by Patrice Lewis, Lehman’s Hardware

January and February – traditionally the coldest, bleakest months of the year – have one highlight, something like the gardener’s version of the swallows returning to Capistrano: the arrival of seed catalogs in the mail.

The timing of these catalogs is no accident. Amidst the snow and wind, these beautiful, colorful pages give hope that our gardens will bloom once more. They also suggest giddy possibilities, sometimes beyond logic, that this time we’ll be able to grow peanuts in Idaho or mangoes in Alaska.

And above all, seed catalogs give gardeners a powerful tool, something everyone should do before putting that first seed in a pot or in the soil: Paper gardening. The most efficient and effective way to guarantee summer success is through winter planning. Whether you’re gardening in pots on your patio, a suburban backyard, or a half-acre truck garden – all our growing efforts benefit from pre-planning on paper. The best thing about these tools is they are virtually free.

Understand that no matter how well you plan, some failures are inevitable. Gardening is rife with unpredictable factors out of your control. But as the old adage goes, “Planning prevents poor performance.” You may not be able to predict or control these outside factors, but you can plan for them – on paper.

Start by figuring out your challenges. Are you in an area prone to drought? What’s your soil like? What kind of pests do you routinely face? What kind of space constraints do you face?

Whatever weaknesses you face, now is the time to figure out how to reduce or eliminate them. Perhaps you could install a drip irrigation system. Perhaps you should bypass the ground and garden in raised beds. Perhaps you should raise your fence to eight feet to discourage deer. Perhaps you should incorporate vertical plantings to maximize space.

Next, sketch out your garden space, approximating the dimensions and shape. Unless you’re blessed with a huge area, you’ll have to restrict your garden dreams to within the confines of what you have available. Thankfully, whole industries and entire sciences have arisen to tackle the challenges of maximizing output within minimal space … and the best place to start is on that piece of paper.


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