There are endless benefits to planting a garden. In addition to the rewards of blooming flowers and delicious vegetables, the process of gardening has physical and psychological benefits. But gardening can be overwhelming if you’re a beginner. What do you need to know before you start?
Whether you’re planting a flower garden for the aesthetic or growing vegetables to feed your family, a little research goes a long way. Many beginning garden mistakes are made through simple things like using the wrong soil, planting at the wrong time of year, or giving plants too much sun or shade.
With that in mind, we’ve put together a list of tips to keep in mind. Regardless of your environment or the amount of space you have available, it is possible for you to start a garden. You’ll just need to be mindful about how you use your resources.
1. An ecological approach to gardening is always best.
Part of the joy of gardening is getting to tend to the nature surrounding you. Whether you’re planting a garden in your backyard or in containers on a patio, it’s best to work with nature rather than against it. The best gardens exist in harmony with nature instead of causing harm to the environment or being harmed by it.
Most environmentalists recommend using plants that are native to your environment, since invasive species can have a serious ecological impact. It’s also good to use sustainable practices in your gardening. If you grow your own food with your garden, that already has a big impact on your environmental footprint.
Some gardeners use a system called “ecosystem gardening” when planning, planting, and expanding their gardens. Ecosystem gardening is a way of creating a sustainable ecosystem through the plants you grow, whether they’re flowers, bushes, trees, vegetables, or a combination.
Creating and maintaining an ecosystem may sound complicated. But there are actually just five guiding principles to adhere to:
By following these principles, you conserve your resources and help to maintain the space surrounding you rather than fighting against it.
This also makes your garden much more likely to flourish on a year-to-year basis. When native plants are planted in the right growing conditions and environment, it becomes a lot easier to maintain your garden. The plants want to thrive. And this also attracts more local wildlife and insects that can help to pollinate.
2. Not every garden requires intensive time and attention.
For many people, gardening feels like an overwhelming project because there are so many variables. What if you mess up? What if you don’t create the right growing conditions? What if your plants don’t sprout regardless of what you do? What if your plants all die despite the hard work?
Other people simply don’t have the time or the physical ability to do constant garden maintenance. It can be exhausting to spend all of your time pulling weeds and watering the soil, especially if you have physical health conditions like joint pain or chronic fatigue.
But not all gardens need constant care.
Different plants and setups require different maintenance levels. There are some plants that don’t need much watering once they’ve taken root. There are also plants that can survive through a harsh winter or dry summer, allowing them to bloom from year to year without needing to be replanted.
This ties in with ecological gardening. It turns out that the easiest gardens to maintain are the ones made up of plants that would naturally grow in your environment anyway.
If you’re beginning your garden, you can look for plants that don’t need frequent watering. You can also take measures to eliminate weeds before they threaten your garden plants.
You can even bring this principle into lawn care. How much time do you spend on lawn maintenance? How much do you like your lawn? Is taking care of your lawn worth the return you get?
3. There are a lot of DIY ways to grow a garden inexpensively.
Gardening should be an accessible activity for everyone, regardless of income bracket or available time. Growing your own plants is one of the fastest ways to empower yourself. Of course, some of the DIY approaches will depend on what you’re growing and how you’re using your space.
But regardless of the type of plant, you don’t typically need to invest a lot to provide good growing conditions. According to gardening experts, the most important thing to buy out-of-pocket is high-quality soil. Other than that, you can create a lot of your tools yourself.
These are a few DIY tricks that you can use for home gardening:
You can also make growing containers out of boxes and newspaper, which is great if you’re tending plants on a balcony or patio.
Coffee grounds are also great for gardens. When you add them to the soil, they provide a heaping helping of nitrogen and nutrients. That can be great if you’re on a budget and can’t afford to get the most enriching fertilizers.
4. You should take into account how much sun and shade your potential garden space gets.
Chances are, you remember some of the basics from high school science classes. Plants require a mix of sunlight, soil, and water to grow. They pull nutrients from the soil and convert sunlight into usable energy. This energy sustains the plant’s metabolism the same way food sustains our metabolisms.
But plants are extremely diverse, and what works for one may not work for another. Different species need different ratios of sun to shade and water. Too much sunlight can scorch a temperate species, while too much water can drown a desert species.
Most gardens need around eight hours of direct sunlight per day. If you live in an area that’s often overcast, that’s okay! As long as you’re planting native species, the plants should be able to thrive regardless.
Where plants have trouble is when an area is too shady or too sunny. Some species naturally grow in the shadow of tall trees and shrubs, shielded from most direct sunlight. Others require extensive daily sun exposure to avoid withering.
Examine the area where you want to place your plants. How often are different parts in the shade or the sun? Does the shadow of your fence or house fall over the area for a lot of the day? Make notes of which places are sunniest and shadiest.
Then do research on your plants. It’s fairly easy to find out how much sunshine and shade a plant needs to thrive. Most gardening guides will present this as some of the first information.
Knowing the right amount of light to give your plants will help you avoid many beginner gardener’s mistakes.
5. Learning about your “hardiness zone” will let you plant crops likely to thrive.
If you’re new to gardening, the term “hardiness zone” may be unfamiliar to you. But finding yours is fairly easy.
The United States Department of Agriculture has divided North America into eleven different zones. The distinctions are drawn based on the average temperatures in winter. There’s a difference of ten degrees Fahrenheit between each of the zones.
Harsh winters can kill an entire garden if the plants aren’t hardy enough to survive. Even a moderate winter can wreak havoc on your garden if you’re growing plants that thrive in tropical or hot desert conditions.
It’s important to note that the map does have limitations, though.
Regions in the eastern half of the US are well delineated. Most of the eastern US is relatively flat, and most of the mountains aren’t tall enough to significantly affect the climate. But since the map only illustrates average temperatures, it doesn’t take into account the way snow cover affects different plants.
In the western half of the United States, the map is less well outlined. This is because of how much the climate in the west varies by elevation and specific location. The Rocky Mountains have a big impact on weather patterns, as do different coastlines and elevations.
Basically, you should make sure that your plants can survive in your hardiness zone. That will allow them to flower year after year rather than being killed by the frost. But you should take other environmental factors into account, too, rather than considering the hardiness zone an end-all be-all of plant growth.
6. You can use different growing techniques and vertical shelving to grow a lot in limited space.
Many people live in apartment complexes that don’t have access to a backyard area. You might have a balcony or patio, but nowhere to spread soil on the earth for plants to take root. Alternatively, you might live in a suburb with an extremely small backyard that isn’t well optimized for plant growth.
To make the most of your space, you can use vertical planters. These are planting techniques that give you multiple layers of soil in the air so that you have more surface area to grow your garden.
Vertical planters don’t have to be a huge investment, either. There are tons of ways to create vertical planting space with a DIY projects.
Just a few ideas include:
When you’re ready to harvest vegetables from your garden, you can use a laundry basket to make life easier. Not only can they hold a great deal of your produce, they also have holes that act as a strainer for the soil. That means that you can rinse your crops all at once rather than needing to wash them one by one.
7. The soil you use is the most important aspect of your garden that you can control.
You can’t control the weather. You can choose to plant seeds in a shady or sunny area, but ultimately, many outdoor growing conditions will be out of your hands. One condition you do have control of is the soil.
Most plants prefer soil levels that are relatively neutral. But there are some that need a higher or lower pH level than average. You can use a soil test kit to assess both your pH levels and the levels of primary plant nutrients. Garden centers tend to sell nutrient-rich soil and fertilizer that you can use to enrich your garden bed.
There are also tips to approach different kinds of soil with different techniques to get the most mileage out of them. Some good rules of thumb are:
Plants need room to take root, and they need enough nutrients to sustain themselves. The soil is where your plants will get everything they need to grow, so it’s vital for a thriving garden.
8. Some companies offer pre-designed flower arrangements for different spaces.
In some places, there are companies that will plan a garden and deliver all of the included plants. You may even be able to pay an extra fee to have professional gardeners install the plants, which is great if you can’t do a lot of physical labor yourself.
This is ideal for people who have a little extra money to spend and who want an aesthetic garden with properly-spaced plants. You should always look for arrangements that include plants native to your area for the ecological impact.
Even if you’re doing a smaller garden on a budget, looking at these plans can give you some good ideas for how to use your space. You’ll get a sense of where to place shrubs, small trees, and flowers so that they can thrive in harmony.
On a smaller scale, many greenhouses and garden centers sell planting baskets. These are hanging or ground-mounted baskets that contain a small number of plants living in a layer of rich soil. They’re great if you want to buy flowers that are already grown, especially if you have limited outdoor space for them.
You don’t have to plant everything from seeds. Though packages of seeds are the most inexpensive way to start a garden, you can also purchase already-blooming flowers or plant seedlings. Since these have already sprouted, they’re more likely to take root in the soil. This makes them an attractive option for beginning gardeners.
9. If you grow vegetables, you should focus on what you like to eat.
The point of a vegetable garden is to make your own produce. If your garden creates food you won’t eat, what’s the point? You can make a gift of uneaten vegetables to your family, friends, and neighbors, of course. But you’ll be happier if you prioritize the plants that will yield the highest personal reward.
There are dozens of different vegetables that you can grow in an at-home garden, though the growing seasons depend on your area. Some vegetables may be harder to tend than others if you’re in a harsh climate.
Don’t try to grow every vegetable in the book at first. Instead, pick anywhere from two to five of your top favorites. Prioritize the ones that you like to have on hand for your home cooking and for snacking.
Spinach and kale are popular options for people who want vitamin-rich greens in their diet. They’ve even become staples of health smoothies in many areas. Cabbage is another vegetable that’s popular in gardens because of its versatility – it can be eaten as a snack, used in salads, and used in soups.
Root vegetables require significant amounts of soil in which to spread, since they grow in the ground. Some of the most popular root vegetables to grow include:
Potatoes are particularly noteworthy because cooking-wise, they’re among the most versatile plants in the world. And they have almost every single nutrient that the human body needs.
Beans are also very easy vegetables to grow – in fact, you might have grown a bean plant in an elementary school science class! They’re also excellent sources of protein. Protein is a vital part of your diet, and if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, it may be hard to come by.
10. Beginners should start small to get the hang of gardening.
Many people become excited about creating a garden. They do the research, plan carefully, use their space wisely, and set up a large area with a sustainable ecosystem. Then the project quickly becomes overwhelming because of the amount of maintenance required.
Gardening is an ongoing process. When you’re first starting out, you need to build up the habit of weeding and watering and maintaining your plants. That’s a lot less overwhelming if it doesn’t consume a lot of time. And the easiest way to keep from having your time consumed is to start small.
Starting small also gives you a chance to figure out your garden priorities. You might find that you hate weeding and want to do as little of it as possible. Or you might find that weeding is soothing, but it’s hard to remember to water the plants every day.
Pay attention to the parts of garden maintenance that you dislike most. And while you’re at it, pay attention to what you like, too! That way, when you expand your garden, you can choose plants that let you garden with your preferred style. It’s vital that the project be satisfying and rewarding for you, and it won’t be if you hate doing it.
11. A garden journal will be vital to improve your yields from year to year.
When you’re first starting your garden, you might not be thinking about the long term yet. Keeping plants alive for a single growing season is tough enough – how are you supposed to worry about the year-to-year information too?
But a sustainable garden should survive through the winter and bloom each year without needing replanting. To make the best decisions with this end in mind, your best bet is to keep a garden journal.
A garden journal lets you track important information about your plants, when they bloom, any issues they have, and what conditions they thrive under. It also lets you track what plants or soil conditions don’t yield good returns.
Each person’s garden journal will be slightly different. Some good things to include are:
Having this information on-hand will make it much easier to plan future gardening expansions or alterations.
12. It’s good to plant crops that will attract pollinators.
Even if you’re not immersed in agriculture or gardening, you’ve probably heard about declining pollinator populations. Certain insecticides can have devastating effects on pollinators. This is a huge deal because pollinators are vital to every aspect of every ecosystem. Without them, plant life collapses.
And even if pollinator populations weren’t threatened, it would still be good to attract them to your garden. These insects carry pollen from plant to plant so that they can reproduce.
Bees and butterflies look for plants that provide nectar. Many flowers and shrubs fit the bill, and they’re also beautiful to look at. Some of the most popular pollinator-attracting plants are marigolds, sunflowers, and flowering herbs.
There’s a good chance that a local garden center or greenhouse has resources for learning about pollinators in your area. They can provide guidance on the best plants to sustain your garden’s ecosystem without attracting animals that can harm your plants.
And of course, don’t spray your plants with harmful insecticides. Even if the plant itself isn’t harmed, many pollinators may be, which just contributes to the ongoing population dangers.
13. Planting seedlings may be easier than planting seeds.
Packaged seeds haven’t sprouted yet. Seedlings, on the other hand, have begun to sprout. It’s harder to grow a plant from a seed than to nurture a seedling. Another pro of seedlings is that you don’t need to wait to see whether the plant will sprout.
With that said, seeds and seedlings both have their benefits and drawbacks.
Some drawbacks of seeds include:
Some drawbacks of seedlings are:
The risk of diseases and germs is much lower if you purchase your seedlings from a reputable, certified seller.
Growing from seeds is ideal if you like to experiment with variety and want to grow a large amount of plants for a low cost. But if you’re just starting out, seedlings can populate a small garden area as a lower-risk means of getting the hang of things.
14. You should research the best time to plant your seeds or seedlings.
It’s not hard to find out when to plant seeds. There are even online tools that will automatically tell you the best time based on your zip code and the type of plant. You can use this information to generate a planting calendar.
Planting calendars are charts that tell you when to plant each of the plants in your garden. Every planting calendar is created around frost dates. The first frost date is the first time that the ground frosts over in the fall or winter, and the last is the last time it does in the winter or spring.
If you plant certain seeds or seedlings too early in the spring, a frost could kill them. Similarly, if winter comes early in your area, an early fall frost could kill your plants before you harvest them.
That’s why it’s so important to be cognizant of your environment. While there’s no guarantee – you might experience unusual weather patterns – you will have better chances if you use average frost dates as a rule of thumb.
15. Gardening should be a fun way to relax, not a stressful burden on your life.
This is perhaps the most important tip to keep in mind. You can do all the research and planning in the world, and you still won’t enjoy gardening if you aren’t doing it in a pleasurable way.
In many ways, gardening is a creative project. But it’s important to remember that it’s an ongoing project that requires commitment.
If you’re not sure you have the stamina to work on your garden every day, that’s okay! There are still garden setups that will work for you. You should just be aware going in that you want a setup that’s partially self-sustaining.
Some tips for keeping gardening fun and relaxing include:
By doing these things, you’ll be able to retain the joy of gardening without becoming burdened by the stress of it.
Gardening is a stress-relieving way to get in touch with nature and take care of the world around you. There are tons of plants that require little maintenance to bloom, and beginners can follow the advice of seasoned gardeners to avoid making basic mistakes.
No matter where you are or what kind of space you have, there are ways to grow plants for a low cost. Don’t let the need to research intimidate you – information about plants and ideal growing conditions is easily available. Working a garden with your hands can help to protect your joints against arthritis, especially as you grow older.
With all of these personal and ecological benefits in mind, there’s no reason not to get started on your garden planning.