CO-Horts Blog

Monday, February 22, 2021

Five helpful tips for planning a vegetable garden

By John Stolzle, Jefferson County Extension 

If 2020 was any indication, this will be another busy year for gardening. A recent Co-Horts blog post presented some information from two seed suppliers; the gears are turning and companies are stocking up. With the upcoming year in mind, I have laid out five topic areas and include relevant resources from CSU Extension to help gardeners prep for a successful year
1) It’s never too early to plan. 

Having a plan in place for a garden can prevent many problems from ever occurring. Before starting a new garden, it is important to give some time and thought towards site selection and ask questions such as: will this area receive full sun, how was the land previously used, how much produce do I want? The layout and form of a garden (for example, in-ground or raised bed) can also play a significant role in its productivity. Raised beds with a block style layout can save space, drain faster, heat up earlier in the spring, and save water by keeping it where the plants are grown. 

More information to help you select a site and layout can be found in the following links: 

In our dry climate, it is especially important to consider whether a source of water is near to where you are planning to garden. Irrigation systems and mulch are two tools that we can use to help conserve water. On the topic of mulch, it is important to note that mulching too early in the season can actually reduce a garden’s productivity!

Here is some additional information on the topics of irrigation and mulch for vegetables gardens: 

3) Soil matters

One common question I often receive is about best practices for amending soil. From my perspective, it can sometimes be a challenge to make suggestions for fertilizing or adding amendments without first knowing more about a soil’s composition. A soil test can provide baseline information from which recommendations can be made. The CSU soil testing lab in Fort Collins can receive soil samples through the mail. They will analyze a sample’s composition and provide recommendations if they discover any deficiencies. At the time of posting this, the lab is expecting a 2-3 week turnaround time.

Additional information:

 4) Take care when determining your start time to avoid starting seeds too early.

Starting seeds indoors, before the weather warms allows us to get a jump start on the growing season. One challenge that comes with starting seeds early is that larger plants are often more sensitive to the stress that comes with transplanting. For this reason, it can be important to not start seeds too early and to have an idea for when you might plant them in the ground. Frost dates are often used to help determine when to plant outside and when to start seeds; these dates differ between elevations and regions in Colorado. Certain cool season crops do better in cooler temperatures and can resist a light frost (for example, Spinach, lettuce, and broccoli), whereas other warm season crops do much better in the heat of summer after the threat of frosts and freezes has passed (for example, tomatoes, squash, and watermelon). 

5) Plan with a full year in mind

One of the most important tips I can provide is to plan your garden with a full year in mind. Are you interested in donating extra produce to neighbors, or friends, or family? If so, consider planting a few extra vegetables. To receive more information about growing produce and sharing the harvest, you can sign up for the Grow&Give newsletter on the Grow&Give website:

Lastly, I want to include a few additional links to more information which you may find helpful:

As always,
Best of luck in your gardening endeavors!