Gardening is a great way to get outdoors and be responsible for something that provides a plethora of benefits. Even if you are an urban dweller, you can most definitely take advantage of having your own garden with just a little ingenuity.
Often, the biggest issues when starting a garden have to do with location and space. Either too little of an area or too large of an area creates frustrations early on- and the idea of what exactly to do to get started can feel overwhelming. The following guide provides the steps to start a garden that you can enjoy through the entirety of the growing season no matter where you live.
Not only does gardening allows you to enjoy blooming flowers, greenery, and even fresh produce- it also has a long list of health benefits worth checking out. Moving around, watering and caring for plants burns quite a few calories, increases blood circulation, and allows for whole-body movement depending on the chore you are focused on at the time.
This works towards healthier blood pressure, plus, being surrounded by greenery can be calming to help lower symptoms of depression, stress, and anxiety. Also, the concentration on a task is good for brain development and problem-solving- which in turn influences a healthier memory index. In fact, gardening is often used in therapy for those suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Being exposed to sunlight increases your vitamin D uptake, which in turn strengthens bones. Always be sure to protect your skin against harmful UV rays, but the fresh air and sunlight are excellent for your health.
Growing your own produce helps influence healthier eating choices. Fresh produce can get quite costly, and often much goes to waste if you are not able to purchase the amounts you prefer. A garden allows you to grow what you need, store what you want, or even give away surplus. It also helps influence children to try things they may not otherwise consider.
What You Might Like to Have
Before getting started you might want to have a few tools handy to help make your gardening efforts easier. Consider the following basics to make your gardening efforts easier:
- Gardening gloves
A good pair of close-fitting gloves allows movement and protection when digging in the soil, pruning, fertilizing, watering, or simply moving things around. Choose the protection level you need based on the types of plants you have.
- A shovel and hand trowel
Digging in the dirt is inevitable when you have a garden. A good shovel allows you to turn your soils and dig deeper holes for planting and transplanting. Smaller trowels allow you to get in close and personal, and work in smaller areas.
- Kneeling pad or garden seat
Unless you only have raised garden beds, you most likely will want to have something comfortable to kneel or sit upon while caring for your plants.
Unless you are container gardening on a patio, deck, or balcony, a wheelbarrow is a handy tool to keep around. You can easily move plants, soil, compost, weeds, etc in one trip across a year and save your back while doing so.
- Garden rake or soil tiller
Turing up soils to help get rid of weeds and mix in composts and fertilizers can be quite beneficial to your plants through the season. Look for long-handled rakes and tillers to make this chore a simple one.
- Watering can or hose nozzle
Watering your plants is a must, and although larger areas may have a watering solution already in place, such as sprinkler systems, you will need to water other areas that may be out of reach.
Step One: Find a Location and Start Small
If you are a first-time gardener you do want to start small. Consider manageable sized plots, such as an 8 x 8 foot area or smaller, or keep yourself confined to raised beds or even containers to help you gain perspective on the care and growth habits of multiple plants.
Sun vs Shade
Where you place your garden is also important, and particular attention should be paid to the amount of sunlight versus shade an area receives. Most annual flowers and vegetables require full sun for part of the day, and if you have a shady area you will want to look for plants that are more tolerant of those conditions.
Also, understand the growing zone you are located in. Even though many backyards have microclimates that are influenced by protective features, such as brush and building walls, you generally can get a good idea about first and last freeze times, as well as which plants do best where you live.
This is especially true if you have a particular plant you want to include in your garden that may not grow well where you live. Many times you may be able to plant out of zone species in a container for extra care so you can still enjoy the specific options you want.
Step Two: Soil Care
Since vegetation receives its nutrients through the roots, your soils are incredibly important to the health and production of your plants. Ideally, you want a soil that is both well aerated to provide oxygen to your roots, as well as capable of holding moisture for hydration and nutrient uptake. Sand, silt, and clay make up what you would consider ‘dirt’ and a good mixture to aim for is 40% sand, 40% clay, and 20 % silt to create a loamy soil that is easy to work with.
If you are unsure of what your dirt is made up of, you can do a simple mason jar test in which you place soil in a mason jar of water, shake vigorously, and then allow to sit until everything settles out. You also can pick up a simple soil test to check for nutrient and pH levels to better determine what you might want to add for overall soil health.
Step Three: Pick Your Plants
Choosing which plants you want to include in your garden is a great way to quickly get out of control. Small seedlings mature quickly, and if you are not familiar with the growth habits of certain plants, it is best to start with fewer plants than what you think you need. You can always add to your garden the more familiar you become with it.
You also should look for easy to grow plants when getting started. Try to avoid any that require a lot of specialized care at first so you can become more familiarized with how certain plants look and grow together. This is especially true of perennial beds that continue to grow year after year and require trimming, separating, and sometimes winterizing.
Vegetable garden, in particular, can quickly get overwhelming. Using a garden planner of sorts in advance can help you layout your garden and give you an idea of how much you should plant.
Seeds vs Seedlings
Determining whether to start your garden from seed or seedling (or in some cases even maturing perennials) is important as well. Colder climates may see you leaning towards either starting seeds indoors purchasing well-started seedlings to help get a head start on a shorter growing season.
Seeds are much more budget-friendly, but starting your own in a protected area can be time-consuming- and takes up quite a bit of room overall. It’s also easy to overplant when working with seeds and will require you to thin your plants eventually. This is a great way, however, to start learning about growth habits and get into a regular care routine!
Most perennials are best bought started from a nursery, or even collected from friends who may have separated mature plants. You may also find the local garden swap meets, or even look online for gardeners selling their plant progeny for a price point much lower than a commercial garden center.
Plants to Consider for Beginning Gardeners
Although the following list is fairly simple in nature, it provides a great variety of choices to help get you started in any growing zone. If these are not to your liking, visit your local extension office to discuss which plants might be best for your area and easy to grow.
Annuals generally die after the first frost and need to be replanted year after year. They are fun to keep as they provide bright, long-blooming splashes of color and texture that can be planted in garden beds and containers. These are all easy to grow and simply require water and sunlight to continually bloom.
- Pansies are fun, cool weather lovers that can last for the majority of the year when protected from the worst of the summer heat. They look great in containers and come in a huge variety of colors.
- Sweet Alyssum, Dianthus, and vinca vines provide splashes of bright white, red, and violets as well as allow for interesting textures and greenery amongst your gardens. Warmer climates may see these reseed themselves from year to year as well.
- Snapdragons are a favorite for adults and children alike as their cuplike flowers look a bit like a dragon’s mouth and blooms in amazingly bright colors.
- Dusty miller, marigolds, and coleus provide interesting textures and colors and grow in mounding like habits to help fill spaces between other more permanent plantings. –
- Marigolds are known to reseed themselves in warm climates as well. Look for those species that have wide, ruffled flowers for added interest.
Vegetables and Fruits
If you want to start growing your own produce, pick some simple options to get started so you don’t find yourself overwhelmed with these fast-growing habits that begin producing more than you can handle. Once you have an idea of how much each plant can produce and how you are harvesting and storing what you pick you can begin planning to add more.
- Salad greens, radishes, carrots, and beets are easy seeds to sow and grow quickly – often offering more than one harvest.
- Green beans, peas, cucumbers, and zucchini or other squash varieties can be grown upwards on trellises or arbors and will provide a long-lasting harvest as well.
- Strawberries are a favorite fruit that grows in abundance and can be planted in baskets or pots just as easily in the ground without affecting the harvestable amount.
Perennials come back year after year, and if a colorful, large perennial garden is part of your landscaping dream, keep in mind the long term care of the plants you want to include in your vision. Choose small areas of your garden to work within instead of trying to fill all your spots at once, and keep in mind that most perennials have a mature width and height- something you need to consider when spacing your plants out.
- Rudbeckia, coneflowers, and coreopsis are both tall, bright, and long-lasting. Variances in color are also available and serve as an excellent backdrop along fences or building siding. Both may ‘move’ locations as they are self-seeding.
- Salvia comes in a wide variety of colors and species types to grow in just about any climate. The long-lasting blooms are often a bright blue or purple and you can encourage a second bloom by cutting them after the first flush.
- Sedum is an excellent choice for ground covers or even larger, bushier options for bright later summer blooms. These grow larger each year and are incredibly tolerant of most conditions.
- Peonies are early spring bloomers that create a large mound of vegetation and hold huge colorful blooms. They grow with very little care and come back year after year even when neglected.
- Iris and daylily species offer a HUGE variety of colors and bloom times. These plants grow from tubers and can withstand neglect and most weather conditions- including wet and dry soils. Look for those that have varying bloom time to plant together for color through the whole growing season.
Step Four: When to Plant
Knowing when to plant has a lot to do with your growing zone, and your own observations and weather tracking. Planting annuals after fear of the last frost is best, but if you have plants in the ground earlier than this, you can also place a bell jar or cold frame over them to help keep the soils warm and tender plants protected.
Perennials will do much better no matter what time of year you put them in the ground. In fact, fall planting or early spring planting is often best to allow their roots to go into or out of dormancy naturally. The main concern is to never allow their rooting system to go completely dry, or freeze. If planting in the summer, be sure to water well in well-draining soil to avoid the worst of transplant shock that may occur.
Step Five: Plant Care
Plant care is why new gardeners should start small. Once your plants begin to grow, you need to know how to keep them cared for to get the best blooms and produce from them. Luckily, most plants themselves require very little hands-on maintenance, but an awareness of their needs is a must.
Obviously, plants need water to survive. Morning is often the best time to water your plants as it allows them to uptake what they need for preparation of the heat of the day. Always try to water from ground level as well, and keep in mind that newly planted vegetation, as well as young plants, have shallow roots and require more watering than mature plants.
Allow the top few inches of soil to dry out between waterings, and be sure water does not sit at the root of your plant to avoid rot.
Even though well-amended soils will need very little in the way of nutrient addition upon initial planting, over time you may want to apply specific fertilizers for production and growth through the season. Nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium are building blocks of vegetation, and the addition of slow-release fertilizers that contain these nutrients support plant growth.
Rich composts can also be used to help raise nutrient levels at any time, and consider quick release options as your plants begin to produce flowers or fruits and veggies to help feed this step in their maturity.
All your watering, soil care, and fertilization will also feed unwanted vegetation- such as weed seeds and sprouts brought by visiting birds or found lying dormant in the soil. The best way to stay on top of these fast-growing plants is to visit your gardens regularly and pull or till them as they appear. You don’t want to wait too long to address the issue since their roots systems can quickly become overbearing and begin to take up nutrients and water vital to your plants.
Insect and Disease Control
Insects and diseases are unfortunately part of the cycle of most vegetative life. Luckily these do not often create too much havoc, but the potential remains to cause serious problems if not addressed.
The important thing is to catch any issues as they begin to avoid damage to your plants, which requires you to keep a regular eye on your gardens. There are many chemicals, and non-chemical options you can use to help keep your gardens insect and disease free. Just be sure to apply as directed and try to do so in the late evening to avoid poisoning beneficial insects, that are more active during the day.
Starting a garden is a great way to get out in the open, enjoy the outdoors, and surround yourself with greenery and beauty. You also can easily grow your own fresh produce to save on money and influence healthier eating habits.
To get started, start simply with an area and idea in mind and work towards building the garden beds you desire before putting them to good use. The more familiar you become with gardening, the more you can add and grow!
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