By Vicki Krage, Director of Operations at Sunrise Financial Services & Sunny Gardens Volunteer.
Let’s be honest. The fun part about gardening is picking out the plants and shopping for them. However, putting in the hard work of planning ahead of time makes all the difference; when it comes to our gardens, the better we plan, the better our plantings and harvests turn out.
Each season that passes at Sunny Gardens, we learn more and more, which helps us plan better for the next season. We had somewhat of a “trial-and-error” strategy when this project began – “let’s start a garden,” they said..” it will be fun,” they said. Gardening is not for the faint of heart; it’s a lot of work!
The summer season is ending, and the slower winter season is on its way. Now is a great time to begin planning for next year! Below are some basic suggestions that we recommend to prepare ahead:
- Choose the plants, vegetables, and fruits you want to grow.
There are many different types of species to plant, all of which have different needs, ideal planting times, harvest timelines, and more. Knowing what you want to plant will help you determine what you need to do (if you can even grow those items in your area) and the next steps.
- Hardiness Zones
When you look at the back of your seed packets, there is often a colorful map of the United States, which illustrates the best time to sow that particular plant in your area. There are 11 different planting hardiness zones, and they are based on a region’s average annual minimum winter temperature. Washington currently has four different zones (6,7,8, and 9), and our beloved Burien is located in zone 8.
Below is a USDA map of the different zones. These maps only tell you what plants will thrive best in a particular region, and it is assuming you will be planting outdoors. It is possible for plants that thrive in lower or higher hardiness zones to grow and survive, but you’ll have less success growing those plants when they are intended for a tropical, humid zone. ( These may be possible to grow if you are growing them indoors or in a temperature-controlled greenhouse.)
- Timing & Layering
As mentioned above, your seed packets will have a map that tells you the best TIME to plant in your area. It usually will have a range that includes a couple of months due to varying season lengths. For example, our spring this year which generally begins in late March or April, did not actually start until late May and then quickly skipped right into summer.
While you can plant outside the timeframes listed on your seed packets (typically later, not earlier), it is not ideal. It is a guide, not a hard-and-fast rule. This year we planted a month to two months after the timeframes listed on our packet because of the abnormally late spring, and most of our plants did just fine.
If you are planting a larger-sized garden for your family and plan to use it as a consistent food source, we suggest layering your plant-sowing schedule. For example, when planting lettuce for a family, you might plant enough to grow 3-4 plants. At some point, those plants will come to the end of their lifecycle and then be gone. It could be beneficial to first plant, expecting 3-4 plants, then 2-3 weeks later, to do the same thing. Rinse and repeat. You will have a consistent source of lettuce for a much longer period of time and avoid having excess or harvesting a plant to the point of death.
A “start” is a seed that has grown into a baby plant or hardy seedling before being planted outdoors. Seedlings are susceptible to harm, which is why some people use starts rather than planting seeds directly into the ground. You can get these from your local hardware stores like Home Depot, Lowes, or Ace. You can also grow them yourself from seeds.
From our experience, some plants do better as starts or transplants, whether store-bought or homegrown. Tomatoes and peppers are two plants we’ve found that struggle in our soil if planted when evening temperatures are still consistently below 50 degrees.
If you’re planning to layer your seed-sowing and harvests, working with homegrown transplants can also be an easy way to accomplish that. The main drawback to using starts for all or most of your plantings is that it is more expensive than seeds.
Even with only a couple of years of gardening experience under my belt, I’ve learned so much. We went over some beginner considerations here today, and in our next article, we will move on to more intermediate to advanced things to consider when planting. Thank you for reading! I welcome any feedback, questions, or tips of your own you’d like to share. Until next time, I’m signing off!