As the weather warms up and the flowers burst into bloom, you might start thinking that this is the year you start a garden. Depending on the space you have, you can brighten up your curb appeal with some flower beds, or enjoy fresh vegetables from your garden all summer. But even if you just want to start a planter on your porch or windowsill, the idea of gardening can be daunting if you’ve never grown anything before. Never fear! These nine tips will get you ready to plant, grow, and show off your new green thumb.
- Plan first: You might want to go out and start digging as soon as you feel the urge to try your hand at gardening. It can’t be that hard, right? Just dig some holes and throw some seeds in. But a successful garden relies on planning and research. For instance, some of the cities in the US known for having the most amount of gardens include Seattle, Portland, Long Beach, San Jose, and Baltimore, so they would be great places for planning a garden, amongst many others across the U.S. First, figure out what kind of garden you want to have. Flowers or vegetables? Annuals or perennials? Consider how much yearly maintenance you want to do and whether you just want something to spruce up your yard or if you want to eat what you grow.
- Start small: That rush of gardening enthusiasm might make you a little too ambitious for a beginner. Even if you’ve gardened at a previous home, our advice is to start small. Beginning with just a small area gives you the opportunity to test the soil and see what other problems you run across. If things go wrong, you lose just a handful of plants rather than dozens. You can always expand the garden once you know you’ve got the hang of it.
- Choose the spot carefully: You might love a flower bed under your big shade tree or to grow veggies in the back corner of your yard, but are those the places that will allow your plants flourish? The amount of light you’ll need will depend on the kinds of plants you choose. Vegetables need a lot of sunlight, so it’s best to choose a space away from trees or buildings that will cast shadows throughout the day. The sunlight needed for flowers varies, so make sure the location you choose will suit the flowers you want to plant (or the other way around, if you are set on a certain spot).
- Time your planting right: As inconvenient as it is, every type of plant can’t be planted at once. The best time of year to lay down roots depends on the climate of your location and what kind of flower or vegetable you want. Perennials can be planted in spring or fall, while annuals need to be planted every spring after the last frost. Bulbs should be planted during the fall, and vegetable gardens do best when planted during the spring months. Do some research online to find out the best planting dates for your climate zone.
- Prepare the soil: You can do everything else right with your garden, but if your soil is terrible or there isn’t enough, you won’t get the results you want. Dig your garden deep (around 6 to 8 inches is good for most plants) and add organic matter like compost and manure. Your natural soil can be improved with these kinds of ingredients. If you’ve been cursed with terrible dirt, you can build a raised bed and fill it with awesome soil.
- Start your seeds indoors: Buying potted flowers and then transplanting them into your garden is an easy way for beginners to get started on the right foot, but it’s also more expensive and there’s no guarantee that they’ll take root. Instead, you can try starting from scratch and planting seeds. The best way to do this is to start the seeds indoors using a seed starting mix. Your seeds will get all the nutrients they need and there won’t be any old seeds or insect eggs in the mix that you might find in the ground outside. You can use containers you already have around the house, and once the seeds have sprouted and gotten strong enough, gradually introduce them to the outside before planting them.
- Weed regularly: Weeding is one of the most dreaded tasks known to gardeners worldwide. Even if you have kids whose chore list you can add it to, you still have to know the difference between good and bad plants and make sure the garden is weeded regularly. If you let weeds get out of hand, the job grows exponentially and you’ll never want to garden again. Make sure you know what your plants look like, and then pull up everything that’s not wanted. You can also try commercial weed killers if you don’t care whether or not your garden is organic.
- Learn how to tell when to water: Of course you know plants need water to survive. But for beginner gardeners, it can be hard to tell whether they’re getting enough to drink. You have to factor in recent rainfall, temperature, brightness, and wind when considering what moisture they’re getting and retaining. If you notice that your soil is holding too much water or dries out quickly, you can add organic matter to help the problem. Then just keep an eye on your plants. If they’re wilting in the morning, it’s a good idea to give them some water.
- Don’t get discouraged: If your garden doesn’t go as planned the first time around, don’t give up. It doesn’t mean you don’t have a green thumb; you just need to do some problem solving. Did your plants die suddenly? Did you forget to water them? Did one plant do well while another one shriveled up? You can use this information when it comes time to plant again. You can choose plants better suited to your climate and soil, and figure out what kinds of pests are a problem in your yard. Gardening is all about trial and error, and you can’t learn if you don’t make a few errors in the beginning.