Gardening can be overwhelming for beginners and the sheer undertaking can deter people from even giving it a try. It is important to remember that gardening takes trial and error, but it’s nothing you can’t handle. Follow these tips and get your garden started today.
It is a good idea to keep notes, or even a scrapbook of your gardening each season. Be sure to record:
Which seeds you purchase each year
- Where you purchase your seeds
- pH balance of your soil at the beginning of the year
- Any additions to your soil to balance the pH, or fertilize the soil
- Dates you planted
- Progress of each plant throughout the season
- Dates you harvested
You’ll be on track to make changes each year and see continual improvement in your garden.
Set a calendar
Plan when each of your big gardening tasks should be done each season to help you stay on track.
Test your soil
Get a reading of you soil pH and nutrient levels before planting. You can either send your soil away to be tested or buy a home testing kit at your local gardening store. If your soil is acidic, or alkaline, it will affect your plant’s ability to absorb nutrients.
Collect your tools
Invest in the best quality tools you can afford, it will make your gardening easier and more enjoyable.
- Shovel (you can make the shovel non-stick by spraying it with Teflon lubricant)
Plan your garden
Find inspiration based on what you want to do with your garden, will you use it for entertaining or are you growing food? Ask yourself what plants you like, and how much time you can devote to caring for them.
If you are growing food, avoid large items (watermelon, squash, corn, dried-beans, pumpkins) until you are sure you have space to include smaller vegetables.
Raised beds can be a good place for beginners to start, they are more manageable than digging beds in the ground. You can get bigger yields with your raised beds and prevent weeds from invading your garden. Never build your raised beds wider than 4 feet, you want to be able to reach the center of the bed without having to step into it. Use bulk compost or mushroom soil to fill any raised beds. A 50/50 mix of bulked compost or aged mushroom soil and your native soil is recommended.
Map out your garden. Know what size the plants are going to grow to leave enough space. Place taller plants behind smaller plants so that they are not blocking the sunlight.
Most plants require about six hours of sunlight each day but be sure to learn the specifics on the plants you are growing, it may vary. Warm season crops are roughly 6-8 hours of sunlight while cool-season crops only need 3-5 hours of direct sun.
You can spend a day watching the movement of the sun in your yard to determine the best spot for your garden. Southern and western exposure will be the sunniest and the warmest. Northern and western exposure will provide a shadier and cooler environment.
Always pick a place that is close to the garden hose to save you some labor each day. Choose a place with adequate drainage.
Planting a vegetable garden near your kitchen will encourage you to harvest while you’re cooking. Picking fruits, vegetables and herbs often will stimulate plant growth.
Consider growing native plants
Study what plants grow best in your region before you choose what you want to grow. You need to consider the climate you are in and the amount of sun exposure you receive in your specific area. Native plants require less maintenance, which is why they are a great choice for beginners.
Start with “easy” plants
Perennials or vegetables can be great plants to start with because they have a shorter growing cycle.
- Annuals – cosmos, marigolds, impatiens, geraniums, Calendula, sunflowers, zinnias
- Perennials – Russian sage, lamb’s ears, black-eyed Susan’s, purple coneflowers, phlox, pansies, and daisies
- Vegetables – lettuce, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini squash, cabbage, bush beans, beets, carrots, chard, radishes
Buy your plants, or start from seed
If you are anxious to get started, you can sow your seeds indoors before the last frost. This will give you a head start as well as a controlled environment.
Starting your plants from seed does create another variable in your gardening, which is why it may be best for beginners to purchase plants instead of seeds.
Plant your garden
Remove any sod around the area you want to plant. Add a 2-3-inch layer of compost to your soil. Dig and loosen the soil to help the roots grow. Compacted soil will stunt the growth of your plants. Dig when the soil is moist enough to form a loose ball but dry enough that it will fall apart when you drop it on the ground. Use a spade to turn the top 8-13 inches of your soil as you mix in your compost.
Read the planting instructions on your seed packs on when to plant, how deep to plant, plant spacing and care for each plant. All plants are different and you want to create ideal growing conditions for each species.
When you are transplanting, be sure to break up the ball of roots before putting it in the ground. This will help the plant get the nutrients and water it needs to grow.
Mulching your garden will help to keep weeds out and keep your soil moist. Shredded leaves can be repurposed to create a mulch for your garden.
Newer plants require more water as their root systems develop in the soil. Your seedlings should never dry out.
Early in the day is the best time to water, it gives plants more time for absorption. If you water when the sun is warmest you will rob the plants of the opportunity to get the nutrients as the water evaporates.
The frequency of watering depends on your soil conditions, humidity and how often it rains. If your plants are wilting in the midday sun, you want to be sure to water them more frequently.
The last resort should be spraying all types of chemicals on your plants and worse yet your food. Pay attention to your plants and take preventative, natural measures to avoid infestations.
If you are new to gardening, the best thing you can do is get your hands dirty. You can learn some things from articles like this, but the experience is the best teacher. If you hit any bumps in the road reach out to us. We have been growing since 1945 and we have learned a few things through the generations, but most importantly – we are happy to help.