How to expertly plan your garden for spring

Whether you’re hoping for lush flower beds bursting with perennials or you want to grow herbs and vegetables for the first time, now’s the perfect time to start planning your garden.

Though you still need to wait a bit before you can start planting — typically once the ground has thawed and there’s no longer a risk of frost — getting a head start on the plan itself can help you visualize the end state of your garden. We asked Halifax gardening expert Niki Jabbour, author of Growing Under Cover, for her best tips to build a lovely garden that will enhance your curb appeal.

What should you consider
before starting your garden? 

Before you race off to empty your wallet at the garden centre, take some time to plan. Consider drawing out a rough sketch of your space and priorities, suggests Jabbour. 

“Having a plan on paper helps keep you on track and on budget. Perhaps this year, you can tackle the front yard and next year the back of the property, or just start with an island bed or foundation planting,” she says.

Then, evaluate your growing conditions so you can choose plants that will thrive: do you have an open space with lots of light, some shading from nearby trees, or deep shade beneath tall trees? Your plan will also depend on the overall type of garden you’re looking to plant. Vegetable gardens may require a different setup than perennial or flower gardens, for example.

What are some of the easiest plants to grow?

Thanks to plant breeders, gardeners have a huge selection of low-maintenance trees, shrubs and perennials to choose from, including many varieties designed for urban landscapes or small-spaced yards, says Jabbour.

“When selecting plants, be sure to read the size description on the tag: how tall and wide will it grow? Make sure you have a spot that can accommodate its growth,” she says. “If you see the words ‘ground cover’, understand it’s a spreading plant that may take over your garden. I avoid plants that spread aggressively and aim to pick perennials that form tidy clumps to reduce maintenance.”

You may want to have your soil tested by a professional landscaping company to see if you need to add nutrients.

What’s the best way to start vegetable gardening?

As a year-round vegetable gardener, Jabbour believes all landscapes should include edible plants, which provide delicious food and add beautiful elements to your garden, while attracting and supporting pollinators.

“You can create a stunning hedge with high bush blueberries, use strawberries for edging garden beds, tuck lacinato kale amongst perennials, or include curly parsley in container gardens for long-lasting texture and beauty,” she says.

Want to grow your own food? Start by building a simple four-by-eight-foot raised bed, or gather a few large containers for your patio, advises Jabbour. Since most types of vegetables and herbs need lots of light — at least eight hours of full sun each day — choose plant varieties that suit your garden conditions. 

“If you don’t have a full sun, stick to vegetables like leaf lettuce, spinach and kale that can be grown with just three to four hours of sun each day. A raised bed is ideal as it offers excellent soil drainage and is easier to tend than a traditional in-ground garden,” adds Jabbour.

Easy to grow vegetables that don’t need much maintenance include bush cucumbers, potatoes, zucchini, cherry tomatoes, peas, and bush beans.

“If you’re short on space, skip vining vegetables like cucumbers, pumpkins and winter squash, which can use up large areas. Or, grow them vertically: I love growing vining cucumbers, pole beans, melons, and small fruited pumpkins on trellises. It allows me to grow more food without digging a new bed, but it is also good for the plants. They’re less prone to disease and insect problems and it makes harvesting a snap,” she says.

What’s the best way to care for a garden?

Weather affects the timing of planting trees, shrubs and perennials, and how well they settle into your garden, so plant these items in the spring before the hot, dry weather takes over.

“You can help give trees, shrubs and perennials a good start in your garden by watering new plants deeply each week. Once they’re established, you won’t need to water as frequently,” says Jabbour, who also mulches with straw to conserve soil moisture.

With a little know-how, your spring garden will blossom all season!