by Deborah J. Benoit, Extension Master Gardener, University of Vermont
NORTH ADAMS, MASS. – Whether you choose a ready-made book, a calendar with plenty of room for notes or a three-ring binder to keep it all together, there are some things you’ll find incredibly helpful to keep track of in your garden journal from year to year.
The first bit of information to add is your U.S. Department of Agriculture Hardiness Zone. It’s easy to find at planthardiness.ars.usda.gov using your zip code and will guide you when purchasing perennials such as flowers for your garden and fruit trees.
Hardiness Zones in Vermont range from Zone 3 in the northern part of the state to Zone 5 in the southern part. Generally, a higher zone number means a warmer climate, so you could grow a plant that’s hardy to Zone 3 to Zone 5, but a plant hardy to Zone 5 may not survive the winter in Zone 3. That’s important information when plant shopping.
The Average Last Frost Date is the date in the spring when generally you can safely put annual plants in the ground. While there are years where temperatures are higher before that date, early planting runs the risk of losing annuals to a sudden return to seasonal temperatures.
The Average First Frost Date is the date in the fall after which a frost is likely, signaling the anticipated end of the growing season. Using row covers or lightweight fabric (not plastic) such as an old sheet to cover plants can help protect them from frost.
For information on average first and last frost dates for your area check garden.org/apps/frost-dates. By keeping annual records of when your gardens experience first and last frosts, over time you will be able to predict these dates for your unique location.
The Length of the Growing Season is the average number of days you can count on to grow plants in your garden. This is the number of days between the last frost date in spring and first frost date in the fall. This is important for annual crops such as tomatoes, corn, eggplant and others.
Seed packets will give an anticipated number of days to harvest. If a plant is expected to take 180 days to harvest, but your growing season is only 150 days, consider selecting another variety. As an alternative, employing season-extending techniques such as row covers can add days or weeks at the beginning or end of the growing season.
If you’ve never had your soil tested, fall is a good time to do so. Soil Test Results will provide information on your soil’s pH, available nutrients, organic matter and more. The report also will provide recommendations for amendments to the soil, all invaluable information to keep in your garden journal. For more information on obtaining a soil test, see go.uvm.edu/soiltest.
Recording Seed Starting, Cultivars Planted, Planting and Harvest Dates will come in handy year after year. While seed packets and plant tags give anticipated dates for germination and harvest, they can vary depending on your growing conditions.
Keeping a Diagram of Garden Beds can be helpful in many ways. Knowing the square feet the bed occupies makes ordering bulk mulch or other materials to be applied to the bed easy. In addition, if you make note on the diagram of perennial plantings, you’ll know exactly what you’re growing, even when the garden is under two feet of snow or all the plant tags have gone astray.
In addition to the above essentials, consider including information such as notes about weather conditions and soil amendments. If you’ve encountered pests, disease or other problems, write down the details, treatments and results. You won’t remember all the specifics next year, but your garden journal will.