You can have a garden! Yes, you. I don’t care how many plants you have killed, if I can do it, anyone can do it! You just need a few simple garden tips.
For many years I considered myself to be a “black thumb” when it came to gardening. In college, I killed a cactus–yes a cactus. I had never met a healthy green plant that I couldn’t turn into a withered, shriveled, pitiful little heap of twigs. In fact, my house plants closely resembled Ursula’s garden from The Little Mermaid.
That all changed last year. For the first time I got serious about having a garden, and I made up my mind that I was going to be successful. And you know what? I was! My garden produced a bountiful harvest of tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic, beans, peas, corn, zucchini (SO MUCH ZUCCHINI), pumpkins, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, radishes, turnips, lettuce, and potatoes! Individual crops had varying levels of success, and I certainly made my share of mistakes. Nevertheless, it was absolutely thrilling to watch my plants grow each day and beyond satisfying to eat my garden-fresh veggies! If you want to read more about my first foray into gardening, check out my series Black Thumb: Diary of a Wannabe Gardener.
Now, I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a master gardener. However, I have picked up some basic beginner garden tips that have helped even someone like me produce a bountiful harvest. The best foundation for a beautiful and productive garden is a solid plan! Follow these simple tips for your first garden!
Garden Tip 1: Set Your Garden Goals
Having goals for your garden is very important, especially for the novice gardener. Make sure you know what want to achieve through your garden. If you are new to gardening I would advise starting small and expanding each year (or season if you live someplace warm).
Why do you want to have a garden to begin with? Do you want to grow your own food? Do you want to focus on flowers and beautiful landscaping? Are you looking to start a relaxing new hobby? Knowing the primary focus of your garden can help you avoid unnecessary stress and, ultimately, make your gardening experience more productive.
Garden Tip 2: Make a Plan
Having a solid plan is absolutely essential.
Having a plan might be my most important gardening tip. There are several factors to consider when planning your garden. First, you need to consider how much space you have and what type of sunlight your space receives.
If you have a large, sunny yard, you can go have a big, permanent vegetable garden. However, if your yard is smaller or you can’t dedicate one specific area, you may want to think about raised beds, containers or vertical gardening. You can build your own, buy local, or check out some interesting options on Amazon. Also, if you have lots of trees and shade, you will need to consider plants that will grow well in those conditions.
Next, you must take into account your growing season, soil and climate.
For example, I live in Zone 4 at a very high altitude. We have an extremely short growing season and cold, harsh winters. This limits the types of perennials I can grow and the varieties of vegetables that I can harvest. Find your USDA Hardiness Zone on the map, this is one way to get an idea about what type of plants will grow well where you live. The Farmer’s Almanac is another wonderful source. I also recommend consulting with local agencies that can give you a better idea of what plants do well in your area–county extension offices and local gardening clubs are invaluable when it comes to information on your specific area.
Most importantly, you should actually lay out your garden.
This is an often overlooked gardening tip. There are some plants that don’t do as well planted next to each other. Also, some plants require significantly more space. There are various apps and software (both paid and free) available to help you with your garden planning. For vegetable gardens, I HIGHLY recommend Smart Gardener. This website provides a really fun and easy to use online planner that lets you drag and drop various plants to bed and containers that fit the dimensions of your actual yard. The site provides information on each plant and generates a “to do” list for all the plants in your garden. What’s more, a subscription is only $6.00 for 90 days–it is awesome!
Finllaly, you need to create a budget for your garden.
Most of us don’t have unlimited funds and you don’t want your new passion to become a drain on your bank account. Planned well, vegetable gardens will save you money. However, I recommend creating a spreadsheet to track the cost of seeds or seedlings, containers, grow lights, water, soil, etc.
Garden Tip 3: Seeds or Seedlings
There are two major factors to consider when deciding whether to start from seed or buy seedlings: expense and convenience.There is no question that buying seedlings is far easier and more convenient. Some vegetables are always started from seed (carrots, corn, peas), but many are available from your local nursery as partially grown plants. If starting seeds scares you, you have limited space to start them (and time to care for them), or you are only planning a small garden, this may be the best avenue for you.
On the other hand, seedlings are significantly more expensive than seeds. If you are planning a large garden, are on a tight budget, or just like a challenge, I recommend starting from seeds! There are certain supplies you will need, and it is certainly more difficult. Personally, I start most of my plants as seeds–it is immensely rewarding. Subscribe to my blog below and stay tuned for my seed starting tips!
Garden Tip 4: Gather Your Supplies
Once you have decided on your gardening goals and laid out a plan, it is time to start gathering the supplies you will need. Every garden is a bit different and I recommend doing some additional research to make sure you have everything you need.
First, you will need the physical materials to build your garden (lumber, fencing, soil). For actual building plans (sorry, I am not very handy), I suggest doing a Google or Pinterest search. Morning Chores offers some cool looking ideas for raised beds. If you are planning on doing a container garden, then you will need flower pots, other types of containers, and potting soil. Amazon has a wonderful supply of various types of containers, check these out: 5-tier Strawberry and Herb Garden Planter, 3-tier Wooden Raised Garden Bed Planter Kit, 10 Gallon Potato Grow Bag.
Next, you will need either seed or seedlings. If you are purchasing seedlings, it is usually best to buy them from a local nursery rather than online. If you are buying seeds, I have had good luck with Ferry Morse (which I buy at Walmart) and seeds ordered from Burpee or Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company. I especially love Baker Creek! They have wonderful varieties of heirloom seeds at VERY reasonable prices. What’s more, they always send me a few extra packets of unique seed varieties as a “free gift.”
Additional supplies may include seed starting containers (I recommend these Jiffy trays and Jiffy pots), seed starting mix, grow lights, greenhouses (this one is awesome), seedling heat mats (this one works great), cold frames, fertilizer, watering systems, rain gauges, compost bins, and supports for plants like peppers, tomatoes, and peas.