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Take notes now for a healthier garden next year

Hand-drawn garden map on a blank piece of paper sitting on a white picnic table with a cup of coffee and colored pencils.
A simple map with a few notes is a valuable tool for future garden planning

Reflecting on your garden successes and mistakes from the past year can help you grow healthier and more enjoyable gardens in the future. Take notes now while this season is fresh in your mind. 

The garden journaling trend surfaces every year around this time. I seem to get daily targeted ads for garden journals ranging from blank notebooks to highly organized templates that prompt you to write daily observations about weather trends and plant progress. Garden journaling is important; it helps you to keep track of your favorite tomato varieties, which diseases are showing up, and how your soil is responding to management.

Fall is a great time to reflect on the season because your memories are fresh. But how much do you actually need to document?

For the majority of gardeners, daily observations take too much time. But 5 to 10 minutes is really all the time you need to take some key notes to inform your garden plans and seed selections for next year.

Make a map

A garden map is probably the most important piece of documentation you can keep. Keeping records of where things were planted allows you to rotate between plant families. The ideal rotation is 3-4 years and has implications for diseases, insects, nutrients and soil structure.

While I often remember where I planted things a year ago, I rarely remember my layout from 2 or 3 years ago. So I rely on my garden maps to make sure I’m rotating as much as possible.

I also like to make a map for next year around this time so that when I start choosing seeds in the winter, I have a better idea of how much space I’ll actually have available.

How will you use the space differently next year?

  • Did you plant too much of something this year? Or not enough? It can help to be specific (“This year I planted 6 cherry tomato plants and 2 slicers. Next year plant 3 cherries and 4 slicers”).
  • What were your favorite varieties that you want to plant again? Which ones are definitely not worth trying again?
  • Take a few notes about your spacing and trellising. Was there anything that worked well? Or something you need to change?

Identifying and troubleshooting problems

In the middle of the summer, we often see problems and don’t have time to fix them, or the time to manage them effectively has passed. Write down some of the problems you saw this year so you can take the time to research how to prevent them next year when you have some downtime this winter. Problems could include insects or diseases, yellow leaves, plants that grew beautifully but didn’t produce fruit, etc.

Use tools like What’s wrong with my plant? or the UMN Plant Disease Clinic to identify any final problems you’re seeing in the garden. Identifying diseases now can help you choose resistant varieties for next year.

And check out the Vegetables from A-Z guides to read up on best practices, or reach out to Ask a Master Gardener if you’d like to troubleshoot a problem with an experienced gardener.

Author: Natalie Hoidal, Extension educator, local foods and vegetable crops

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