Do You Have a Garden Journal?

By Katie Berger, EMGV

There were some technical issues with this posting last week so we are posting it again. Some of you may have noticed our cool new translation feature. While articles will still be sent in English, you can now choose to see articles in Spanish by selecting your language at the bottom right of the screen. Happy reading!

Whether you’re starting your garden journey in your own yard, or as a new Extension Master Gardener intern, prepare to suck up information that will come your way with the force of a fire hose.  You will be exposed to the latest facts about the plant world around you.  If you are working or have small children at home, my hat is off to you.  Having a garden is well worth it, but it will be challenging. 

A garden journal can help you keep track of your successes, and what to change for next year! Image credit: Pixabay, Oldiefan (Christiane) CC0

One of the “optional things to do” will be to start a “Garden Journal.”  What!  You think you don’t have time.  I am sure you are correct, but it will be a missed opportunity.  Think seriously about it and I will try to tell you why. The benefits of a garden journal are varied and diverse. What is in a garden journal? One of the first things is a description of your garden. Ideally, this includes a detailed description of the various sections in your yard drawn to scale. Areas to include in your journal might be:

  • What is the terrain like? How much sun and shade does your garden get?
  • How does this change during the day and how much does it change with the seasons?
  • What kind of soil does it have?
  • Are there spots that are wet much of the time?
  • Are there plants that are growing well and plants that are not? This is a great place to take regular notes on what’s working and what could use a different approach.
  • Do you see recurring pest problems, either insects, critters, or disease?
  • For edible plants, was it actually tasty? Did the plant survive and produce well?

The journal will keep information from being lost and make it easy to find it. It is a place to store soil reports over time and these will be most helpful in putting the right plant in the right spot both in terms of sunlight and nutrients, One of the most frustrating things about gardens is having expectations dashed. For instance, buying a plant, and then putting it in the ground to watch it die. You cannot expect a plant will thrive if it needs more than six hours of sunshine and you plant it where there is mostly shade (and vice versa).

A to-scale landscape drawing.
Image credit: Amy Rozycki, EMGV

So, you say to yourself, this could be useful. What exactly goes in the journal? The N.C. Cooperative Extension recommends that a good journal will have sections consisting of a detailed, graphed plot of the different areas of your garden. You should identify plants within those sections. A good suggestion is to use a pencil for representing the plants as they will change over time.

There would be a section for soil type and nutrients. This would be the place to keep soil tests over time. A wonderful way to identify your soil type can be found in “The Dirt on Soil: Nutrient Management in the Garden.” And don’t forget about submitting your soil samples during the free season (from April through Thanksgiving) so that you can know what you’re dealing with and next steps for nutrient management.

QR link to Durham climate data.

Another chapter would be for recording weather and weather events. You can obtain weather data from the Climate Office of North Carolina and weather apps. The link to Durham data from the Climate Office is listed below, or you could include this handy QR code in your garden journal to always be able to access the Durham data.

There would be a section for plant information and history. It would be helpful to know when and where you obtained your plants when you planted them, and how much they cost. What were the instructions for planting? Records of when the plants were harvested or bloomed would also be part of the journal. This can be as simple as the cut-out seed packet or a photo of the package or you might want to adapt the form provided by the NC State Extension.

So you are convinced! But you don’t know what kind of journal to get. This is a difficult decision and is likely to evolve over time. You can buy readymade journals from bookstores or on-line vendors. They come in all sizes with a variety of different pages. Some have blank pages, some are waterproof, and some have a grid system that can be used from graph paper or lined paper. You can use a loose-leaf binder that would be easy to add pages filled with pictures, seed labels, and graphed plots of areas. Do consider durability because it may go outside with you. There are also electronic garden apps either for free or subscription. Such apps will depend on your electronic devices and whether you exist in the Android or Apple universe.

So, you are asking yourself, when will I really need all of this? On the next to last day of Master Gardener classes, after being pumped full of ideas to improve my yard, I managed to break my hip. Unfortunately, I didn’t take my own advice and, at least, designate a shoebox for all the things I learned. I am sure I have forgotten a lot of what I wanted to do and have been unable to go out into my yard for months. I will be back, but I have missed opportunities. It might not be a broken bone, but a dry or distracted summer can wreak similar havoc. You never can tell what life will deal you. Get that shoe box ready.

Additional Resources

“The Dirt on Soil: Nutrient Management in the Garden,” part of the Bull City Gardener Learning Series.

“Now’s the Perfect Time to Test Your Soil,” notes on submitting soil samples.

DURH: North Durham Water Reclamation Facility Durham, NC (Durham County).

North Carolina Extension Gardeners Handbook Feb. 2022. Appendix A Garden Journaling.

NC State Extension Individual Plant Profile form

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