Success grows out of failures remembered

“Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”

We have all heard the phrase at some point in our lives. I heard it for the first time from a history teacher who reminded me why the study of history was important. It is a great life lesson but it is also true when we plant a garden.

History books were written to remind us of our past, and in your garden, a journal will capture your planting history from season to season, which should help you improve your garden skills and make future decisions more efficiently.


In the Southwest, it is time to plan my fall garden so that I can order seeds and start seedlings indoors. Since a new season is just about eight weeks away for my area, it’s a great time to begin this season’s journal.

A garden journal is the best way to learn from both successes and failures. It will help you learn what works, what doesn’t, and how to improve your decisions and skills. It will lessen expenses as you observe what type of tomato plants, for example, produce the largest and tastiest harvest. It will also help you understand your growing environment more so you can adapt to it and control it more effectively. A free online garden planner is offered by Gardener’s Supply Company.
If you don’t like this online planner, you can find other free planners reviewed at The Balance website.


To create an effective garden journal:
1. Draw a map of your garden layout. When you sketch it out, also create a season-to-season map of each growing area and what was planted. I have created the original map without annuals written in so that I can use it as my seasonal map. I simply duplicate it and I’m ready to go.
1. List each plant, including its specific name, planting date, where you purchased it, and location.
2. Note the first and last frost dates and weather and climate changes IN YOUR YARD that would affect the growing season. You may notice that your yard temperature is a few degrees different from what your weather service reports. This is because trees, walls, shade that your house creates, how the sun falls on your yard, and how far you are from the weather station can affect your personal yard climate. Record dates of storms, rain amounts, and damage. Also make note of excessive heat or cold.
3. Keep notes about fertilizers you have applied and when, compost applications, and what the results were.
4. Record diseases, pests and miscellaneous problems that strike your garden, which plants were affected, remedies you tried, and what the results were.
5. Count or weigh food production. For fruit and vegetables grown on plants, I use a kitchen scale and record when it was harvested and what specific species of plant produced each harvest. For trees, I count the number produced. For example, my Meyer Lemon tree produced about 800 lemons in 2016 and about 1,000 this year. However, the sizes were much more varied this year from past years. Because I kept records of climate changes and fertilizing schedules, I was able to figure out what had changed and decide how I could improve future harvests.
6. Write about your successes, failures, lessons learned, and ideas of what you would do differently in the future.
7. Track expenses. You will be surprised at how much gardening might cost. However, if you are tracking your harvest, you will know how well you offset the cost. More often than not, you will save more money than you spend if you are planting what you like to eat and varieties that are expensive or not available in the stores. If you have a bad year, simply make a mental (or journal) note that you got great exercise, spent time in the sun and fresh air, and enjoyed your time.
8. Finally, use it as a dream book. I list what I would like to grow in the future and changes I want to make to the yard, whether it is plants or hardscapes.

You may want to create your own journal in a notebook or binder, develop a spreadsheet that tracks everything or use a pre-made garden journal. arbico-garden-journal-2017 (click link to download) that is offered as a free download if you would like to use it.

Keeping a garden journal is a discipline that can be very satisfying and illuminating. Try it this season and see how it affects your decisions and production for future seasons.

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I am a certified agriscape designer and Maricopa County Master Gardener. I have been gardening since I was six years old and worked in my grandfather's garden. I believe that the only way to be a responsible gardener is to garden organically. It improves our soil, is safer for us to eat, sustainable and it protects our pollinators and soil from chemical poisoning.