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

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’!

3 Tips for Planning this Year's Garden: Learn Lessons by Observing your Garden

Observing details can help with troubleshooting and insightful discoveries

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 a huge variety of drought tolerant plants that survive without water for months. Little champions! And learned 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.

3 Tips for Planning this Year's Garden: Take a closer look at your garden to open up a whole new world of insights.

Take a closer look at your garden to open up a whole new world of insights

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.

Garden Journal Planner and Workbook – The Micro Gardener

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. I know 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 and nurturing. 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. I think you’ll find my Master List of What to Record in a Garden Journal a valuable tool.

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?
3 Tips for Planning this Year's Garden

Taking notes on garden observations – successes and disappointments is a valuable part of planning this year’s garden

  • 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. Do you understand your microclimates? 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.

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. They alter 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.

3 Tips for Planning this Year’s Garden: Learn to identify pest insects at different stages of life like adult and immature larva ladybirds

Adult and immature larva stages of a leaf-eating ladybird

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. They 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.

3 Tips for Planning this Year's Garden - Watch the interactions with pests and predators in your garden to work with nature for less problems

Watch the interactions with pests and bird predators in your garden to work with nature for less problems.

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.

Did you notice some plants going to seed? Why waste this valuable free resource? If you have missed the opportunity in the past, this year may be the time to learn the skill of seed saving. It’s fun and rewarding. Saving seeds and propagating plants from your own garden for free is a sustainable way to garden.

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!

3 Tips for Planning this Year's Garden: Get some inspiration for ideas

Photos of projects and plants can help spark ideas for this year’s garden plans

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.

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© Copyright Anne Gibson, The Micro Gardener 2020. https://themicrogardener.com. All rights reserved.

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