Mapping Out Your Garden

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It’s finally March!  It’s been great having some extra sunshine these past few days, and it’s even more exciting that the sun is coming up before 7 am and staying up till almost 6 pm.  The lengthening of the days always leads me to think about spring, and of course getting ready for spring plantings.
I highly recommend creating a map or blueprint of your yard.  For many areas of our country, local assessors have websites that will allow you to get at least the basic information on your property, usually including the lot size.  Some sites even include a basic blueprint of either the house or the property at large.  This is a great place to start.  
If you don’t already have a blueprint and/or your assessor’s site doesn’t have enough information, get a buddy or two have them help you take the measurements.  Computer software does exist to create these types of maps, but most that I’ve encountered are for professionals and can be cost-prohibitive. (If any of you know of fairly cheap software programs for this please leave a comment below!)  That’s the main reason I’m still doing it the old fashioned way: on grid paper.  If you don’t want to buy a whole pack, you can create and print your own here.
Last year my husband and I took our yard measurements, and he drew up this great blueprint for us (I knew his skills as a Dungeons and Dragons geek would come in handy one day!):
Note the red dotted line on the left-hand side of the paper – this is our overhead power lines.  If you’re thinking about installing trees or other tall shrubs it’s important to take any overhead lines into consideration.  The previous owner of our house did not do this, which resulted in us having to take out or severely prune back some trees and shrubs that probably should not have been planted there in the first place – it was a VERY large project, and something that could have been avoided with a little planning.
If you have a large property, or if mapping out the whole area of your property seems intimidating, start with just mapping out the bed or area you want to plant.  I have made this process easier for me by scanning the original blueprint into the computer.  From there I can select just the area I want to focus on, copy and paste into a new document.  I can then zoom in and make a larger view of the detailed area.
Why do this?  One common mistake for new gardeners is to plant things too close together.  I’ve done this myself many, many times, and even today I have to remind myself that less is more  (less plants, but healthier plants!).  With a blueprint you can map just how much space your plants need.  If you’re buying seeds, seed packets will give you the plant spacing.  And if you’re buying seedlings, most packs will come with plastic markers that give you the spacing requirements. 
Don’t stress if you plant too many seeds too closely, you can always thin the plants out when they come up, but it’s more important to get the spacing right with seedlings since they cost so much more than seeds.
Please also remember that if you’re going to be digging or disturbing the earth in any way, in Iowa you MUST call Iowa One Call at least 48 hours prior to starting any work.  They will come to your property, free of charge, and mark all the underground lines.  I assume other states have similar regulations.  Please check your local regulations before digging.  Gas explosions and cutting lines are not recommended for your financial and physical health.
How are your gardening planning projects going?  I’d love to hear what you’re planning to plant this year!
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