Providing your plants with the resources they need to thrive is foundational to the success of your gardening endeavors! One of the single biggest factors in determining the success of your garden is where it’s located. So before you build that raised bed you’ve been eyeing on Pinterest, let’s invest some time in discovering the best placement for your garden.
Choosing the Best Location for Your Garden
Selecting the optimal placement of your garden will pay dividends in the long run. Your USDA zone, average frost dates, sun exposure, and access to water will largely determine what you are able to grow in your garden, at least if you’re planning to grow outdoors. Let’s break it down.
USDA Plant Hardiness Zone
This is one of my favorite tools in determining whether or not a plant can thrive in my geographical area! Knowing your particular zone allows you to select with confidence the plants that will live their best lives in your garden. Although this standard is generic by nature, it provides a great place to start when designing your garden!
After you’ve determined your hardiness zone (go ahead, I’ll wait…) it’s time to figure out the average dates of your area’s first and last frosts. This information is important for two reasons: it determines when you can/should plant outdoors and can also rule out a plant based on the amount of time it takes to reach maturity.
Let’s imagine that you’re super excited to grow your first tomato plant this year. Since tomatoes are not frost-tolerant plants, knowing your average frost dates will help you determine when you can safely plant him in the garden.
Some plants take longer to reach maturity than others, and these dates are often indicated on seed packets or plant profile tags attached to a starter plug at the garden center. Say you’re debating between two varieties of tomatoes and you notice that one reaches maturity in 60 days and the other is ready to harvest in 95 days on average. Knowing the length of your growing season as determined by your average frosts will help you select plant varieties that are best suited for your area and length of growing season.
The key here is to remember that these are average dates. Many an eager gardener has fallen victim to planting out their beloved plants too early only to have a late frost wipe out their efforts. When in doubt, wait it out.
Now that you’re armed with your frost dates and hardiness zone, it’s time to look at your specific growing area. Are you optimizing your apartment balcony for some homegrown goodness? Are you dreaming of converting the unused section of your backyard into a proper potager? Your first task is to observe how much direct sunlight that area receives each day.
You may find that you have plenty of sunlight to support your sunbathing veggies like tomatoes and peppers. On the other hand, you may find that you only have a few hours of direct sunlight, which would limit your ability to successfully grow certain plants in that particular location.
A word of caution regarding sunlight: the amount of direct sunlight in a given area can shift during different seasons. If you’re considering a permanent location for an in-ground garden or couple of fruit trees, it would be prudent to check your anticipated location during a spring, summer, and autumn day to learn exactly how much direct sunlight your plants will receive as the season progresses.
Also important, and I cannot stress this enough, wintertime and early spring may give the illusion that a plot of land will receive more sunlight than your garden will actually get. When deciduous trees leaf out in late spring and early summer, you may find that your previously sunny location is covered in shade and your hopes of planting sun-loving plants in that particular bed are no longer an option.
Access to Water
Some plants need a lot of it, some only need a little- but dependable access to water is crucial for your garden to live up to your dreams! If you get a lot of rain, you may find that you rarely need to supplement your garden’s water intake. But if dry, hot summer days are the norm, or if you are a container gardener, you are going to need a way to give your plants a drink when they need it. Before you dig up a new garden plot or anchor a raised bed, make sure that you have a reliable water supply at your disposal.
Now that you know your hardiness zone, your average frost dates, the amount of direct sunlight you’re working with, and have established a dependable water source for your garden, you can confidently select plants that will thrive within your care!