Welcome to the wonderful world of gardening! Today, more than ever, we realize the importance of being able to grow food. Just having the know-how to grow a few fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers is empowering.
You will be able to lower your food bill, eat healthier, reduce your carbon footprint, and enjoy the fruits of your labor when you learn how to garden. Planting and growing a garden is always a work in progress.
There’s always something new and fun to discover and these beginner gardening tips will help you get off to a successful gardening start.
Food producing plants will need a sunny location to be productive. Select a gardening area that receives at least 6-hours of direct sun each day. More sun is better for most plants, like tomatoes and corn.
If you don’t have one location that receives adequate sunshine, then planting in containers (container gardening) and placing the containers on rollers will help. The containers can be rolled to different locations throughout the day to capture enough sunlight.
Feed the Soil
The soil feeds the plants, and the more fertile it is, the more productive your garden will be.
Feed the soil with organic materials. Compost is the best, followed by well-rotted animal manure (cow, horse, or chicken). Other organic material, like gypsum, peat moss, sawdust, etc., can be used, but as a beginning gardener, it’s best to keep it simple.
Prepare The Soil
After selecting a sunny outdoor location, prepare the soil by turning it with a turning fork or roto-tiller. Turning the soil will break it up and make it soft so tiny plant roots can grow.
Many gardeners, both beginners and old-timers, opt to use raised bed gardens instead of traditional in-ground gardens. The main reason for choosing a raised bed is the ability to control what’s in the soil and keep it easy to work.
In-ground gardens start with whatever soil type is there and the gardener has to amend it and build it up from scratch. It’s not a bad way to grow a garden but not the easiest way either.
A raised bed starts with a good fertile soil mix and improves on it each year. The first crop grown in a raised bed garden will be productive, whereas a new in-ground garden may take a few seasons and lots of work to become productive and weed-free.
Whether you choose to go with a traditional in-ground garden, raised bed, or containers, the soil will need to be prepped before planting the first seed or seedling.
Prepare the soil of an in-ground garden by first turning it, then adding 4-inches of compost on top and lightly turning that into the soil. When using a raised bed or containers, fill the bed or containers with a growing medium of at least 1/3 compost. Compost can be purchased in bulk or bagged at garden supply centers.
Compost is rich in nutrients and will keep the plants fed for the first 6-weeks. Compost also helps prevent soil compaction so water and air can circulate the plant roots. The decomposing organic material will also attract earthworms to your garden and other beneficial sub-cultures to your garden.
Select The Right Plants and Seeds
Select plants that will thrive in your climate for increased success. For example, if you live in northern climates with long, harsh winters, tropical plants will not survive the first winter outdoors.
Buying seeds and plants from a local source is better than ordering them through an online or catalog source. Local garden supply centers or farmers’ markets will carry seeds and plants that grow in your particular climate, whereas online or catalog sources supply their products worldwide.
All regions have plants that are called ‘natives’. The native plants have adapted to life under all the conditions that your climate has. The soil, temperature, rainfall, pests, and diseases that are naturally found in your environment are things that native plants are used to and will thrive in.
The local pollinators are used to finding food and shelter in native plants and are more attracted to them than plants they have never seen before.
For example, blueberries, blackberries, elderberries, butterfly weed, and asters are native to Georgia. They thrive during the long, hot, humid summers and enjoy their short dormancy period during the mild winter weather the southern state of Georgia offers.
The colder northern climates have native plants like lobelia, coneflower, apples, and mushrooms that thrive in short summers and survive frigid winters.
Research plants to discover some native to your region and incorporate them into your garden design. Natives require less maintenance and will attract more pollinators.
Read the Instruction Label
Whatever seeds and plants that you buy for your garden, read the label first. On every seed packet or plant container comes a label that provides a wealth of information.
The label will tell you:
- when and where to plant,
- how deep to plant and
- how much space to use between each seed or plant.
All this info is vital to the germination of the seeds and the ultimate production of the plant.
Some plants need full sun, some need partial sun, and some need shade from the hot afternoon sun.
Full sun is a location that is in the direct sun all day. Partial sun, also called partial shade, is a location that is shaded for a couple of hours each day.
Afternoon shade means the plant needs to be in a location that receives morning sun but needs to be shaded in the afternoon so it can cool down. Full shade or heavy shade means the plant will thrive in a location that does not receive direct sunlight.
This is how deep the seed or seedling should be planted in the soil. Seeds planted too deeply will not germinate. They will rot in the soil.
Seeds planted too shallow might be exposed to sunlight and be sunburned or be easily accessible to birds and pests for a quick meal.
Most seeds should be planted 1/4-1/2 inches deep. The instructions on the seed packets will give the precise planting depth.
Planting depth for seedlings is the same depth the seedling is at in its container. You want gently remove the seedling from the container if it’s plastic by cutting open the side of the container.
Never pull the seedling out of a container by the stem, it will crush the tender stem and the plant will die. If the seedling is in a bio-degradable container, then you will plant the entire thing without removing the seedling. Either way, the top of the growing medium around the seedling should be placed evenly with the soil around it when it’s planted.
The plant label will tell how large the plant will be when it’s mature. That is how much space that’s needed between each plant. Plants like radishes can have the seeds scattered on top of the soil then plants thinned out to the proper spacing of 4-6 inches after they germinate.
Tomatoes will need about 2-feet of space on all sides of the plant, squash will need about 4-feet of space, and vining plants like melons will need 10-feet of space to grow.
The correct spacing between garden plants will keep them healthier and more productive. Plants need air to flow around them and their produce to prevent diseases caused by damp, stale air. Spacing is also necessary to allow sunshine to penetrate the plant and ripen produce that typically hides under plant leaves, like tomatoes, cucumbers, and beans.
Garden plants are divided into two seasonal categories – cool-season and warm-season. The planting time for each will vary and the plant instruction label will provide the best planting time for the vegetable, herb, flower, etc.
Cool-season vegetables are planted in the spring or fall when the weather is cool. For spring planting, wait until all danger of frost has passed in the very early spring. For fall crops of cool-season vegetables, look up the first predicted frost date of the season. Next, read the plant label or seed packet to find out how many days it will take for the seeds/plants to reach harvest time.
Count back from the first fall frost date to allow enough days for the seeds/plants to mature. For example, radishes are cool-season vegetables that need 30 days from seed time to harvest time.
Count back 30 days from the first predicted frost date in fall and plant on that day. Allowing an extra week of growing time is a good idea because a frost could come earlier than predicted.
Warm-season vegetables, including tomatoes, corn, and peppers, must have warm soil and warm air temperatures. Wait until all danger of frost has passed and temperatures have risen above 65F (18C) in mid-to-late spring before planting any warm-season seeds or plants.
Only one crop of warm-season vegetables can be grown during the summer because they need a long time to mature.
You can use a gardening method called ‘succession planting’ to increase the harvest. Succession planting is simply planting seeds every 2-weeks to extend the harvest time.
Crops like corn ripen all at once and planting a few seeds every 2-weeks will continue to harvest longer.
Compost is black gold to gardeners and it’s easy to make. Create a designated location to collect food waste and other organic materials until they decompose and transform into compost.
The organic materials can be collected in a small compost bin in the kitchen or a large pile outside in the back. The size of your compost pile depends on your garden needs and the amount of organic waste material your family generates.
Food scraps like apple and potato peels, organic yard waste like grass clippings and fallen leaves are ideal for creating compost. When added to the garden, these organic materials will decompose and create a nutrient-rich plant food and soil enhancement.
Worms Are Your Friends
Worms are one of the best things that can be in your garden. Worms tunnel through the soil and make pathways for water to travel and excess water to drain. The underground pathways also increase air circulation around the plant roots.
Worms also leave behind nutrient-rich castings that increase soil fertility. Worms are your friends and the more you have in the garden the better your plants will grow.
Worms are naturally attracted to compost, making it another reason to add compost to your garden. Worms can also be purchased from any garden supply center and they will multiply rapidly when added to the soil.
Don’t Kill the Good Bugs
Some bugs are beneficial to the garden because they eat the bad bugs that would destroy the garden plants. Ladybugs, praying mantis, butterflies, moths, dragonflies, and bees are beneficial bugs that help your garden grow.
They provide natural insect control and provide plant pollination. Don’t kill these (and other) garden-friendly bugs.
Don’t use chemicals in your garden. Not only will the chemicals kill the beneficial bugs along with the bad bugs, but the chemical residue also enters the plants, the produce, and the soil.
Pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, and synthetic fertilizers also enter our food and water system. Eventually, we end up eating the food and drinking the water that contains chemicals.
Find a natural method to feed, weed, and repel pests in the garden. Compost, mulch, and DIY pepper spray are three alternatives that are beneficial to home gardens.
Mulch is a must for any size garden. Mulch is a layer of organic material placed on top of the garden soil. It will help retain soil moisture and the soil cool. It will also repel crawling garden pests, prevent weed growth, and slowly decompose and feed the soil.
Straw, wood chips, tree bark, and compost are good organic mulch choices.
Don’t despair if you live in an urban environment and don’t have landspace for a garden. Just look up and you may have space for a vertical garden. A sunny exterior wall, balcony rail, or fence can be used to hold containers filled with soil and plants.
Window boxes are ideal ways to grow vegetables, herbs, and flowers. No landspace is required for a window box garden and they add living decor to the outside of your home.
Tiered shelving units, strawberry towers, and other ready-made garden shelves can be used to enable you to grow food without using landspace.
Hanging baskets can be used to grow tomatoes, herbs, and a variety of other food plants and flowers.