If you google “free garden planner” or any incarnation of, you get a lot of junk- most of which is free only for 30 days, then you have to subscribe. Most of them require that you download software or programs to your computer, and most of them are hardly a step above using a pencil and a piece of graph paper. Disappointing.
But all hope is not lost – there’s a hidden gem of a garden planner out there, and it’s free (always, for 99% of it’s content), it doesn’t require any downloads, it’s easy to use and it’s got a few bells and whistles that make it contemporary and awesome. It’s called Smart Gardener.
I’ve known about Smart Gardener for a little over a year and played around with it a bit last season, but didn’t dive into it too much. This year though, I may have the opportunity to get a 400 square foot plot in a community garden, if I’m lucky. I won’t know until the middle of April if I can get one, so I want to be ready to get my plants in the ground the second I know – I won’t have any time to lose. I’ve never had so much space to garden in before – last year’s collection of pots amounted to about 17 square feet of planting space. Enough for fresh eating a few times a week, but not much more. 400 square feet though – I can plant a nice little haul so I can put some by. Tomatoes spring immediately to mind – maybe, just maybe – I can harvest all I need for canning from my own little plot of earth! And maybe I can plant enough beans that I can have a supply of dried for next winter’s chili and soup recipes… the wheels are turning big time. I can make 400 square feet do a lot of work for me, with the right kind of planning. And that’s where Smart Gardener comes in.
There are three basic steps to using Smart Gardeners – outlining your garden space and preferences, selecting plants, and then managing your garden. And it couldn’t easier to use. Outlining your garden space is really easy – you just select the plot or container size that best matches your situation. There are a lot of different configurations to choose from, so it’s easy to get the right fit. I used several of the 10×4 beds to configure my 20×20 plot layout -
You can also select your garden settings. Based on zip code, it will calculate your frost dates and the type of growing season your area has. You can also put in how many members are in your household so the program can help you recommend the quantity of each thing to plant -
After you have your garden layout and preferences outlined, you need to select which plants you’ll grow in your garden.
You can then populate all of the plants you’ve selected into your garden plot. There are two ways to do this – by using SmartGardener’s “Recommend Plan” or by manually placing the plants yourself. This is what happened when I used “Recommend Plan” -
Kind of a bit wonky – none of the tomatoes were grouped together, everything but tomatoes was crowded into a corner, and there’s no sense of crop type or the ability to rotate individual sections. Kind of a mess. This is the one feature of the site that I’m a little bit baffled by and not pleased with. But it’s quite simple to individually select and move plants, so that’s what I elected to do.
You can see that once you have the plants in your area, there’s a handy drop down to the upper right of each one that allows to you copy, delete, lock or select it. This is the full layout that I came up with to best utilize the space for the varieties I’m working with -
I allowed some space for walking paths, and placed all of the plants that will need trellises or support in the same area. I really like the graphics – clean and easy to tell what’s what at a glance. And to move items around, you just click and drag – exceedingly easy. SmartGardener also has a few other features that are pretty useful, including a to-do list that populates automatically based on what’s in your garden. It’s tell you when to plant and take care of other chores, and you can set it up to send you an automated email. A peek at the to-do list feature -
There’s also a garden journal feature where you chronicle pertinent notes and stats yourself, as well as upload photographs -
Planting and information guides are another nice feature of the site. If you have a question or would like to learn more about a particular topic, there’s a resource section -
All in all, Smart Gardener is a pretty great tool. It’s got a nice look and feel, and is really practical. The best part is, it’s free. They do have some great add-ons at nominal cost if you’re so inclined. The Succession Planting add-on for $1.99 and the Harvest Calculator for $0.99 caught my eye – and they’ve got a bunch of others. If you want to get more in-depth and use the add-ons at a small cost, it’s affordable enough to do so. But the fully free basic version is more than adequate for my needs. I’m excited to really get into using the program this year to manage the growing season, and I recommend everyone give it a try – half the fun is in the planning anyway!