September: The Best Time to Plan for Spring

The Labour Day weekend brought warm, sunny days and cool nights perfect for a restful sleep.   As a gardener, Labour Day is also a reminder to me that fall is just around the corner and that this is the best time to plan for next years garden.  

September brings harvest meals from my edible garden, late blooming asters and ornamental grasses are in abundance and its easy to recall what happened in the garden over the past few months.  But trust February, when the seed catalogs arrive in the mail and you are bundled up in front of a fire thinking about planning for your spring garden, all this will be a distant memory!

Taking an hour or so now to plan for your garden next spring is an investment that will provide you with great dividends! Here's some easy steps to help build on this years successes and learn from your challenges!

  1. Ornamental gardens
    • Divide your garden areas into zones or beds to differentiate them (ie. A ornamental front bed, B south-east foundation planting bed, C back yard kitchen garden, D kitchen herb garden)
    • Start with a photograph: I go to the second story windows for these pictures (a bird's eye view provides the best perspective)
    • Inventory "what's where": Enlarge and print out the picture (or do a sketch on plain or graph paper that shows where plants are) and label each item
    • Use a simple legend to denote what's in the right place (a check mark) and what you want to divide (D), move (M), replace (R),  Prune (P), Other (O) or add (A); some plants may have more than item (ie, the wildly happy catmint is in the right place (check) but needs to be divided (D) and a new location added (A) for the new plant material 
    • Make a note of any problems you encountered such as pests, fungus etc so you can think about them over the winter and develop strategies to prevent reoccurence
  2. Edible gardens
    • As outlined above, start with a photograph or hand-drawn sketch and inventory your plants
    • Use a slightly different set of symbols: a check mark for high producers, an "X" for poor performers, and a "P" for pests or other area of concern (take a few notes on specifics)
    • If you haven't already, make notes on which seed or transplant varieties you used and if you were happy with flavor, yield, etc.

Now, or during the winter, use these visual aids to start to plan for next year's garden.

  1. Ornamental gardens
    •  Use your notes to document next steps.  Identify and specify actions to be taken:
      • Prune (P): do you want to raise a shrubs canopy for a new planting underneath or lower its height to reduce its shade on an area?
      • Move (M):  where will you put it; consider noting in on your paper or using plastic or wooden markers in the garden to denote specific locations?
      • Replace (R):  does your beautiful magenta peony clash with your coral Crocosmia 'Lucifer"?  Think about moving it to a better area with other cool colored blooms and replacing it with a neutral white or yellow peony
      • Divide (D) / Other (O): powdery mildew on Phlox may be due to crowding; make a note to divide it in the spring and plan to ensure adequate air circulation in the bedding area
  2. Edible gardens
    • Plan your garden using your notes and a few key points:
      • Rotate your crops: each plant has it's own soil nutrient needs so rotate your crops so that soil does not become depleted and unable to feed your garden
      • Soil quality: some bedding areas may be better than others: add compost to beds that don't seem to produce as well as others and consider growing a cover crop (that is tilled into the soil to add nitrogen and nutrients) or plant soil building crops like legumes in that bed
      • Companion planting: plant complimentary crops together to support ease of growth and yield
      • Deal with persistent pests: research pest resistant plants to address areas that have problematic pests

Consider using plant markers in the garden to locate plants more easily in the spring or to identify proposed location sites for new plants.  Marker sticks come in wood and plastic and can be easily written on and placed in the ground.

An hour or so now makes it simple to kick start your garden in the spring.  You'll be rewarded with a more beautiful yard and an abundance of home grown food as the summer unfolds.



Colleen Alexander

Colleen Alexander offers tailored human resource solutions to organizations who want to build capacity, strengthen internal capabilities and increase employee engagement. Individuals seeking professional career transition services benefit from Colleen's expertise and extensive network in seeking a new job or career. Colleen's management consulting background includes writing winning proposals and grant applications, customer surveys and marketing. Colleen is the Founder and Creative Director of The She Shed (