Home & Garden: How and Why To Keep a Garden Journal

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A few days ago, I unearthed a printed spreadsheet showing all the plants in my garden in 2003. Going through the list, I solved a couple of mysteries about some plants whose variety names I'd forgotten. I'm so happy to have found this list. and will be adding it to my garden journal, the ongoing record of my garden.

  How and Why To Keep a Garden Journal © zsv3207/Getty Images

Why Keep a Garden Journal

A garden journal is a great way to organize information about your garden and plants. You can use it to keep track of:

  • Botanical names of trees, shrubs and perennials;
  • Lists of annual flowers purchased each year, with favorites noted for buying again;
  • Vegetable varieties and how well they did in a given season;
  • An inventory of houseplants;
  • A wish list of plants you've read about and would like to add to your garden;
  • The overall plan of your garden;
  • When you did various tasks like sowing, planting, pruning, removing, etc.;
  • Anything else you want to remember.

Plus, if you ever sell your house, you'll have a record of the garden you can share with the new owners.

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Types of Garden Journals

There's a garden journal for every type of gardener. Many are handwritten, but they can also be kept electronically.

Handwritten garden journals

Do some research and you're likely to find a garden journal that perfectly suits your record-keeping style. Keep these tips in mind as you compare the options:

  • A garden journal with prompts may be good to start with if you aren't sure what you want to keep track of.
  • To compare your garden from year-to-year, consider a journal with room for several years of information. Some garden journals can be used for a decade!
  • To start out simple, grab a spiral notebook and a pen. Consider a weatherproof notebook if you plan to take your garden journal outside.
  • A three-ring binder lets you add pages of notes. Use photo sleeve pages to organize plant labels and seed packets.

Electronic garden journals

If you prefer to go paperless, you can go with simple Word documents and Excel spreadsheets. Or there are numerous apps to help you organize all of your gardening data, including:

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  • Seed to Spoon helps you track what you're growing and harvesting and includes information to help you through the growing season.
  • Planter is focused on vegetable gardening and would be especially helpful for new gardeners
  • Trello is not a specific garden journal application but can track anything. It allows for collaboration if more than one person is journaling about the garden. I use it to track my garden-related activities.

Whatever application you try, follow these tips to make your electronic garden journal work for you.

  • Choose an app or program you feel comfortable with so you aren't learning how to use the tool on the fly.
  • If you miss recording things on paper, periodically print that information. A printed copy may be helpful if you stop using the app.
  • Combine electronic information with handwritten notes. Some information, especially shopping lists and task reminders, may be better kept on an app on your smartphone so you can reference them while out shopping for plants.

When and How to Start a Garden Journal

You can start a garden journal any time because there's always something going on with your garden.

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Start by capturing basic information:

  • List your plants by name and location in the garden.
  • Take pictures of unfamiliar plants so you can look up what they are.
  • Round up plant labels and old seed packets, or take photos of them, to keep in the journal.
  • Create lists of vegetables you'd like to grow or grew well in the past.

Once you've recorded information about your garden, decide what you what you do in your garden and record that, too. You may want to keep track of when you sow seeds, when those seeds germinated, and when those plants flowered or produced a harvest.

Tips for Keeping a Garden Journal

Having a garden journal helps you see how much you've done in your garden and how much it changed through the years. If keeping up with a garden journal isn't second nature to you, here are some helpful tips:

  • Start with a simple system. Choose a method of journaling you can work with. You can always change or add to it later.
  • Skip perfection. Your garden won't be perfect and neither will your garden journal. It's more important to record information than to make it look like a scrapbook.
  • Don't mind the gaps. If you fall behind, don't try to go back and fill in. Start again with where you are and keep going forward.
  • Make it useful to you. Record the information you find helpful and skip the rest!

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