Gardening is a holistic activity that takes lots of time and effort to pull off successfully. First-timers, who are starting a garden from scratch, face a steep learning curve at the end of which they can get good results with easy-to-grow plants.
To make the most out of limited space, such as a balcony, or to take on a challenge such as an indoor plant, you will need some experience. If you want to start a garden but are unsure how and where to begin, we have put together this list of 10 things that all beginners need to learn about.
10 Tips to Start a New Garden for Beginners
Here are 10 tips on planting for beginners:
1. Think about what you want to grow
Whether you’re planning to start your garden in the yard or the balcony, you need to have a clear idea about what it is you need to grow. Flowers are more suited for the balcony, and the backyard is better for vegetables and fruits. On the other hand, herbs are good to go anywhere, depending on how much you consume.
What is more important is to pick plants suited for your region if you are starting? Growing plants from other zones can be challenging and need more experience. Look up the USDA Hardiness Zones and Your Microclimate to determine the easiest plants to grow in your zone. This is especially important when growing vegetables that need a lot of sunshine and frost-free weather.
When you’re growing flowers for your balcony, research varieties that have different lifespans – while annuals stay in full bloom through the summer and need replanting every spring, perennials bloom only for a short time but return every year.
2. Pick a location
If you are growing fruits or vegetables, make sure they get at least 5-6 hours of sunlight a day to produce fruit. Herbs and other greens can do well in partial sunshine. If you live in one of the southern zones, there will be enough sunshine and share for all your plants.
Gardeners in the north will probably need all the sunshine they can get and have their fruits and vegetables on a south-facing slope. Access to the garden is also an essential component of planning as it allows you to maintain your plants, harvest fruits or vegetables without stepping into the bed.
Those planning to grow flowers will need a vision on arranging their planters, or would they want to create a flowerbed with a pattern? Some of the local perennial species of flowers also self-propagate and take over the rest of the garden. So, have a plan to keep those in check. Finally, ensure the location is not a high-wind area, a frost pocket, or prone to common pests.
3. Understand soil
Understanding the soil and how it affects growth is probably the most important thing you will learn when exploring how to start a first backyard garden. The soil is the substrate for growth and needs to have the perfect balance of ingredients to retain nutrients, microbes, and moisture.
Furthermore, the texture of the soil plays a vital role in how well the roots develop. The soil texture for the best growth should generally have a balanced mix of clay, sand, and silt. However, many plants need these ingredients in different ratios to do their best. Tomatoes, for example, do well in soil with a little more clay that can hold extra water, while beets and carrots need sandier soil that allows their roots to penetrate easily.
The soil structure also matters – you can do a simple test to check how good your soil is by tightly pressing a clump of dirt in your fist. When you open the fist, and the soil falls apart, it is too sandy. When you open the fist, and the soil is a hard lump that takes effort to break, it has too much clay in it. When you open the fist, and the soil is a soft lump that you can crush with a slight touch, that’s the perfect mix.
The soil in the yard needs to be prepared first before you can grow anything in it. You can determine the soil type and improve its quality with compost and other additives based on the structure.
For growing plants in a planter or a pot, you would need a ‘potting mix’ soil available at the local gardening store. The mixtures usually come with the right proportions of all ingredients and can be used directly for potting.
Growing plants from seed will require a ‘germinating mix’ that is friendlier towards seed germination and seedlings. Pick up a book on beginners composting to learn how to create different soil mixtures for different plants.
4. Invest in some good tools
Having the right tools can make all the difference in your gardening experience since you cannot dig into the soil with your fingers or poke a knife into it every time you need to break the clumps up. Buying a good set of basic gardening tools will help you do things right. The basic tools you need include tillers, garden hoe, scuffle hoe, shovel, a leaf rake, and hand tools for digging and preparing the soil.
You will also need a good-quality pair of shears and a garden knife for all the cutting tasks. Avoid buying tools with cheap plastic handles that might break in a few months. Investing in a good set of gardening tools can last you a lifetime. It is also essential to take good care of the tools by cleaning and sharpening them often.
5. Prepare the planting beds
You will find it surprising that you can grow plants in just about anything that can hold soil and has drain holes in the bottom to let out excess water. This includes boxes, buckets, plastic bags, crates, or anything durable enough. Planters are great for balconies as they can be mounted on railings vertically, so there is more room to grow. Seed germination can be done in something as small as a cup, with the seedlings later picked up for transplanting.
You could grow them in a raised bed when you want a high yield from your fruits and vegetables. A raised bed is simply a defined region 3’x3’ or 2’x4’ wide where the soil mix is raised over the ground and held in place by a word or brick frame. Raised beds make the plants grow faster as they compete for nutrients and light. Additionally, the beds are also more resistant to weeds, and it’s easy to harvest when the time comes.
6. Growing from seeds vs. transplanting
You can either grow your plants from seed or buy the seedlings at your nearest nursery and transplant them in the garden soil. Growing seeds require some extra care and experience to get it right. It is especially the case if you live in colder regions where seeds need to be protected from frost and germinated indoors before transplanting them outside. They are also less predictable and can overcrowd the germinating pot if you get it wrong. However, some plants are better grown from seeds such as parsley, chives, and cilantro.
Transplanting works well with plants such as tomatoes and basil. While seedlings are more expensive than seeds, they are also more predictable and easier to grow. As long as you get the transplantation right, it takes a much shorter time to grow your plant from a seedling.
7. Watering your plants
Watering your plants just right can keep them from alive and well or wither and fade. Never allow your seedlings to sit in a dry pot, as they need lots of water at this stage. If you are doing it as an indoor seed starter, you need to still keep the soil in the pots damp but not wet. All the pots and planters need to have three or five holes at the bottom for water drainage. A container that doesn’t drain water will clog and rot the roots killing the plant.
As the plant grows, you need to water them less frequently. One way to water all plants is to fill up the pot, allow the water to be entirely absorbed by the soil, and drain the rest out. Plants that are in windy or hot areas need more water as it can evaporate quite soon.
8. Weeding and caring
You will inevitably have weeds in your garden, and allowing them to grow would waste the nutrients and moisture in the soil. Pull out the tender weed regularly or use a weeding tool to remove the tough ones.
You can also mulch grown plants with leaves, twigs, and barks to stop the weed and retain moisture in dry and cold climates. Alternatively, you can buy good mulch material from your local gardening store, which also nourishes your plant as it decomposes.
9. Controlling pests
Pests are a bigger problem to your garden than weeds are. Rodents such as moles and gophers dig holes in the ground and destroy seedlings. Have an exterminator visit your property regularly to keep their population in check.
Aphids and insect larvae can also destroy your plants and hence must be dealt with swiftly. You can pick them off with a pair of tweezers if you have small plant varieties on your balcony in a planter. For larger beds, you can blast these insects with a jet of water every day to keep them off your plants. Also, ensure that there are no sick or stressed plants in the garden.
Parasites are more attracted to damaged and stressed plants than they are to healthy plants. The same applies to fungal infections. Remove plants severely affected by fungi to stop them from spreading the disease to other plants in the bed. Use insecticide spray only as a last resort.
Harvesting is the final stage of reaping your fruits of reward. Crops always indicate their maturity – carrots stick out of the soil when they are ready for harvest, the leafy greens such as lettuce can be cut and left to grow again for another harvest. You can harvest tomatoes once the fruit has ripened and comes away easily from the stalk. Harvesting is best done in the mornings when the dew has cleared but the afternoon heat hasn’t settled.
Successful gardening requires understanding all the gardening components, such as the soil, plants, growing methods, weather, and caring procedures. Beginners can do well by attempting to grow native species and then move on to advanced growing techniques.