Does not basking in the backyard garden in summer, picking fresh harvests from various plants sound like a beautiful dream? Many new home growers pursue this dream and start a garden each year, but things do not turn out well despite their good intentions.
If you are one of the beginners clueless about the ABC of gardening, you have come to the right place! Start with determining the planting zone, choosing the plant, and starting time. Buy essential garden tools to test and amend the soil and plant new seeds.
Lastly, provide optimum maintenance afterward. And in no time, your small garden will flourish into a haven of delectable plants with fruitful harvests.
Read on to find out some handy tips to start a garden and ways to keep it flourished for years to come.
Who Should Start a Garden?
Although a few beginners know well about their gardening needs, many fail to realize why they are starting a garden. Let us lay it out for you.
Everyone who loves to spend time in nature and wishes to grow their food should start gardening.
Did you know working in the garden reduces cortisol levels, a harmful chemical your body produces in response to stress, more than reading a book?
It can be great for picking fresh harvests of fruits, herbs, and flowers each year to lead a healthy life. Moreover, gardening helps lower stress, ease depression, and provides other benefits.
A study has found gardening therapy can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, improve attention, and interrupt harmful ruminations.
With the cost of food going up, especially organic produce, growing your food will save a lot of money, offering many unseen benefits. A few trials and errors could cost you some precious time and yields, but do not worry because many new growers fail in their first few attempts.
Ten Gardening Tips for Beginners
Here are ten proven gardening tips for beginners to help start a garden from scratch.
1. Determine Planting Zone
Start with deciding what planting zone you live in to determine the kinds of plants you can grow. Each gardener and grower relies on the 2012 USDA Hardiness Zone Chart to determine the most likely plants to thrive at their location.
Flowering plants like Sunflowers and Dahlia love like warmth, while regular vegetables like Cabbage, Cauliflower, and Potatoes thrive in cold weather. Similarly, few plants like roses and azaleas prefer moderate temperatures to thrive.
In North America, the USDA separates into thirteen separate planting zones, where Zone 1 is the chilliest while Zone 13 includes warm areas.
Each growing season is 10°F warmer (or colder) in an average winter than the adjacent zone.
To help you decide further, we have compiled a list of plants according to their USDA hardiness zones.
1 – 2
- Perennials (Yarrow, False Spirea, Cranesbill, and Columbine)
- Native plants (Artemisia, Cotton Grass, Devil's Club, and Arrowhead, Lead plant, Serviceberry, Bog Rosemary, and Iceland poppy
- Fruits (Cherry, Plum, Crabapple, Apricot)
- Perennial herbs (Peppermint, chamomile, and parsley)
- Vegetables (Asparagus, Cucumbers, Squash)
4 – 5
- Asters, Beebalm, Coneflowers, Tulips, Yarrow, and Apples
- Vegetables (Beets, Carrots, Chard, Kohlrabi, Late cabbage, mustard, potatoes)
- Shrubs (Japanese Barberry, Flowering Quince, Weeping Forsythia)
6 – 7
- Sun-loving plants (Marigold, Ageratum, Lantana, Gazania, Sunflower)
- Creeping Phlox, Bergenia, Heuchera, Barrenwort, Calamintha
8 – 9
- Artichokes, Asparagus, Cardoon, Prickly pear cactus, Rhubarb, Strawberries
- Plants (Hibiscus, Hostas, Hyacinths, Jasmine, Sago, Phlox, Sedum, and Snake plants)
10 – 11
- Succulents, Snake plants, Jasmine, Dahlias, Palm Tree, Beans, Alice Du Pont, Lemons and lime, Grapefruits, Mango, Dragonfruit, and Figs
12 – 13
- Pineapple, black pepper, mint, Avocado, Neem, Bush beans, African breadfruit, Amazon tree-grape, rosemary, and Shrub roses
The best way to determine your hardiness zone is to use the USDA Hardiness Zone Map by zip code or state.
2. Decide What to Grow
There are many options of plants that you can grow in a planting zone, but pay attention to what kind of plants you would like to grow. If you do not like crops, choose annuals (flowering or non-flowering) and perennial plants that will zest up your grade with vibrant colors.
Planting fruits is another choice for gardening to harvest delicious fruits each year, but it is often challenging and requires utmost care.
Most fruits and vegetables require full sun (five hours or more of direct sunlight) each day to produce quality yields, while some plants do well in minimal lighting.
Talk to your local horticulturist and growers to determine which plants grow well in your region. Always buy saplings and seeds from the local growers to get region-appropriate plants. Moreover, consider the plant species, growth rate, and size, for you do not want to risk running out of space.
Some plant species are better grown in containers than in open gardens, such as shade plants like Philodendrons, Hoyas, Cast iron plants, Spider plants, and Calatheas.
Why containers? So, you can quickly move the shade plants to indirect lights by simply carrying or dragging the container.
3. Decide When to Grow
Planting the seed or sapling too early can prematurely kill it. On the other hand, growing it late will send it to dormancy. The window of opportunity to begin gardening will rely on your USDA Zone, weather, and plants.
Erinn Witz of Seeds and Spades points out,
“Your local weather will tell you when to start a garden. The best time to sow seeds and saplings is when the snow melts and the risk of frost dissipates.”
The early spring is the best time to start most plants because the ground is soft and the temperature starts rising.
However, it would need thawing to loosen the clumps into dust.
The ideal soil temperature for most plants ranges from 65 to 75 degrees while germinating seeds require a temperature between 68 and 86 degrees.
Here is a brief planting date chart for different USDA Hardiness Zones.
3 – 4
May 1 to May 31
5, 6 and 7
March 30 to April 30
February 22 to March 30
January 30 to February 28
January 15 to January 30
Note: A few plants may enjoy a late start. Perennials and wildflowers are best planted in the fall or autumn.
4. Plan Your Garden
Once you decide what to grow, plan your garden to create optimum space for each plant. Some plants grow well when sowed directly on the garden floor, while others require raised garden beds or crates.
a. Sowing on the Ground
- Directly sow on the ground by sliding out the soil to plant seeds, saplings, or mature plants.
- Seeds can be generally sown into the soil by maintaining a planting depth of about 2-3 times the size of the grain.
- Pumpkin, Squash, Cucumber, Beans, and flowers like Sweet Pea benefit from directly sowing on the ground because they have delicate root systems or taproots.
b. Raised Bed-Gardening
- When creating raised beds, ensure to develop small beds that are easily accessible, depending on your height and arm length.
- A Rule of Thumb is to create multiple beds three to four feet wide.
- Consider the raised bed’s depth. Plants that may become root-bound quickly would enjoy on raised beds.
- Provide support to the raised bed with wood planks, plastic, or stones to prevent soil from eroding or spilling out.
c. Container or Crates
- Plants that yield produces do well in crates or containers raised above the garden floor.
- Peppers, small tomatoes, cabbage, zucchini, tomatillos, and strawberries grow well in milk crates or wood crates.
- It is easier to cover the crates with plastic wraps to create excess humidity or protect from cold.
Quick Tip: Do not forget to work with companion plants to attract beneficial insects for pollination and repel harmful pests.
5. Test and Amend the Soil
Testing and amending the soil is a non-dismissible part of planting basics. Once you decide on your garden plan, move on to testing the soil for acidity, alkalinity, and missing nutrients.
Garden soil may not be appropriate for planting seeds and sapling until it meets the basic soil requirements.
Here are a few factors to consider:
- Acid or alkaline-loving Plant: Roses and Azaleas are acid-loving plants (5 pH or less), while Lavender performs best in slightly alkaline soil (7 pH). Some plants grow well in neutral soil (5.5 -6.5 pH).
- Determine soil’s pH: Check if your soil is too acidic or alkaline for the chosen plant with a pH soil meter.
- Amend the Soil: Amend the soil to raise the pH level by adding lime (calcium and magnesium) and lower the pH by adding Sulphur or organic compost.
- Assess soil condition: Check whether the soil is mostly sand, clay, or silt. Most crops grow best in a loamy soil mix, while houseplants prefer well-draining, aerated soil mix.
- Assess soil nutrients: Based on the plant, chose to amend the garden soil with organic compost (bone meal, fish emulsion, etc.) and fertilizers with appropriate NPK ratio.
Alternatively, you can also use commercial garden amenders.
Quick Tip: Soil rich in organic matter tends to be darker and porous, while nutrient-less soil is compact and harder to touch.
6. Invest in Basic Gardening Tools
The right tools can make gardening either a pleasure or a chore. In fact, no gardener can do without the right set of tools. However, many novice gardeners mistake buying too many or unwanted tools that end up in the storage.
Here is the list of essential gardening tools that every new gardener may need for digging, troweling, and harvesting.
- Gardening gloves will prevent many cuts, marks, dry hands, blisters, and accidental slippage.
Pruning Shear/Hand Pruners
- The sharp blade can cut on any surface, stem, barks, roots, and leaves without injuring the plant.
- Loppers are long-handled pruners that help trim hard-to-reach areas and thorny branches.
- It helps scoop the soil, turn compost piles, dig surfaces, and amend the soil.
- A hand trowel is a small shovel that helps dig up the soil and transplant saplings.
- Spade is a short-handled shovel useful in digging holes for planting seeds or saplings and transferring small mounds of dirt.
- Rake comes in handy to clean the garden off leaves and debris.
- Hoe comes in-handy to shape soil, remove weeds, clear dirt, and harvest root crops.
- It comes in handy to water a large surface in a go. Get one with an adjustable nozzle.
- Watering can is best for controlled watering of plants. Choose one with sprinkler and long-neck.
Depending on your need, you can get additional tools like flower shears, pruning saws, scythes, dibbers, bulb planters, and more.
7. Plant Seeds or Saplings
Once you complete all the above points, it is time to plant your seeds or saplings. Most seed packets come with planting instructions, so you need to follow the directions to start a seed.
Here are a few tips for planting seeds and saplings.
- Wait until the risk of frost has completed passed, usually spring.
- Plant seeds roughly three times as deep as the seed’s diameter unless otherwise instructed.
- Water as instructed and maintain the temperature and moisture.
- Using a germination tray and providing artificial grow light is the best way to start a seed successfully.
- For transplanting saplings, choose the same depth they were growing in the pot.
- Continue with a regular schedule for watering and fertilizing.
- Provide 6-8 hours to encourage growth in young plants. Flowering plants will require more than 9 hours of light each day.
- Alternatively, you can grow them in a container and move them to the garden.
8. Nurture Your Plants
A famous quote by Myron S. Kaufman goes as such,
“Watching something grow is good for morale; it helps us believe in life.”
Indeed, it is a pleasure watching something grow from almost anything with a lot of care and attention. Seeing your plants grow into tall, lush plants will boost morale and trust in the process.
Each plant has different requirements for growth, so be wary about providing the correct growing conditions at all times.
- Follow a schedule to water your plant accordingly to avoid the problems of over and under watering, root rot, and thirsty plants.
- Most plants thrive from regular watering in the growing season (once or twice a week) but ensure to cut back in winter when it becomes dormant.
- Water your succulents sparingly to avoid moist soil that will quickly damage the roots.
- Depending on their lighting requirement, place your plants in strategic places in the garden.
- Most flowering and fruiting plants enjoy the direct sun for over 9 hours a day.
- Tropical plants and succulents are shade plants that require moderate to low lighting.
- Keep shade plants away from direct sunlight to prevent leaf burns.
- Regular fertilizing helps plants attain maximum growth in terms of size, foliage, and yields.
- Regularly fertilize your plants in spring and summer with slow-release granules or water-soluble fertilizers.
- Choose all-purpose garden fertilizer for all kinds of flowering and green plants. Otherwise, get a fertilizer appropriate for plants with different fertilizing needs.
- Pruning ensures keeping a plant healthy and encourages new growth.
- Almost every perennial, annual, and leafy plant enjoys regular trimming in spring and summer or autumn.
- Ensure to use sterilized pruning shear for cutting into the plant to prevent wounds and the onset of diseases.
- Cut leggy, lanky stems and decaying leaves regularly.
Quick Tip: Follow the natural pest control guide to remove garden pests and prevent their occurrences.
9. Keep the Weeds Out
Weeds are common occurrences in the outdoor garden that harm and impede the growth of plants. The thick weed growth will prevent sunlight from reaching the soil, creating a moist condition that attracts different kinds of pests and diseases.
Even the plants kept in a container can be affected by weed growth in the garden. Moreover, the weeds are invasive and compete with garden plants for nutrients. Therefore, the practical solution to control weeds is to remove them before they invade your garden.
Here are a few tips to control weeds:
- Apply granular herbicides, such as pre-emergent herbicides, to the garden to prevent weed growth.
- Use post-emergent herbicides to control weeds that are already established in the garden.
- Apply spot treatment to control weed without damaging the herbicide-sensitive plants.
- Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines and use only the recommended amount to prevent buildup in the soil.
Pro Tip: Use hands, garden fork, slim trowel, and other weeding tools to pull the weeds.
10. Harvest Your Produce
Make sure to harvest your products during or at the end of the growing season.
Start with making a harvest calendar to pick your harvest at the right time.
- Most leafy green plants and flower or fruit-producing plants allow harvesting in the growing season.
- Herbs, especially basil, can be harvested around the year. However, the winter leaves may not taste as similar to spring leaves.
- Tomatoes, zucchini, beans, and root vegetables are best harvested in the fall.
Do not miss harvesting to get the best quality yields and keep your plant tidy. Even if you miss out on harvesting this season, you can wait to harvest new produces next year.
Most Difficult and Easiest Plants to Grow in the Garden
Some ornamental plants require high upkeep, protection from harsh weather, and greenhouse conditions to remain alive. On the other hand, most plants will grow even with minimal care. Just the growing condition has to be correct.
Here is the list of a few plants classified as difficult or easy to grow based on maintenance needs, growth time, speed, and problems.
Difficult plants: Orchids, Cauliflower, Onions, Venus Flytrap, Melons, Fiddle-leaf fig, Azalea, Zebra Plant, Miniature Roses, Carrots.
Easy plants: Potatoes and root vegetables, Tomatoes, Mint, Sunflower, Basil, Aloe Vera, ZZ Plant, Succulents, Pothos, Hawthorn.
A survey of 600 gardeners in the US concluded that Orchids are the most challenging plants to grow, where they scored 7.14 out of a possible 10 points in terms of difficulty.
Gardening is not an easy task, but that does not mean it is not for everyone. Those with patience, interest, and the right plan will own a lush, beautiful garden in no time.
However, start with a few plants to give yourself a head start if you do not seem up to the task of managing a large garden. And, do not forget to enjoy the fruit of your labor as you go to keep motivating yourself!