For the uninitiated, gardening can feel a little bit intimidating. Trying to keep a variety of plants alive and healthy isn’t as easy as sticking some seeds in the ground and letting them grow.
However, gardening also isn’t as scary or as complicated as it may seem. If you choose the right plants, and follow a few basic tips, you can enjoy a healthy, thriving garden even as a beginner. Who knows? Maybe your foray into the world of gardening will even encourage you to try some more complex projects in future years.
If you want to enjoy a successful garden as a beginner, try these 15 gardening tips. They should help you get started without making things too complicated. And, these tips work whether you are growing flowers, vegetables, or herbs. Give them a try and see if that thumb of yours might not be a little bit green after all.
Tip 1: Match your plants to your hardiness zone
The very first step in successful gardening is to make sure the plants you choose to grow can survive in your climate. The USDA divides the country into hardiness zones. These zones are a description of how warm or cold the climate in that area is. The higher the number, the warmer the area is. For example, Zone 6 is warmer than Zone 4. You can look up your hardiness zone here.
Once you know which zone you are in, you can pick plants that will survive in your zone. The seed packets or plant packaging should tell you what zones work best for those plants. For example, a plant that is “hardy to Zone 4” can thrive in Zones 4 and above. You can, for example, plant it in Zones 4, 5, and 6 but not in Zones 2 or 3.
Matching your plants to your hardiness zone allows you to select plants that will thrive in your location. That gives you a good foundation upon which to build your beginner’s garden.
Tip 2: Prepare your soil
Not all soil is created equal. In fact, chances are that you will need to amend your soil (add nutrients to it) to make it suitable for growing plants. In addition, you will need to aerate it to ensure that enough air, water, and nutrients can move through the soil to your plants.
How you amend the soil will depend in part upon what type of soil you have. As a beginning gardener, however, you should focus on adding nutrient rich materials 6-8 inches deep in your soil and digging up your soil at least that far. Once your soil is soft and easy to manipulate with a shovel, it should be aerated enough for your plants to thrive.
There are a variety of nutrient-rich materials you can add to your garden. Try some of these:
- Fertilizer (a basic formulation should be sufficient.)
- Top soil
- Pine straw
In addition, your soil should drain well. This means that water should not pool in the soil. Stagnant water can harm your plants and increase the occurrence of disease. Make sure you test your soil’s drainage before you plant.
Tip 3: Choose a spot with enough sun
Before you begin digging up your garden, choose a location that has enough sunlight for the plants you want to grow.
For example, most plants need about 6 hours of direct sunlight a day. If you plant them in a shady location, they may not thrive. Watch how the sunlight hits your yard over the course of the day. Choose a spot that gets the required amount of sunlight.
Of course, if you are growing plants that prefer the shade, you will want to look instead for areas of your yard that are more protected from the sun. How do you know how much sunlight your plants need? Check the packaging. It should tell you how much sun to give your plants. Watch your yard to identify the best place to put your garden that will give your plants as much sunshine, or shade, as they require.
Tip 4: Plan your garden layout
Each type of plant has its own unique needs. Sprawling vines, like pumpkin plants, need room to spread out. Some plants, like sunflowers, grow very tall, while other plants stay close to the ground. Some plants, like watermelons, require ample sunlight, while others need shade.
In order to make sure every plant in your garden enjoys the sunshine and space it needs, plan your garden layout before you plant. You want to avoid problems like squash growing over your basil or sunflowers shading your fun-loving watermelons.
If you need help visualizing the layout of your garden, you can always sketch it. Seeing it written down can make it easier to spot potential problem areas while you still have time to fix them.
Tip 5: Keep a garden journal
If you are a beginner gardener, you want to learn from your efforts. The best way to remember what you learn from year to year is to keep a garden journal.
Use this journal to sketch your garden layout. Write down what you grow, when you plant it, and how you care for it. Make notes about how each plant grows. You can use an old photo album to store seed packets, photos, and images of plants you want to grow in the future.
Tip 6: Plant around your frost dates
Every hardiness zone has its own average dates when the first frost sets in and when the last frost occurs. You will need to plant around these frost dates to avoid losing your plants to the cold.
This means planting after the average last frost date (or starting your plants inside and transplanting them when the last frost date is past). It also means making sure your plants have time to grow, bloom, put out fruit, and complete their life cycles before the first frost comes in the fall. You can find your area’s average frost dates here.
Tip 7: Start small
You might have visions of sprawling gardens and a yard full of flowers and plants. However, for your first garden, you should start small. Focus on a vegetable garden 10 ft. x 8 feet. Spruce up the front of your house instead of the entire yard.
The key is to begin with a patch of ground that is manageable. As you get the hang of things, you can expand your gardening efforts until your gardens are the ones inspiring others.
Tip 8: Plant a variety of plants in your garden
As a beginning gardener, you do not want to create a garden that is too big. You want to keep things manageable as you get the hang of gardening. However, you may want to plant a variety of plants in your first garden. Planting several different types of plants has a few advantages:
- It gives your garden a more beautiful look.
- It allows you to enjoy flowers and/or vegetables all summer (and fall)
- By planting both annuals and perennials, you do not have to replant your garden from scratch every year.
- It encourages bees and other pollinators by giving them flowers to use all throughout the growing season.
Tip 9: Make sure to mulch
The battle to keep your garden watered and free of weeds is never ending. You can help yourself to win this battle by mulching your garden.
A layer of mulch has a couple of benefits. First, it helps retain moisture so less water evaporates and your garden remains moist. Second, mulch discourages the growth of weeds, which is good news for your plants and for you.
Tip 10: Water early in the day
Even as a beginner to gardening, you know that plants need to be watered. What you may not know is that there is a best time to water them: In the morning.
Watering your garden early in the day allows the stems and leaves of your plants to dry as the sun comes out. That can prevent the growth of fungus and the onset of certain diseases.
Watering your garden early also allows your plants to use that water to combat the heat and dryness of the middle of the day. As a result, they will be less likely to suffer heat stress that can stunt their growth.
Tip 11: Deadhead your plants
As your plants bloom and flowers die, they will leave behind dead heads, the ends of the stems where the flower used to be. Removing these dead heads allows the plant to focus its energy on producing vibrant new growth and flowers. As a result, try to deadhead your flowering plants whenever you notice blooms fading away.
Tip 12: Consider companion planting
Many plants grow better when they are planted together. They either deter pests that would damage the other plant, encourage greater flower and fruit production, provide a place where other plants can grow, improve the flavor of the fruits, or otherwise benefit each other.
You do not have to go crazy with companion planting, but choosing plants that grow well together for your garden can help it thrive. For example, sunflowers make a nice trellis for certain climbing vines. Marigolds encourage tomato growth. With a few minutes of research, you should be able to find some companion planting opportunities for your new garden.
Tip 13: Feed your garden
Fertilizer can be a wonderful way to feed your plants during the growing season. It provides a healthy meal that the plants can use to put out more growth, greener growth, and more flowers or fruit.
Before fertilizing, do a little research on what kind works best for the plants you are growing. You also want to make sure you fertilize consistently. Usually, fertilizing when you first plant and then about every 6 to 8 weeks can help your garden look and produce its very best.
Tip 14: You can always use containers
If planting in the ground seems intimidating, or if you simply do not have space for a garden, you can always use containers to grow some plants. Many plants, like tomatoes, do well in containers. With container gardens, all you need is a sunny spot outside to set the container, some high-quality soil, and the plants you want to grow. There truly is no such thing as too small when it comes to getting your garden started.
Tip 15: Do a little bit every day
Your garden will require consistent maintenance over time. You will need to prune, deadhead, water, fertilize, weed, harvest, and more, all throughout the growing season.
The best way to keep up with all this work is to do a little bit of it every day. Completing a few tasks a day is less overwhelming than completing a dozen. Plus, consistent care for your garden, like watering before plants start to wilt and weeding before the garden is overrun, can lead to healthier, happier plants.
Gardening is a wonderful adventure. Do not be intimidated about starting the process. Instead, take the time to read over and follow these 15 tips. Once you do, you may very well find that gardening is a lot of fun and very rewarding.