Garden Variety: Jog your memory with a garden journal
Writing about successes and failures in the garden is a good way to ensure the successes are repeated and mistakes are avoided. Making notes about the garden, or journaling, can be done any time of year, but late summer — as the garden fades and harvest slows — is an optimal time to make notes and reflections on the season. Gardeners at every experience level can benefit from keeping a garden journal or at least a few basic notes.
A garden journal can be as simple as keeping notes in a notebook, binder or computer file, or as elaborate as a formal journal with detailed records and drawings including planting dates, garden layouts, varieties, etc.
For gardeners who prefer to keep it simple, use what feels comfortable. Spiral notebooks are inexpensive, or you might use scrap paper for notes and store it in a binder or transfer it to the computer later. Whatever you choose, make sure it can easily be added to and located for future reference.
For gardeners who prefer to be very detailed and organized, there are several types of garden journals on the market that have prompts of what to log and when. Many of them also contain tips and suggestions about garden management. Again, find something that feels comfortable.
The downsides of formal garden journals are that many suggest logging a lot of impertinent information and the included tips and suggestions are not geographically specific.
Another potential drawback of a formal garden journal is that many are meant to be used for a single season. For gardeners who take a lot of notes or make very detailed entries, this might be ideal, but for gardeners who are making simple observations or logging reminders, a multi-year journal option might be better.
Garden journals are highly useful with food gardens, since most vegetables are annuals and a new crop is planted each year. However, journaling about landscape plants is also helpful.
If garden journaling is a new concept, start simple. Get a notebook, go out to the garden and look around. For a vegetable garden, notes might include things like which tomato varieties performed the best, that pepper plants should be staked or caged next year to keep them from falling over, or that your family really did not enjoy the abundance of eggplant you grew.
In the landscape, look for plants that are performing poorly and make notes. If they need to be moved or removed, fall is a great time to do so. Is the landscape looking a little blah? Perhaps you want to add shrubs or perennials with late fall color to liven up the landscape but want to wait until temperatures are more ideal for planting. Make a note – fall is also a good time to plant. And, if the additions get delayed until spring, the notes will help you remember.
One of the best things to log in a garden journal (for food gardens and landscapes) is the species and variety names of things that get planted. Then, next year when you want to plant your favorite tomatoes again or avoid the ones that underperformed, you can refer back to your journal. Or, when the neighbor asks what those beautiful flowers are in your landscape, you can look in the journal to find what variety you planted.
Another item that comes up during the season but often gets forgotten over the winter is spacing of plants. Were your rows too close together in the vegetable garden this year? Are your perennial flowers crowding each other out? These are also good observations to add to a garden journal now as reminders for next spring.
Finally, make notes about pests that affected the garden or landscape this year and when you noticed them. If stinkbugs, blister beetles, or bagworms were problematic this year, they likely will be again. Including them in the journal can help you remember to be on the lookout for them in the future.