So you want to start a garden? But you don’t quite know where to start or what to do first?
With any new skill, there can be a significant learning curve and this is especially true for gardening. There is so much to learn and so many variables. Throw in some temperature changes and insects and whew, and gardening for beginners can be a wild ride.
I have been gardening in every house or apartment I have lived in for the last 15 years. From the heat of Tucson, Arizona to the current place where I call home, Boise Idaho.
I’m pretty good at taking a complicated subject, such as gardening, and boiling it down to just the simple essentials so that it feels completely doable for someone who is brand new! So keep reading and by the end, not only will you know what to do, but you will feel confident that you CAN DO IT!
If I was going to start a brand new garden as a brand new beginner, the first thing I would do is pull out a sheet of paper and write down a few notes as follows:
- What is my goal for my garden? To grow food, to grow flowers, to create beauty, to connect with nature? Write down what you are trying to accomplish at the top of the page. I, myself, primarily am interested in growing food for my family so that is what I will be talking about here. Feel free to substitute your gardening goal to fit your needs. If you are curious about why other people choose to garden, check out my post about the top 3 reasons that people garden here.
- Next, write down where you are going to grow your garden. Are you going to plant it in your backyard, pots on a balcony, a community garden, raised beds that you are going to build, etc.? Bonus points if you draw a picture of the area you have for your garden.
- Write down what you are going to plant. Are you going to grow primarily vegetables? If so, what types of vegetables do you like to eat? What grows in your climate? Are you going to grow flowers and herbs? If so, what kinds? I recommend starting with what you love to eat and I also recommend starting with only a few. One of the biggest problems new gardeners have is they start off planting the entire produce section and then quickly get overwhelmed. Start small!
- Write down your frost dates. You will probably have to Google this, but you want to know when your average last frost is in the spring and when your average first frost is in the winter. Here is a link to a fantastic frost date calculator from Dave’sgarden.com. Just plug in your zip code and it will tell you your average dates AND the dates when you are almost guaranteed to not have frost (for those of us that play on the safe side. Hand raised!)
- Write down how much you are planning to spend. Obviously, you can spend a little or a LOT on a garden. And believe me, some people go all out. Such as the gardener who wrote a book called “The $64 Tomato.” You will have to spend some money at least to get some seeds. Write down how much you are wanting to spend for a ballpark figure. Because gardening for beginners can be so overwhelming, stores are more than happy to sell you all sorts of things that you don’t actually need. Buyer beware!
Now that you have a plan written out, let’s put that plan into action!
First things first, go ahead and download my free gardening cheat sheet here. This one-page document is going to teach you everything you need to know in a no-fuss, uncomplicated, easy to remember way.
All on one page!
Second thing, you will need to buy some seeds (and/or plants if you want to go that route). Most people go to their local big box store and buy things right off the shelf. There is certainly nothing wrong with that. That’s exactly what I did in the beginning too.
Now, I prefer to get my seeds from mail order companies because I can better find what I am looking for. Specifically, heirloom seeds. This means that they have not been genetically modified and are open-pollinated. You can read more about heirloom seeds and why this is important here.
If you don’t care about heirloom seeds, then, by all means, buy your seeds wherever you would like. If you would like to buy seeds from me, you can get them from my Etsy shop here. Or if you prefer, you can buy seeds from one of my favorite seed companies, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, here.
Once you have your cheat sheet and your seeds, make a list of when each item should be planted. Check your seed packets for information or the cheat sheet or online. Any of these options should give you a good ballpark range of when to plant each type. Arrange your list chronologically according to planting dates.
Then simply start planting on those dates! Pay attention to how deep they need to be planted, but most seeds are less fussy than you might think.
Now that your seeds are in the ground, keep them watered (but not overwatered) until they sprout. Then you can back off the water.
I usually take my hose with a sprayer attachment and water the sections once per day until the seedlings come up. Then, I usually do every other day until the plants are a couple of inches tall and then I back it off even more and water twice per week. Once it starts getting hot, I increase the watering as the temperatures rise.
Automatic watering systems are SUPER helpful (I can hardly keep things alive without them) but if you are on a budget, hand watering works great too. Or sprinkler attachments to the hose.
I distinctly remember my parents setting a kitchen timer to remind us to go out and move the hose on the garden. It was always a problem when someone forgot to do it. Good times, good times! Now you can just use the reminder feature on your phone to help you remember. Or I’m sure you could find an app to help as well. 😉
Once your little plants are up and growing (it’s so exciting to watch them start to sprout!), just keep tending them and weeding them.
If you want to plant seedlings from the nursery instead of seeds, follow the instructions on planting tomatoes in this post.
Here is the biggest take away that I want you to remember. Repeat after me.
GARDENING IS A PROCESS. I WILL LEARN SOMETHING EACH YEAR THAT I GROW A GARDEN.
I want you to focus on what you are LEARNING! The skills you are gaining, not on “failures” that happen.
Because they will happen. Heck, they still happen to me on a yearly basis.
During my last growing season, I had seeds that didn’t germinate (multiple types in fact), insects that I had never encountered before, and weeds that I had to do something about. This stuff happens to even the most experienced gardeners.
But I learn from each experience. And hopefully, do it better next time.
When it comes to gardening for beginners, the best teacher is EXPERIENCE. The reason why I am so confident in what I do now is because I have learned what works best for me and my style of gardening over YEARS of trial and error…emphasis on the error!
What I always encourage new gardeners to do is to START. Start with what excites you. Start with what you would LOVE to grow.
Get out there and get your hands dirty.
Sure you might have some things that don’t work out the way you were expecting. So what?
The best thing to do is to try and start learning now.
So what are you waiting for?
Go plant yourself a garden!!!
You’ve totally got this!