they are out looking for food. Some are in trees, others are hedge hoppers, some are ground feeders (like magpies). A biodiverse garden needs birds to maintain a balance. They are incredible pest patrollers and I’ve observed this many times including recent months. I’ve watched parent magpies bring their spring youngsters onto our grass when lawn grubs (army worm) are in season and they saved our lawn by not only aerating it with their beaks to allow moisture and nutrients to penetrate but also eating these pests before they could do any damage. They also have kept grasshoppers, caterpillars and moth numbers in check. In fact, I have been hard-pressed to even find any this year since I added a birdbath to my garden. Honestly, it needs traffic lights now! So many birds queueing in the shrubs and tree surrounding it, waiting for their turn.
But let’s address the food stealers! Personally, I net and bag vulnerable crops after I observe who is interested in them. It’s not expensive and very easy. For tomatoes, strawberries, citrus and other fruiting crops that can be attacked by not only birds but also fruit flies, caterpillars etc, I put individual bags over the fruits. I buy small ones from gift shops or discount stores that allow sunlight and moisture through but have ties so you can easily open/close to check on your fruit or harvest. Only around $2 for 6. They’re brilliant. Bird-safe netting is better for fruit trees and larger beds. See this article for details under point 3. I hope this helps clarify the benefits of encouraging birds to your garden with a birdbath.
Look forward to keeping in touch. Feel free to send me updates by email anytime Betty. Cheers Anne