With spring just around the corner you can almost feel the plants itching to grow. The days are getting longer, the birds are singing – and life’s pretty good! This is a great time of year to start or extend a kitchen garden, but before you so much as lift a spade you’ll need to decide on the ideal spot in your garden to grow food.
Sun and Shade for Fruits and Vegetables
Most vegetables and fruits need plenty of sunshine to encourage strong growth and high yields, so it’s best to locate your new garden in an open site that isn’t overshadowed by trees, boundary structures or buildings. Gardeners in cooler climates will benefit from part of the garden being in a suntrap, for example against a wall that faces the midday sun. This can create ideal conditions for tender crops such as tomatoes and wall-trained fruit trees.
In hot climates you may need to provide some summer shade, especially if you hope to grow cool-season vegetables such as peas, spinach or lettuce. Growing under shade cloth or in the shadow of taller climbing plants such as beans will help to expand the choice of what you can grow in these conditions.
If you have a shady spot, reserve this for crops that thrive in partial shade – for instance leafy salads, chives or currant bushes.
Airflow for Good Plant Health
An open position will let in more sunlight, but it’s important the plot isn’t too exposed to prevailing winds or turbulence. Solid walls or fences offer shelter but can also cause the wind to form destructive eddies on the leeward side as it is forced up and over the barrier, so it’s not a good idea to plant too close to them.
Good airflow through your garden is important to encourage sturdy growth in your plants. It will also help keep fungal diseases at bay, and makes the garden less appealing to some insect pests such as whitefly that prefer a still, humid environment.
Hedges, open or woven fences and other semi-permeable alternatives are ideal as they filter wind rather than deflecting it. You can always set up temporary screens while you wait for hedging to establish.
Well-drained, Moisture-retentive Soil
Walls and fences can cast a ‘rain shadow’ which leaves the soil too dry for good plant growth. Also avoid placing your vegetable garden under overhanging trees which will soak up rain and reduce the amount of water available to your crops.
Good soil is well drained, while holding onto enough soil moisture for steady growth. Both water-retentive heavy clay soils and free-draining sandy soils can be improved with liberal additions of organic matter such as well-rotted garden compost, which improves the soil’s ability to maintain more consistent, plant-friendly moisture levels.
Don’t forget that additional water will probably be necessary during dry periods, especially in the summer, so site your new beds conveniently near to an outdoor water source or a water barrel.
Avoid Frost Pockets
With sun, shelter and soil moisture taken care of, next to consider is the presence of any frost pockets. Cold air is heavier than warm air, so it sinks to the lowest part of the garden or collects against obstructions such as fences.
Avoid planting in these frost pockets, which could cause damage to young growth and delay the time when you can start sowing.
Planning a New Garden
Our Garden Planner can help you to plan the layout of your garden more effectively. When laying out your plan start by adding fixed objects such as fences, sheds and trees. Simply click on the selection bar drop-down menu and choose which type of object you wish to view (for example Plants or Garden Objects), then scroll through to find the relevant item. Click once to pick it up. Move the cursor to where you want it to be on your plan, then click to place.
Adding a compass to your plan will help you to consider where shadows from fixed objects such as fences fall. Click to select a compass rose, move it onto the plan and click to place. Its size can be adjusted using the corner handles. Use the rotation handles to align the compass to North.
Raised beds, compost bins and other essential garden items are added in a similar way.
If you don’t have much garden space available, or if the best spot is already in use, for instance with a patio, you can always grow crops in containers. The Garden Planner has many different sizes and shapes of container to choose from, helping you to accurately plan your container-grown crops.
Best of all, the Garden Planner makes it simple to rearrange objects and plants until you achieve the perfect layout for your garden conditions. If you discover this area is prone to frost or high winds, then it's simple to move crops to a better location. Doing so now is much easier than when everything's planted!
The new growing season is incredibly exciting, but it pays to take your time planning where to site your vegetable beds. We’d love to hear your tips for first-time fruit and vegetable growers, so please share them in the comments section below.