Gardening for Beginners- Everything You Need to Know

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If you’re like one of the millions that are starting a garden for the first time, I bet you have a lot of questions? Gardening for beginners can be exciting and daunting all at the same time. Do you just throw some seeds on the ground and add water? Or do you need a masters gardening degree? From testing your soil to trouble-shooting tips, we’ll guide you through everything the beginning gardener needs to know to have a successful harvest. 

Gardening for Beginners- Everything You Need to Know

Growing your own food is one of the most empowering things you can ever do. We all need to eat to survive, but what if our food chain is broken? What do we do if the store shelves are empty? Not to mention affordability, what if the cost of food exceeds our budget? The answer is to grow your own. Start small but start somewhere, even if it’s just a small tomato plant on your windowsill. 

Where Do You Start? 

There are many things to consider when planning a garden for the first time, such as

  • Where do you plant a garden?
  • What do you need to start a garden? 
  • When should you put plants in the ground? 
  • What should you plant? 
  • and many more

The best advice I can offer about gardening for beginners is to never give up. Plant and plant again. I’ve been gardening for over forty years and I still make mistakes EVERY-STINKIN-YEAR! I’m still learning daily and I know I will NEVER know it all, and neither will you. So don’t beat yourself up if your corn is lacking kernels or the worms eat more of your squash than you do. 

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How To Pick The Best Location For Your Garden

Location, location, location. You can have the best seeds or the healthiest plants, but if the location is bad, the harvest will be too. For instance, one year I planted a beautiful garden in the early spring. We built a HUGE raised bed using organic compost and the plants looked amazing! That was until the leaves all filled in on the trees and the sap started burning holes in the plants. Then the leaves blocked out all the sun and the garden was a bust. 

When deciding where to plant your garden you will need to spend some time in your yard and write down your observations.

Garden Location Questions to Ask

  • Where does the sun hit and when?
  • How long does the sun stay in that area? 
  • Where is the closest water source? 
  • How far away from your home is the proposed garden site? 
  • Is the garden site protected from pets/livestock/wildlife? 
  • WIll it be located under any trees? 
  • Are there any utility lines located under the ground?
    *Call the utility company before you dig and have them come to mark the lines if you’re planning on digging deeper than one foot. 

Beginner Gardening Location Tips

Where do you plant a garden? As I mentioned above, I’ve made a few (cough cough) mistakes when picking out the best location for our garden. Thankfully I’ve learned from those mistakes and get to share what NOT to do with you! 

In my opinion, to have a successful garden your location should 

  • Be in your daily walk path. Which means to plant your garden along your daily route. If you walk by your garden daily you’ll pay attention to it and notice things that need to be noticed. 
  • Near a water source
  • Easy to get to. Out of sight out of mind is not a good concept for a garden. 
  • Receive at least 6 hours of sun a day but have dapple shade during the heat of the day. 
  • Have good drainage and not be located in a flood-prone area. 
  • Not be located under trees. Some trees are toxic to garden plants in addition to blocking out too much of the sun. 

Find Your Planting Zone

What is a planting zone? A planting zone or hardiness zone is a standard by which gardeners and growers can determine which plants are most likely to thrive at a location. When you know your hardiness zone you can learn about what plants will do best in your area. In addition to learning your planting zone, you also need to learn when the first and last frost dates are for your area. 

When you are looking at seed packets, they generally have zones in which they will grow well and the recommended planting dates printed on the package. If you’re ordering seeds online, growing recommendations should be posted in the description. 

If you don’t know where to buy garden seeds, our friends own Seeds For Generations. It’s a family-owned business and has a wonderful selection of garden seeds. 

hardiness-zone-map

This answer is different for each gardener in each region and even in each yard. What grows really well for me might not grow well for you. 
One of the easiest things I’ve ever grown is lettuce for my cold-weather crop and sweet potatoes for my warm-weather crop. 
You can grow lettuce in pots indoors as well as in the garden,  you can read more about Growing Lettuce Indoors. 
 
Growing Sweet Potatoes is crazy easy. As a matter of fact, I have several sweet potatoes on my counter sprouting slips. You can start your own sweet potato plants in just 5 simple steps and have sweet potatoes in no time. 
Other cold-weather crops that are relatively easy to grow are any leafy greens such as spinach, kale, collards, etc. 
Some warm-weather crops that I have found to be pretty low maintenance are radishes, peppers, eggplants, sunflowers, and green beans.
When deciding what to plant, only plant what you or your family eats. If you don’t like eggplant, don’t plant it. 
 
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Tools

Just like working with construction or painting a portrait, you want to have the right tools to work with. While you don’t need to make a huge investment, you will want to spend a little bit of money on the right tools so they will last for years to come. 

How to Start a Vegetable Garden for Beginners

Whether you’re planting vegetables, fruits, herbs, or flowers, in addition to location and zone, you’ll also want to notice spacing recommendations. For instance, you don’t want to plant something that will get four feet wide and several feet tall if you only have two feet of growing space. Additionally, some plants don’t like to be crowded and need their elbow room. Other plants need a companion close by so they can cross-pollinate. 

Plant in Two’s

Even if you only think you want ‘one’ plant and that will be enough, I always advise to buy/grow two. That way if something happens to one, you’ll always have a backup plant. Not to mention several varieties need a buddy to share pollen with so they can make veggie and fruit babies (aka cross-pollination). 

 

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Soil

One of the biggest tips I can offer when gardening for beginners is to focus on the soil. A productive garden that produces healthy plants starts with the soil. Soil is your plant’s source for nutrients and food, every healthy plant starts with healthy soil. 

Before planting your first seed, I highly encourage you to get your soil tested. You can read about How to Test Your Garden Soil or you can contact your local Extension Agency or Master Gardeners club and inquire about soil tests. 

Once you receive your test results, you may need to Improve Your Soil Quality. You can do this by adding fertilizer (based on your soil test recommendations) or Improve Your Soil Fertility by adding organic compost and other natural material. Once your soil is amended you can begin planting your garden and growing your own food!

Where To Buy Garden Seeds? 

Second, after making sure your soil is ready to grow food, you’ll need seeds. Not every seed is created equal, some are better than others. Do you know the difference between heirloom and genetically engineered? Are the seeds/plants self-pollinating? Did you know seeds expire? Sometimes beginning gardeners give up because they think they’ve failed when in all actuality they used bad seeds. 

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Valuable information on garden seeds and seeds for sale

How To Read A Seed Packet

Download and Print How to read_a_seed_packet here

You can learn a lot of information by reading the seed packet. Such as, when to plant, how deep to plant, row spacing, harvest date, and the experiation. 

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Once you get your fingers dirty and have harvested some vegetables, you can get into seed collection and save seeds from year to year. 

Starting Your Garden Seeds

A lot of beginning gardeners find it easier to plant starts in their garden, however, I’ve always enjoyed the process of seeing a seed start to sprout. In addition to witnessing the wonders of growing your own food from seed, seeds are a LOT cheaper than plants. You can buy 50 seeds for less than $2.00 (sometimes) and a single plant can cost $4.00 each. 

After your plants have grown and harvested, you can then save those seeds to plant next year. This means all you have to do is buy the seeds once, plant, grow, harvest, save seeds, and start the process over year after year. You can’t get any better than that. 

Composting and Fertilizer

Previously we covered learning your planting zone, where to place your garden, amending and testing your soil, starting your seeds, and now we are at composting and fertilizing. 

Composting serves many purposes. One, it adds rich natural organic matter to your soil. Two, it helps stop the growth and spread of weeds. Lastly, it helps your soil retain moisture so you don’t have to water as often. I highly recommend you add compost or mulch to your garden. 

When you’re fertilizing your garden, you are giving the plants the food and nutrients they need to grow. Healthy plants produce healthy food, and eating healthy food helps make you healthy. 

Gardening Tips, Trouble Shooting, and Garden Mistakes Gardening for Beginners

As previously discussed, I’ve made a LOT of mistakes gardening, thankfully I’m in good company. When you are a beginning gardener, and even when you have decades of gardening under your belt, you will make mistakes. We are working with nature and nature is never predictable. 

Check out some of the mistakes (and learn from) my fellow gardeners have shared so you can avoid them!

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Watering Your Garden

When learning to garden, beginners often make mistakes when it comes to watering. Either they water too much or too little, as a result, their garden fails and they give up. With this in mind, it’s important to mulch your garden to help your soil retain moisture and secondly, plant your garden in your daily path so you can observe your plants needs daily. 

Cooking Your Harvest

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Lastly, after all the hard work is done and it’s time for the harvest, your BIG reward is here. It’s time to let the food that you’ve nurtured all season to nurture you! Our friend, Stacy Harris offers an AMAZING cookbook as well as a plethora of free recipes on her website. 

If you like cooking with herbs, we have you covered. All of the recipes we offer on our website include the use of herbs!

When you’re finished following all of our tips, tricks, and advice, you won’t be a beginning gardener anymore. Hopefully, you’ll be enjoying the harvest for many years to come and share your bounty with others!

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