How To Start a Garden For Newbies

Creating a beautiful garden out of nothing is intimidating at first. It certainly was for me. I had read some books and all of the information was overwhelming. When you start researching, it is easy to panic. It seems like you need to know so much science and the details can make it hard to know where to start. In this article, I hope to help simplify the process and encourage others to try their hand at it.

Planning

I’m not a big planner. I am an Aries, so I prefer to run out and DO things. But, when it comes to gardening, a little planning helps out a lot. First thing’s first, find out what your hardiness zone is. This will help you figure out when and what to plant. Just do a Google search for USDA Hardiness Zone Map and you can figure out which one you are in. 

This is really helpful information for deciding when you need to get the ball rolling. Plant too early and your plants could freeze. Plant too late and the summer heat might wipe everything out. 

I highly recommend signing up for information with your local ag extension office and master gardeners program. Those guys are the BEST and have all of the information you need. For example, the planting schedule for your location is a lifesaver. They can also help you get a soil test done.

Do some research to find out what plants are native to your area and what varieties of plants do well there. I like planting things that are native because the upkeep on plant babies that aren’t meant to be there can get overwhelming. With my ADHD brain, minimizing the amount of consistent maintenance is important.

Once you know what your zone is and what grows best locally, it is time to decide how big the garden should be. Remember, the bigger the garden is, the more work and resources it needs. If you want to start slow and keep it relatively easy to care for, plan on a small space. I went way too big when I first started and it quickly got out of hand. 

You need to decide what your gardening goals are. Do you want to have a beautiful yard and help ground yourself mentally and spiritually? Do you want to provide food for yourself? Are you just wanting to fill in an ugly bald spot in the in front of your house? 

Personally, I am a chaotic gardener that is heavy into DIY. As such, I like to interplant food, flowers, herbs, teas, medicines, and ornamental plants all over my property. I’m also into foraging, so I leave space for certain beneficial weeds to grow.

Draw your plan out by creating a map. Putting your vision down on paper can keep from getting overwhelmed. Include as many details as you can about the beds and what plants go where.

Location

In order to understand where things will grow best, I recommend spending a certain amount of time paying attention to the sun/shade ratio in your yard. Go out there at different times of day and pay attention to what is in the sun at what times. Take pictures. You need a good idea of what the different areas look like in the morning, afternoon, and evening. 

Also, pay attention to the soil conditions in different areas. I have a low spot in my yard that water tends to puddle up in and stays pretty damp. Not good for plants that require good drainage.

If you can’t afford to have the soil test done or buy the different testing devices on the market, there are other ways to get a good idea of what you’re working with. Pay attention to what plants grow in your yard already. Also, what grows around your neighborhood. Near my house, all of the yards have day lilies, irises, roses, ect… All of the plants that prefer slightly acidic soil with good drainage. 

Dig up some of the soil and play with it. Really pay attention to its texture. What is it like when it’s wet? What about when it is dry? How long does it take to dry completely? Armed with all of this knowledge, you can make an informed decision about where to put things. 

Photo by Gabriel Jimenez on Unsplash

Preparing the site

Materials:

  • Outline materials (ex: kite string and stakes)
  • Shovel 
  • Garden hoe with a flat side and a pronged side
  • Tiller (optional)
  • Metal bow (or garden) rake
  • Soil amendments

Once you get all of the logistical stuff out of the way, it is time for the real work. Use the outlining materials to lay it all out. I drive stakes into the ground every few feet around the edge of the garden space. Then, I take a kite string and tie it to the top of one of the stakes and run it to each of the other stakes, loop it around, and keep going until I wind up back where I started. Then I tie the end. 

Once that is done, you want to take your shovel and dig up a kind of trench going around the edge just inside the kite string. Then take the garden hoe and the rake, break up and remove any grass that is within the outline and throw it into your compost pile. Now you can remove the outline materials.

At this point, if you have a tiller, this is a lot easier for you. It is time to till up the garden. If you don’t have a tiller handy, it’s a lot of work, but you can get the job done with the garden hoe and rake. You want to bust up the soil pretty deeply. Remember, you need to work amendments and air as far down into the soil as you can. 

Next, you are going to add amendments so that your plants will have a strong foundation to grow from. This is where knowing about your soil composition comes in handy. I have a lot of clay in my yard, so I put a layer of sand on there and then a thick layer of compost. Then, I till it all up again to really work it in.

After getting it all mixed, if you’re going to install some kind of garden edging, this is the time.

Photo by Greta Hoffman : https://www.pexels.com/photo/woman-wearing-denim-overalls-and-wellies-gardening-7728877/

Planting

Follow the planting instructions for everything you are going to grow. Get out that map you made and start putting everything into the ground. When I use transplants, I like to dig the hole a little deeper than required, put some plant food into the bottom of the hole, cover it with a little bit of soil, add the plant, fill in, and water deeply. If you are going to use mulch (which I highly recommend), apply at least a 2” layer as soon as you get it all planted.

Do some research and work out a feeding schedule. Some plants thrive in pretty poor soil and don’t need much fertilizing at all. Some plants are heavy feeders and require a consistent schedule. Same thing with watering. Figure out what works best for you and create a plan. 

After that, it is maintenance. The only real rule that you HAVE to follow is “go into your garden and look over your plants EVERY day”. I know, I know. My fellow rebellious teenagers-at-heart are thinking “you can’t tell me what to do!” and you’re not wrong. 

However, when you don’t spend time in your garden every day, bad things happen to your plants. It is almost shocking how fast everything can descend into total chaos. Squash bugs, powdery mildew, homicidal weeds and the like are just waiting for you to be inattentive. They can sense weakness and will lay waste to your happy place in no time. 

Don’t risk it. Get out there and spend time with your plant babies. Look them over. Talk to them. 

Photo by Dmitry Dreyer on Unsplash

Conclusion

Starting a garden is both exciting and intimidating. I hope that this directive article helped make the process less overwhelming. With a little planning and a lot of flexibility, you can have a beautiful garden space in no time.

Sources

Check out these sources to get a lot more information.

Cutler, Karan Davis. Burpee- The Complete Vegetable & Herb Gardener: a guide to growing your garden organically, Macmillan/Burpee. 1997, New York.

Catherine Boeckmann. “Vegetable Gardening for Beginners”. Almanac, www.https://www.almanac.com/vegetable-gardening-for-beginners.

Adam Russell. “Want to start a vegetable garden?”. Agrilife TODAY, www.https://agrilifetoday.tamu.edu/2020/04/03/want-to-start-a-vegetable-garden/.

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