How on earth do gardeners keep track of what they’ve planted where? The answer is simple – a garden journal. Not only is a journal helpful in reminding you what plants you’ve put where, it’s also a great tool for garden planning. While it seems like a lot to undertake at first, a journal will actually save you time because it’s such an easy reference – and it can be as simple or as sophisticated as you’d like.

3-ring binder

A three-ring binder offers great flexibility as a garden journal.

Photo Credit: Stephanie Avett

Inside binder

Include pictures of the plants just emerging from the ground and in flower right next to the plant descriptions as a quick reminder.

Photo Credit: Stephanie Avett

Plant label

Labeling plants in the garden helps you decide where to put new additions to an area, and it can also prevent you from accidentally “weeding out” a favorite early in the season.

Photo Credit: Stephanie Avett

To get started, simply designate a notebook or folder to record and keep track of your gardening experiences. Any sort of notebook will work. (I find a three-ring binder offers the greatest flexibility.) Divide your notebook into five sections: Maps, Plants, Pictures, Calendar and Notes.

Maps

The point of this section is to get your garden on paper: Sketch out a master map for your entire yard, and designate the various garden areas. Then sketch a more detailed map of each bed, showing where things are planted. This doesn’t have to be a fancy sketch – just use a single sheet of paper to represent your yard or garden. Draw circles where plants are growing and number them. Each number should correspond to a different plant. This number can then be cross-referenced to the “Plants” section (see next entry).

Plants

This part of your notebook should contain information on the plants in your garden. It can include photos, bloom time, bloom color, height, seasonal-interest info, etc. To make it easy, you can look your plants up in the Learn2Grow Plant Database and write down any important characteristics you want to remember, or print out the database information and tape it in your notebook. You can also cut plant descriptions straight from a catalog and tape them in your journal, attach plant tags to the pages or simply jot down your plant observations. However you record your plant info, don’t forget to add personal notes like, “My favorite,” “Great cutflower” or even “Careful, makes me itch!”

Another good addition to this section of your journal is pictures of your plants when they’re just emerging from the ground. These photos will make it easier for you to identify which tiny plants are in your garden on purpose and which ones are weeds that you should pull. One more thing to note in your journal’s Plant section is how your plants are performing. Depending on garden location and environmental conditions, you may find that certain species actually grow in your garden differently than what you had expected.

Pictures

Be sure to add photos of your entire garden taken at different times of the year, throughout the year. (Include pictures for at least every season or at the beginning of each month.) This allows you to step back and see where you have gaps in your garden. Maybe most of your flowers are summer-blooming. The Pictures section of your journal can help you realize that your garden could use some spring bulbs to brighten a specific area of your yard. Maybe you’ll notice that most of your plants die back in winter, so you might want to add a few evergreen shrubs or even a physical structure to give your garden winter interest. It really helps to have this visual aspect of your garden to reference.

Calendar

Including a yearly maintenance calendar helps ensure you don’t miss vital garden care. This section can incorporate things like when to fertilize or prune shrubs, as well as when to mulch or divide tubers and rhizomes. Be sure to mark when these things are actually done so they can be referenced later. You might also include rainfall totals and periods of unusual weather in this segment of your garden journal.

Notes

Jot down your gardening successes and failures. Does a particular plant not grow well by the front door? Did a new perennial bloom longer than you had expected? Keep track of your vegetable yields and variety favorites. These notes will keep you from making the same mistakes twice, and they can help you continue your gardening success in other areas.

Most importantly, enjoy your garden, but spend your time wisely. Don’t rely on your memory from season to season. Creating a simple garden journal provides a personalized reference to help you accomplish more each season in your favorite outdoor space – the garden.