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How to Plan Your Garden: Purchasing, Seed Starting, and Planting


Planning out a garden can be a big and overwhelming job. What do you plant? Will it work where you live? Do you start plants from seed or just buy everything from a garden centre? And how do you keep it alive until Fall?

This is the second instalment of a series on how to plan out your garden for the year. If you haven’t read the first instalment yet, go to this post to figure out how to organize your thoughts and get a direction for your garden. You’ll answer 10 questions to get clarity on your garden and help you avoid overwhelm.

Also, if you haven’t grabbed your free garden planner yet, you can get yours here:

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Got it? Great. Now that you’ve found your hardiness zone, frost dates, and figured out your goals for your garden based on the time, space, and money you have available to you, let’s start to figure out what to plant.

P.S.–Did you ignore my advice before about reading the first post in the series? Go back and read it if you find yourself asking what your hardiness zone and frost dates are.

P.P.S.–This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you purchase anything I earn a few cents at no extra cost to you. You can read more about it in my Privacy Policy. Thanks for supporting Shifting Roots!

In part two of this garden planning series, we're talking about seed shopping, where to buy plants, seed starting, and the initial steps of getting your flowers and vegetables into your garden. #gardening #gardenplanning #seedstarting

Assess What You Already Own

If this is your very first garden, feel free to skip this step. If you’ve done some gardening before, you probably have some leftover seeds, a few pots, and maybe even some soil that you managed to pick up on clearance in the fall.

As long as your seed isn’t too old, you should be able to use whatever is left this year. You can always test the seeds germination rate using this method or plant a little more densely than you normally would to make up for the ones that won’t germinate.

Once you know what you have, you can begin to make a list of what you need and put some items on your wish list.

If you’re planting a perennial flower garden this year, ask around and see if any of your friends or family are dividing up any of their perennials. Free plants!

Where to Shop for Garden Supplies and Seeds

Now that you know what you need, where should you get everything?

Big box stores, garden centres, and Amazon are great for things like hoses, seed starting supplies, and garden tools.

Purchase your seeds and plants from a seed catalogue online or your local garden centre. My rule of thumb? Stick as close to home as possible. If you’re ordering online, try and order from a company that’s in a similar geographical region as you. They are more likely to carry varieties that will do well in your area.

That’s not to say that buying seeds or starters at a big box store is terrible. You just won’t get the same selection and advice as you would from the staff at a local garden centre or ordering from a company in your region online.

Related: 20+ Canadian Seed Companies to Plant the Garden of Your Dreams

Shopping for soil and other gardening supplies.
While I’ll get most of my plants at an actual greenhouse, I have no problems getting extra soil at the big box store.

Seeds or Starters in the Vegetable Garden?

My general rule of thumb is that if it’s your first year and you’re feeling very nervous about the whole thing, go with as many started plants as possible. There is no shame and the “gods of gardening” will not strike you down!!

I also like to use starters for the few plants I’ve not been able to master–cauliflower and broccoli. . . grr. For you, these may be completely different plants. Whatever they are, buy them without shame.

There are a few vegetables that should not be purchased as starters. Root crops such as carrots and beets are best direct seeded. Some vegetables work fine either way. I go into more detail in my gardening course as to which vegetables should be direct seeded, which ones should be purchased as starters, and what to do if you’re short on time or experience.

Seed starting using light from my window and jiffy pots.

Starting Your Own Seeds

After you’ve been gardening for a couple years, you’ll likely get the itch to start your own seeds. It’s a fun and rewarding project and I love looking at my little green seedlings when it’s -40 and blowing snow outdoors. A girl has got to keep her spirits up somehow!!

If you have the space and a south facing window, you can start your own seeds without the use of a grow light. I’ll show you how here.

No space and no light? Try winter sowing!! There are some limitations if you do it with vegetables instead of flowers, but the stuff that does work is so hardy and you don’t have to further harden off these transplants. Try winter sowing.

Ready to take on traditional seed starting with a grow light? Here’s a quick video on how I like to start my seeds. This one is with herbs, but the premise is the same for vegetables and flowers too. As for grow lights, I use something similar to this one. If you’re short on space, this one looks like a good option. And finally, when I reach some of my big audacious blogging goals, I am going to get one like this.

If this is your first time using a grow light, know that you might need to leave the light a lot closer to the plants than you think. I’ve also had disastrous results when I placed my grow light in a basement that has no light. Learn from my mistakes and put your grow light in a place that gets at least some light throughout the day!!

Need help figuring out when to start your seeds? It’s all the Growing Roots Beginner Gardening Course.

When do I put everything in my garden?

When you put out your plants into the garden depends on your last frost date and if you use any techniques to prolong the season. I’m going to assume that you aren’t into extending the season, for the purposes of this post.

In our last post, we found our Spring and Fall Frost dates. In general, you’ll put out any direct seeded plants as soon as you can after your Spring frost date. Then, you’ll put out any tender vegetables out 2 weeks after that. Your seed packet will have information on this, and I go into much more detail about it in my gardening course.

The Spring and Fall frost dates are not hard and fast rules. It’s important to watch the weather at least 2 weeks before either date to see when it’s actually safe to put your plants out.

The Plants are in my Garden. . . Now what?

Congratulations! Your garden is in the ground and you’re on your way to a successful growing season. In the next post in my series, I’ll discuss the basics of caring for your new plant babies.

If you’re reading this and wanting more details and hold-my-hand gardening advice, you need the Growing Roots Beginner Gardening Course. It’s designed to cover the basics of everything the new gardener needs to know, all in simple, easy to understand language. Plus, you’ll get over 60 pages of printables to keep everything organized and on track.

I’ll walk you through garden planning, seed starting, and keeping your garden alive, plus give you strategies for when you are short on time. Because life happens, and as much as we love our gardens, we don’t want to be chained to them.

You can do this. Even if you kill every houseplant you touch and you’ve never gardened on your own in your life.

Yes, hold my virtual hand and let’s get gardening!

This post is part of series on beginning to garden. To learn how to start your very first traditional garden, head on over to How to Start a Vegetable Garden When You Have No Clue.

Kristen Raney

Kristen Raney

Kristen is a former farm kid turned urban gardener who owns the popular gardening website, Shifting Roots.  She is obsessed with growing flowers and pushing the limits of what can be grown in her zone 3b garden.  She also loves to grow tomatoes, but oddly enough, dislikes eating them raw.

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Hi, I'm Kristen and I help new gardeners learn to grow their own vegetables and beautify their yards. I also share recipes that use all that delicious garden produce. Grab a coffee (and your gardening gloves) and join me for gardening tips, simple recipes, and the occasional DIY, all from the lovely city of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

P.S. First time gardener? You'll want to download the quick start gardening guide below!