Keep a Garden Journal – How to Save Yourself Time and Money by Keeping Track of Your Container Gardening Habits

Keep a garden journal to record anything that interests you and helps you grow a better garden. Many gardeners have no idea how to keep a garden journal and certainly do not recognize the value of this great habit. If you’ve done even a small amount of container gardening, you are aware of the amount of work, not to mention time and expense, that goes into this hobby.

The list of things to do, items to buy, information to keep track of is immense. The paperwork of internet seed orders, receipts of garden plants purchased, info on seed packets, seed catalogs, etc, can take up an entire file drawer. Having one spot where you can keep notes, records, pictures, and info in a convenient place that you can immediately put your hand on is an invaluable time and money saver.

Choosing a Journal Book

A garden journal doesn’t have to be expensive. It can be as simple as a spiral notebook where you jot down your thoughts as the spirit moves you. You may be carrying it outside as a reference, so don’t spend too much money on a fancy leather-bound volume.

My favorite way to keep a garden journal is to use a 3″ 3 ring binder. You may feel this is too large, but believe me, you’ll soon discover you can use even more room if you become a dedicated journaler. If you feel this is too bulky, start with a 2″ binder and transfer to a larger one later on. I often use a smaller binder for current use and transfer pages to a larger binder when I am finished with those pages.

If you want to have a pretty binder, get one with a cover pocket you can slip a picture into. Be sure to use the side pocket to record the year so you can easily find the back journal you want to reference. It’s really great fun to be able to reference past years and see the progress your garden has made and also to be made aware of how far you have come in your knowledge and skill as a container gardener.

Setting Up Your Garden Journal

Make a list of items you will want to keep track of in your journal. There are some suggestions listed below in “How to Keep a Garden Journal”.

Divide your binder into tabbed sections or use pocket dividers. These are very handy for keeping small pieces of paper such as receipts or seed packets you want to keep for the pictures or directions on the back. You can also insert plastic sleeves for these items. I personally like to use a 3 hole punch and put holes in a gallon zip lock bag. I use these for open seed packets (they usually have some dirt on them from ordinary use). I like this because I can zip the top and not lose any important items or information.

Calendars Are a Useful Way to Keep a Garden Journal

Keeping a garden journal does not need to be a complicated process. Maybe you’re a person who likes to jot down notes and ideas as you think of them. A calendar kept handy just for this purpose is an alternative to a larger book. Just be sure to purchase a calendar that leaves plenty of room for taking notes.

With digital cameras and photo software available, it’s easy to make a personalized calendar with pictures of your garden and large squares for note taking. If you’re not up to making your own calendar on your computer, you can bring your pictures to an office supply store or order your personalized calendar online. While you’re at it, you might want to make one for a friend or garden buddy as a fun personalized gift that would be greatly appreciated.

Be sure to keep these calendars from year to year so you will have a permanent record of your gardening activities to look back on for reference.

How to Keep a Garden Journal

The list of items you may want to keep in your garden journal is endless. Here are a few ideas to get you thinking of what you may want to put into your journal:

These are an important source of information. Not only do you want to know how much you spent (or maybe you don’t!), you want to keep track of other information.

How many flats of marigolds did you purchase?
What was the URL of that fabulous online garden supply site you discovered by accident and spent so much money on?
You bought a plant that was guaranteed and it died within a month. You need the receipt to recoup your loss.
Where did you buy that great ceramic Italian garden container? You want a matching one to go by the front door.

As you can see, receipts have many purposes and should always have their own section.

Garden Plans

When you’re starting to keep a garden journal, it’s a good idea to have a section to keep sheets of graph paper in your journal. On this, you can draw a plan of your present garden.

You can take photos of your layout and also add these to this section to see your plan in 3D. By doing this, you will have a better idea in your mind of what you are trying to accomplish with your container gardens. This will also help you see what improvements you could make to your garden layout that would bring you closer to the goals you have in mind.

Garden Tasks

It’s easy to forget from year to year what tasks you did and when you did them. When you keep a garden journal, you’re more apt to be prepared and on time when it comes time to start your seedlings or plant your window boxes. Keep track of what worked and what didn’t. Did you start your seeds too early or too late? Did you wait too long to bring in your herbs and they were killed by the frost? Keep track of dates when you do your chores and you’ll be prepared for next year.

Weather Conditions

It’s helpful to have a record of weather conditions when you keep a garden journal. What was the date of the last frost in the spring? How about the first frost in the fall? Did anything unusual happen such as a hailstorm or tornado? How much rain and when? It’s also helpful to learn and list your planting zone.

It is important to know the planting zone of your region when you are choosing your plants. There are 11 planting zones in the United States. To find your zone, check the USDA Hardiness Zone Finder Map . You will be able to find your planting zone along with a lot of other information about your area, just by entering your zip code into the map.

Heat Tolerance Zone Map

The USDA cold hardiness zone map doesn’t tell the whole story. Dr. H. Marc Cathey, recoginzing this problem, developed a heat zone map to evaluate how plants cope with heat. Not only do some plants suffer in cold temperatures, there are many plants that also cannot deal with too much heat and are unable to process water fast enough to maintain normal functions.

Southern gardeners have found that heat plays a bigger role in whether or not a plant thrives in their area, so while Northerners could consult the Cold Hardiness Zone Map, it wasn’t of much use to the Southern gardeners. Now there is a heat zone map that will be of help to people living in warmer climates. If you live in hot weather climates, you can download this Heat Tolerance Zone Map at this website.


With digital cameras and cell phones it’s easy to take pictures on a weekly basis. This will give you a frame of reference for future years. If you think you’ll remember next year that great color combination you planted by accident in the hanging basket by the door, you’re wrong!

If you fail to keep a garden journal, you’ll be relying on a vague memory that won’t be of much help if you want to replicate a certain planting or garden design. Next, to your photos, it’s a good idea to write down any information you have about the plants in the photo so you’ll have this info when you go to order your plants for the following year.

Reference Section
When learning how to keep a garden journal, it’s a good idea to have a reference section. Here you would keep:

  • clipped articles and magazine photos
  • notes on websites you want to revisit
  • list of books or magazines you want to reference for certain articles
  • garden events you want to attend
  • brochures of garden supply houses
  • general information you want to have at your fingertips

General Observations

When learning how to keep a garden journal, many gardeners jot down daily observations. These could be anything noticeable on that day from a deer or bluebird sighting to an especially gorgeous day, to the opening of a regal lily bulb that you have been watching. It’s your garden journal. Write about the things that interest you.

Do you have a diseased plant? Keep notes and photos of the symptoms and how you cured it.
Did someone give you a new variety of daylily? Note the name and source for future reference.
Did a new rose plant perform better than expected? Take pictures and make a note of the extended blooming season.

Be sure to celebrate your successes as well as your failures when you keep a garden journal. After all, your journal is a record of your gardening journey, and as we all know, as much as we learn from our failures, it is our successes that keep we gardeners going year after year.

There is something new going on in a garden every day. This is what makes gardening such an addictive hobby. Keep a garden journal and you’ll find yourself referencing it year after year.

Keep a Wish List

How often have we said, “A bird bath in that container section would really add a point of interest there.”, or “That corner could use a large specimen container plant.”

Keep a wish list of your ideas for improving your container garden, items you’d like to purchase, projects you might like to do. Once you start keeping this list, you’ll be surprised at the ideas you come up with and how fast your wish list will grow.

The Best Reason of All to Keep a Garden Journal

If you live in a cold, snowy climate as I do, winters can often be long and seem to have no end. There is nothing like a garden journal to help you through this long season. It will be of help as you avidly peruse seed catalogs, improve your garden plan on graph paper or on your computer software, and perhaps work in your workshop on projects you’ve placed in your wish list.

You’ll find your garden journal to be a great tool and motivator that will give you incentive to plan, dream and implement your goals as you constantly move to improve your container garden and gardening skills.

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