January is for Garden Dreaming

Have you been thinking about growing a garden this year? Whether you are starting small with a kitchen herb garden or jumping in with both feet and building the vegetable, herb, and/or flower garden of your dreams, the time to start planning is now.

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I know, it seems crazy to think about summer harvests so early in the year, but planning now will keep you organized, prepared, and give you the best chance of getting all the seeds you want most. I've found garden planning to help busy my mind when I’m feeling cooped up on these deepest days of winter.

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If you are just beginning your gardening journey and would like to skip some of the common mistakes we all make when it comes to organizing, here are some tips to set you on the right track:

Order Seed Catalogs and Visit Online Seed Retailers
Order a few seed catalogs and research what types of plants you most want to grow. This may take some time, so start now. I encourage you to visit my seed shop, where I have a curated collection of my favorite varieties of herb and flower seeds hand-picked from my own backyard garden. Additionally, my favorite seed sources are Floret Flower FarmBaker Creek SeedsTerritorial Seed Company, and Johnny's Seeds.  

Know Your Zone
Before you click "buy", you need to make sure that what you want to buy will grow successfully where you live, otherwise you're setting yourself up for failure. Simply head over to the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map and enter your zip code. Jot your zone down so you can compare it to the zones indicated in the seed product description.

Know Your Final Frost Date
The final frost date is an estimated last date (based on previous years) that your zone experiences temperatures below 32 degrees F.  The Old Farmer's Almanac is a great resource where you can type in your zip code to generate a date. 

Buy Seeds
After you’ve done your research, created your wish list, and determined your zone, it's time to buy your seeds. Don’t delay or the most popular seeds will be sold out for the year. You also want to have your seed packets in hand (or seeds germinated with sprouts to count) when you begin allocated space in your garden beds.

Get Organized
Having a good seed organization system is key to keeping track of your inventory so you don't overbuy, and trust me when I say it's very easy to overbuy! There are lots of ways to organize your seeds, but here is what I highly recommend. First, divide your seeds into three categories:
Category 1: seeds you will grow year-round (for example, culinary or medicinal herbs that can grow successfully in a windowsill or greenhouse)
Category 2: seeds you will start early and transplant out after last frost
Category 3: seeds you will direct sow

Next, organize the seeds in Category 2 by the number of weeks out (from last frost) that you should start them. This information can be found on the seed packet or the seed supplier's website. 

Lastly, determine my zone’s last frost date and then use that date and count back the number of weeks on the back of each seed packet to pinpoint when to sow each type of seed. Keep in mind that some plants of the same genus may have very different sow dates across species, so each packet should be calculated individually. For example, my estimated last frost date is April 20th. So if the back of my seed package indicates to sow 2-4 weeks before the last frost, then I would put that packet of seeds in an April 1 pile. If the back of the seed packet says not to sow into the ground until after all threat of frost has passed, then I would put that packet in an April 20 pile, or in the "direct sow" (Category 3) pile. This process allows you to organize this second sub-set of seeds by DATE, which I have found to be, by far, the best organization method.

For a small collection of seed packets, a pretty vintage recipe box with paper dividers should do the trick so keep an eye out at your local flea markets and thrift stores. Label the dividers by DATE, according to the categories and dates you identified above.

For a medium sized collection of seeds, local craft stores, general stores, and even hardware stores have great options for table-top containers that have lots of little drawers and dividers. Label the drawers and dividers accordingly. 

For a more extensive collection of seeds, I recommend a photo storage case. (Visit my Amazon Affiliate To Grow A Garden Page for all my favorite gardening supplies and tools.) Vintage cassette tape organizers would also make a really cool seed packet organization system, if you happen to snag one at your local antique store.

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Lastly, begin to sketch out your garden space. First, consider what space or land you have to dedicate to your garden. A dot grid spiral notebook is the perfect sketch pad for this purpose so you can draw out the surface space for each container and/or garden bed. The back of your seed packet is a good starting point for estimating how much space each full-sized plant will need, however, I tend to downsize their living space by a few inches in diameter from what the back of the pack recommends for each plant so I can get the most use out of my garden footprint without sacrificing the quality and growth of the plant. And I don't mind the overgrown cottage garden vibe that an overflowing garden gives. The key here, is to know how many of each plant you have the space to grow and to ensure they are not too close together so they don’t block each other’s access to light.

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I know this is a lot of information and can seem overwhelming to someone just starting out, but I promise that if you take one step at a time, it will make a huge difference in the longrun and you're going to love building your seed collection year over year. Let me know how your seed shopping goes by tagging @cedarhouseliving and happy garden dreaming, friends.

I dedicate an entire section of my book, Seasonal Living with Herbs, to growing from seed and you can pick up a signed copy in my shop. (Unsigned copies are also available on Amazon and all major book retailers.)

Lastly, if you'd like to create botanical arrangements or garden beds this year that have meaning, look no further! A complete glossary of flowers, herbs and other botanicals and their meanings can be found in my book, The Love Language of Flowers. The book honors the seasonal rhythms of nature, builds confidence, and provides flexibility to let your own creative voice develop.  It is truly an excellent resource for those seeking to grow their botanical creativity in a meaningful way. You can pick up a signed copy in my shop. (Unsigned copies are also available on Amazon and all major book retailers.)

Disclaimer: This article may contain Amazon affiliate links. Cedar House Living LLC receives a small commission for sales generated through these links at no additional cost to you. I use the commissions to further expand my garden, floral, and herbal knowledge so I can continue to share what I learn with you.

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