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The (completely obvious) new tool I’m using to plan my garden


One of the lessons I’m learning the more I garden is that a little organization goes a long way. I don’t really want to embrace this concept. There is a part of me that wants to think of gardening as organic, natural and very much at one with the Earth (and the earth). Then there’s the other part of me that reluctantly realizes that at least some parts of gardening are much easier when you have a plan. 

Last year I tried to use a journal for the first time. It went well until June when I never wrote in it again and a few readers urged me to keep up with it. And sure enough I found myself reaching for it this weekend to check when I’d planted some seeds last year. 

seed packets
The first flower seeds of the year arrived recently.

I’m also fully in the throes of trying to figure out what seeds I need to buy this year. In the past, this was simply a matter of making a list of what I wanted to grow and ordering it. Sure, I had a gallon-sized zip-top bag stuffed with seed packets, but I rarely ventured near it, just ordering new seeds. It wasn’t that I didn’t like what was in that bag; it’s that I didn’t know what was in there.

So I’ve stepped up my organization game a bit. There’s that journal I mentioned. Last year I also bought a Seedkeeper, so I could actually find the seeds I owned. And this year I added one more item to my organization arsenal: I made a spreadsheet of what I ordered. The fact that I’m writing about this as though this is a novel concept is more a reflection of my utter lack of awareness of how disorganized I was in the past rather than any belief on my part that I’m the first to do this.

seed list
A glance at my list of seed and dahlia purchases this year … so far. I still haven’t figured out what vegetables I’ll be growing.

The fact is, I order seeds from a lot of different sources over the course of several months and there is no way I can keep track of what is coming from where, much less remember everything I ordered. Hence the spreadsheet. That, along with the planting sheet that I will update to include anything I will plant from seed with information on when and how to plant, is my guide to this seed season. (Here’s a downloadable version of my planting sheet from last year. Keep in mind that the dates are specific to my last frost dates and will likely be different for you. Here’s how I collect all the information on that sheet.)

It’s not rocket science. Heck, it’s not even close. It’s a damn spreadsheet. Why didn’t I think of that before?

How do you stay organized when planning your garden?

11 Responses

  1. I love keeping a journal, in fact I keep three. One is just for Indoor seeding, that stays in the basement. The second is for Direct Seeding and Transplanting notes for the Potager. It also covers all other notes for the potager, varieties, harvest dates and weights, succession sowing dates and varieties, etc. The last journal is for the flower gardens, cutting garden, and lavender slope. It includes all the bulbs planted, photos for identifying them when they bloom and the date they stop blooming, so I can do performance comparisons at the end of the season. I’ve tried doing it on the computer, but it just doesn’t work for me. I need the journal in my work bucket so I write it down immediately. I forget by the time I get in the house, and taking notes & then entering it into the computer just seems to be doing the same job twice.

  2. I find that my camera is a great resource. Sometimes issues are more apparent when I view them in a photo. Plus the time stamp lets me compare photos from year to year. A dated photo of an emerging tender perennial kept me from prematurely declaring it dead.

  3. Not rocket science I know, but you’ve inspired me to keep a spreadsheet with my major garden purchases. I hate when people ask me about a rose and all I can say is “It’s a David Austin” since the tag is long gone, I haven’t labeled it, and my memory for such things is fleetingm Thanks!

  4. I need a spreadsheet that’s for sure. A friend brought me a seed tin with different sections for each month. I just need to get in the potting shed and shuffle those seed packets into the right sections. All the best with your seed sowing. Karen

  5. You’re right that we think it will all just fall into place when we start gardening. We have no idea what we are getting into – for better or for worse.

    I write bits on my daily calendar (I still use a paper calendar). It’s from the Met Museum and has lots of room per day. That way I can sit down when I have a minute and usually I remember the details enough to fill it in more in the journal. Last year when I was really ripping out and moving things, I kept a notepad out and wrote almost daily lists of what I had done.

    I make a 3 x 5 index card as soon as I order or buy a plant that lists its name, source, date ordered, price, zone, planting info etc. On the back I write down where I am going to plant it. I usually do this part in pencil since I may change my mind once plants arrive and things are coming up in the garden. There is a notecard for every plant in the garden. I believe this is obsession rather than organization! However, when I was writing my newspaper column and doing garden talks I really needed to have all that info available. And I started it before there were computers. (That makes me sound so old . . .)

  6. I’m horrible about keeping up with writing a garden journal. however, I do go back through my old photos and blog posts to get an idea of when things bloomed or what I planted. I did create a seed spreadsheet last year but it needs to be updated again.

    Someday—maybe I’ll be a better garden journaler!

  7. I always do better keeping up with my gardening journal if I leave it open where I will see it every day. I keep a pen on top of it and it seems to beckon me over.
    I have made a spreadsheet of when flowers bloomed…………..but didn’t keep up with it. Perhaps if it was printed off and on top of the journal……… opposed to a document on the computer……………I would keep at it better. Light bulb moment!

    1. If you live near St. Louis MO (zone 6) you can just go to the Missouri Botanical Gardens web site and checkbout their “What’s Blooming” page….

  8. You are organized. This is something my DB would do if he was a gardener. I wish he would take up vegetable gardening but it won’t happen. He got so disgusted with my lack of record keeping he started a spreadsheet for me to keep rain fall records. I wanted to do that, but i didn’t. This year he made a spread sheet for HIM to keep the records of rainfall. Why all this hubbub about rainfall??? It is something every gardener is curious about because rain nourishes the garden. I am always asking him if he knows so now he will be able to tell me. He keeps an eye on the rain gauge in our garden. Now back to seeds… I don’t do many seeds. I purchase them then promptly forget about them until too late into the season to use them. I have a fine collection of seeds, in a cabinet, right where they will probably stay. I don’t think there is any spread sheet that would make me plant them. I am happy for you that you have this galvanizing paper. Let the seed purchasing begin!

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