Gardening For Beginners Guide: Top 10 Tips + Ideas
A backyard garden is a great excuse to spend time outside. It is also a good way to burn some calories, grow your own food and teach kids how to care for living things. While basic vegetable gardening is not overly difficult, it can be intimidating — particularly if you are new to gardening and are not sure where to start.
Here are 10 tips for beginner gardeners that will help get your garden going and set you on the path to a successful harvest.
Beginner Backyard Garden Tip #1: Pick a Sunny Spot for Your Garden
Most of the fruits and vegetables you might want to grow in your garden will require a minimum of six hours of direct sunlight every day. It is best if they get this sun early in the day before it gets too hot, so pick a spot that gets plenty of morning sun.
If your backyard does not have a sunny spot for your garden, there are lots of lettuces and some other vegetables that grow well in shade.
Beginner Backyard Garden Tip #2: Know When to Water
Watering too little or too much is a common problem for new gardeners, but you will quickly get the hang of it. Most vegetable gardens do best when watered deeply once or twice a week. Infrequent watering encourages deeper root growth, and you likely have mandatory water restrictions in your area that limit your landscaping irrigation to just one or two days each week anyways.
One great tip for knowing when you garden needs water is to plant some lettuce, a vine or basil in your garden. These plants get particularly droopy when they need water, which makes it much easier for beginning gardeners to know when it is time to irrigate their gardens.
If your budget allows, consider installing an automatic drip system, which is a more efficient, more convenient way to make sure your vegetable garden gets the water it needs.
Beginner Backyard Garden Tip #3: Skip the Seeds
It is a very rewarding experience to start seeds indoors, nurture them into seedlings, transplant them to your garden and watch them grow until harvest time, but it is also a lot of work. You can skip the first couple of steps and save weeks of time and effort by skipping the seeds and simply buying seedlings at your local garden center.
When you are first starting out, you are much more likely to have a successful garden if you purchase plants that have already gotten off to a good start. This is also a good way to make sure you are purchasing varieties that do well in your area and to know when to plant particular fruits and vegetables. Garden centers generally carry varieties that are well suited for the area where they are located, and they carry plants at the appropriate time to plant them. Of course, in Southern California, we are fortunate to have a longer growing season than most parts of the country, and we have a bit more leeway regarding optimal planting times.
As an added bonus, you will not have to wait as long to enjoy the fruits of your labor if you start from seedlings rather than seeds.
Beginner Backyard Garden Tip #4: Try Seed Tape
If you have your heart set on starting your garden from seed, consider trying seed tape. Seed tape is a long strip of biodegradable material with seeds inside. Using seed tape allows you to easily plant in straight rows and to automatically implement proper spacing between your plants without having to figure out how much room each plant needs.
Beginner Backyard Garden Tip #5: Pick Easy-to-Grow Options
Gardening can be a great experience, but it can also be very frustrating. This is particularly true when you are first starting out. While you can get plenty of tips online or from experienced gardeners, there are lots of things you will learn as you go.
By choosing easy-to-grow fruits and vegetables, you can avoid some of the frustration that is common among new gardeners and can hone your skills to prepare you to grow more challenging varieties in the years to come.
Some of the easiest herbs, fruits and vegetables to grow in a backyard garden are tomatoes, zucchini, radishes, carrots, chard, peppers, parsley and basil.
Beginner Backyard Garden Tip #6: Start Small
It is easy to get a bit too excited when browsing seedlings at your local garden center. If you are not careful, you might go home with a car filled with plants and potting soil. Once you start shopping for herbs, vegetables and fruits to grow, it is easy to go overboard. After all, the basil is right next to the tomatoes, and the tomatoes are right next to the peppers, so as you are looking at one option, you are going to keep seeing others that look just as enticing.
Once you have been gardening for a while, it is okay to go a little crazy at the nursery and come home with extra plants. However, when you are just starting out, it is better to start small.
Gardening takes work. Even a small vegetable garden requires weeding, watering, pruning, removing bugs and feeding. You are probably going to encounter some kind of issue with at least some of your plants, such as an aphid infestation or fungus, and that will take even more time. Until you know just how much time you can and want to dedicate to your garden, it is better to start small to avoid frustration and get a better idea of how much time it takes to care for plants.
Beginner Backyard Garden Tip #7: Have at Least a Basic Plan
You do not need to start a gardening journal and draw up a well-designed garden plan your first year — although you certainly can — but it is a good idea to have at least a basic plan in mind. This will help you plant your fruits and vegetables in a manner that makes sense and that looks more attractive.
For example, a raised garden bed will look best and be easiest to work with if you plant the tallest plants in the middle and the shortest around the edges.
It is also good to do a little research about the plants you choose, since some do well together and should be planted near each other while others do not get along as well and should be planted farther apart.
Beginner Backyard Garden Tip #8: Read the Hang Tags
When you purchase plants at your local garden center, there is usually a hang tag, sticker or plastic label stuck in the soil that gives you information about the plant. At the most basic level, these tags tell you what the plant is and display a picture of it, which make it easier to quickly find the types of herbs, vegetables or fruits you want to grow. But these little tags also give you lots of other information.
For example, the tag will often let you know how much sun the plant needs, how moist it likes its soil, and whether it is an annual or perennial. This can help you determine where to plant it and how often to water it. Other information on the tag may include a recommendation for plant spacing and information about how big the plant will be at maturity. This is good to know so that you can make sure you arrange your plants so that smaller plants will not be overshadowed by larger ones or overwhelmed by aggressive growers (like mint).
Beginner Backyard Garden Tip #9: Feed Your Plants
You will have healthier, more productive plants if you make sure they get the nutrients they need. Using commercial fertilizers can be a bit intimidating, particularly because it is easy to do more harm than good by fertilizing too much or too often. Plenty of gardeners have great success with commercial fertilizers and plants foods, and if you follow the directions, you may be just fine. However, there are other options that are less expensive and less intimidating.
One option is to start a backyard compost pile and transform you kitchen scraps and junk mail into nutrient-rich compost you can mix into the soil and spread around your plants. You can also save your used coffee grounds to sprinkle in your garden to add nitrogen to the soil or scatter onion skins on the ground around your plants to allow them to degrade. For easy ways to find free fertilizer for your vegetable garden, check out this previous post.
Beginner Backyard Garden Tip #10: Test Your Soil
You can get away without testing your soil when you first start gardening. You can learn from trial and error to determine which vegetables and fruits will thrive in your soil and which will not. Alternatively, you can buy an inexpensive soil test kit from a garden center or home improvement store and perform a simple soil test to determine your soil’s pH.
If your soil is too acidic of too alkaline for the plants you want to grow, you will need to raise or lower the pH accordingly. This Garden Helper article has a nice explanation of soil pH and what you can do to fix it.
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Photo Credits (in order of appearance): morgueFile, macronsin; morgueFile, JessaIrene; morgueFile, pippalou; morgueFile, Seemann