Planning Your Garden: 3 Tips to Get you Started

Dreaming up a garden takes imagination and inspiration. Building a garden takes learning, hard work, and time. In our case, moving from the big city to small town Cumberland to build a market garden and homestead, took gumption, loads of learning, and hard work. 

Using our learnings from our first year of growing for market, the classes we’ve taken, the books we’ve read, and my aunt Nita, who’s a lifelong expert gardener, we’ve boiled down starting a garden, small or big, vegetables or flowers, into three main tips.

1. Know Your Climate Zone

First and foremost, before purchasing seeds or planning and prepping your plot, get to know your climate zone. Your climate zone (average rainfall and temperature) will help you determine what plants are best suited for where you live. Seed catalogues will list which climate zone each plant is hardy to. If you live in Northern Wisconsin, your climate zone is 3b or 4a. Here in Cumberland we’re in climate zone 4a. To find your climate zone by zip code, go to, planthardiness.ars.usda.gov.

2. Decide What Type of Garden You Want

Do you want a vegetable garden? A flower garden? Or maybe both? Do you want raised beds or traditional? Do you want to grow without chemicals or sprays, or use chemical fertilizers and bug and weed repellents? Will you be tilling or using a no-till method? Will it be an annual or perennial garden? And most importantly, what will be the purpose of your garden? To provide food for your family? A nice place to sit in the summer? Or a garden to attract beneficial insects (e.g. a butterfly garden)? We chose to grow food to feed our family and community, largely emulating techniques from the book, “The Market Gardener” by Jean-Martin Fortier.

3. Plan and Prep Your Plot

Now, here’s where the physical labor, and fun part -- for some -- begins! An ideal location for a garden that requires lots of sun is a south-facing slope (or the bottom of a south-facing slope, like in our case). You’ll also want to find a location on your property that is not heavy clay or sandy soil. Though you can grow in both, it requires a bit more finessing. Choose a location close to your house for convenience and watering. Once you’ve determined your plot, now it’s time to prep it. One thing you can do while the ground is still frozen, is trim your shrubs and trees (or in our case, remove very large, sun-blocking evergreens). This is also a good time of year to trim fruit trees you may have. For more gardening tips on how to prune your trees and shrubs, when to start your seeds, and more, visit, extension.umn.edu


The snow is melting and it’s time to dream up your garden. Let the learning, hard work, and fun begin. See you outside!

*This article was originally written by Elaina McMillan for the Rice Lake Chronotype.