Getting started with gardening at home (A Detailed Guide)

Getting started with gardening is one of the most rewarding things you can do in your life. Getting your hands dirty is good for everyone, whether you start a flower or vegetable garden.

Gardening at home can be scary if you’ve never done it before. But that’s not necessary.

It doesn’t have to be hard, though. If you divide your project into easy-to-handle steps, you can start gardening at your own pace.

Because of your hard work, you’ll soon be able to enjoy beautiful views, tasty foods, and colorful flowers.

The following steps will help you start from scratch, but if you have something specific, you could also use a garden plan.

Determine your climate zone

The key to getting started with gardening at home success is putting the right plant in the right place at the right time. To do this, you must know what crops do well in your area and when to plant them.

The USDA has a map of plant hardiness zones that can be searched by ZIP code.

The map divides the country into 13 zones based on how cold it gets on average each year.

Find your zone and learn about the fruits, vegetables, flowers, and herbs that grow well there. International hardiness zone maps can help you if you don’t live in the U.S.

Once you know your climate zone, you can look up the estimated dates of the first and last frosts to determine how long your growing season will be.

Now, when you go to a garden center near you, you can look for plants with the number of your hardiness zone written on them.

Look at the number of “days to maturity” when you buy seeds and compare it to the length of your growing season.

Pick the right location.

First, choose a space that is fairly flat and drains well. Your plants won’t do well in water that stays in one place.

If you can, choose a place close to the house when getting started with gardening at home.

If your garden is easy to see, you’ll be more likely to notice problems like drooping plants or leaves that have been eaten by pests early on, giving you time to fix them before they get out of hand.

If your garden is close to your house or a path, it’s also easy to grab a handful of herbs when you’re cooking or pick ripe tomatoes when they’re at their best.

When choosing your site, look for a spot with six to eight hours of full sun. Most fruits and vegetables, like peppers, tomatoes, and melons, need full sun to grow and give you a lot of food.

Even if your space doesn’t get full sun, you can still grow lettuce, kale, and many herbs. Know that the space may get different amounts of sunlight at different times.

When the leaves appear on deciduous trees in the spring, a garden spot that gets full sun in December may become shady.

Also, it will make your life much easier if you put your in-ground garden near a water source. Every week, a garden needs about an inch of water.

When it’s dry, you’ll need to help Mother Nature water the garden. You won’t want to drag a hose across the lawn when that happens.

Think about the size of the garden too. If you’ve never gardened before, you might want to keep your first garden in the ground small.

Lastly, remember that shrubs, trees, and other plants already close to your garden compete with your vegetables and herbs for water and nutrients.

Don’t plant near black walnut trees because they have a poison that kills plants, including vegetables.

Choosing Vegetables

If you are getting started with gardening at home, choose vegetables that are easy to grow and produce a lot. We’ve listed ten easy vegetables below.

It would help if you also talked to the Cooperative Extension Service in your state to find out what plants do best in your area.

For example, if you live in a place where it gets very hot, it might be hard to grow vegetables that do better in cooler weather.

Top 10 Easy Vegetables (Click on the name of a vegetable to see its full Growing Guide):

  • Lettuce
  • Cucumbers
  • Green beans
  • Radishes
  • Tomatoes (bush variety or cherry are easiest)
  • Zucchini
  • Peppers
  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Kale, Chard, or Spinach
  • Peas
  • Mix in flowers like marigolds, which keep pests away, draw pollinators and add color.

Here are five ways to choose vegetables:

  1. Pick foods that you and your family like. If no one likes brussels sprouts, growing them is no point. But if your kids like green beans, you should try harder to grow a big crop.
  2. Before getting started with gardening at home, think about how many veggies your family will eat. Be careful not to plant too many things because taking care of many plants will only wear you out. (You could also give any extra vegetables to friends, family, or the local soup kitchen.)
  3. Instead of cabbage or carrots, which are easy to find, you might want to grow tomatillos. Also, some vegetables taste much better gardening at home. It’s almost a shame not to think about them. Lettuce and tomatoes come to mind. Also, herbs grown at home cost much less than those bought at the store.
  4. Be ready to take care of your plants while they are growing. Are you taking a trip this summer? Remember that the middle of summer is when tomatoes and zucchinis grow the best. If you go away for part of the summer, someone needs to take care of your crops, or they will die. Or, you could grow lettuce, kale, peas, and root vegetables when the weather is cooler, like in late spring and early fall.
  5. Use seeds of good quality. Seed packets are cheaper than single plants, but you’ve wasted your money and time if the seeds don’t grow. If you spend a few extra cents on seeds in the spring, you will get more crops at harvest time.

Grow the foods you love.

What are your favorite foods? Depending on your answer, you’ll know what to plant in your vegetable garden.

You should also think about a few other things when deciding what to grow when getting started with gardening at home.

Choose between different kinds.

Pay close attention to what the label, tag, or packet says about the seeds. Each kind of vegetable has its own set of qualities.

Some plants are small enough to grow in pots or small gardens while other varieties are more resistant to diseases, may give better yields, or can handle heat or cold better.

Start by choosing vegetables you like to eat, then look into how big they get and how much care they need.

Productivity

Think about how much you and your family will eat and how likely you will freeze, can, or give away extra food. Then think about how many seeds or plants you really need to plant.

A common mistake that new gardeners make is to plant too much. Vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, and squash keep giving all season long, so you might not need as many plants as you think.

Other vegetables, like carrots, radishes, and corn, can only be picked once before they need to be planted again.

Successive Crops

While gardening at home, if you plant both cool-weather and warm-weather vegetables, you’ll be able to pick herbs and vegetables all through the spring, summer, and fall.

Plant lettuce, greens (like arugula), peas, radishes, carrots, and broccoli in early spring.

After you’ve picked your cool-weather crops, you can plant crops that do well in hot weather, like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and herbs. You can pick potatoes, cabbage, and kale in the fall.

Plan Your Garden Beds

The third step to getting started with gardening is to choose the type and size of garden bed once you know where you want your garden(s).

Raised beds look nice and might make easier gardening at home, but they dry out faster. In places that are very dry, sunken beds can be used to collect what little water there is.

Instead of planting your plants in single rows, think about planting them in blocks or beds. Beds should be 3 to 4 feet wide, so you can reach the middle from either side.

Beds shouldn’t be more than 10 feet long, so you don’t step in them and pack down the soil.

Place the plants in the garden beds in rows or a grid. The goal is to make as few paths as possible and grow as much as possible.

You save time and money by only adding fertilizer and soil amendments to the planting area. Use companion plants to bring in good bugs and increase your harvest when gardening at home.

Getting started with a small garden can make starting feel easy. Make sure each plant has enough room to grow. The seeds and seedlings are very small, but the plants can grow to be very big.

Plants can’t grow well when there are too many of them. Guess what! A small garden that is well taken care of can produce as much or more than a large garden that isn’t.

Most beds are rectangular or square, but you can make any shape you want as long as you can build it.

Most raised bed kits come in the shape of a rectangle, but you can also plant your garden in things like old water tanks for livestock or pieces of drain pipe that you find.

Vertical Gardening

You can grow more crops in less space if you grow them up instead of out. “How to Grow More Vegetables, Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains, and Other Crops Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine” is the best book I’ve found on the subject so far.

I use a trellis, a fence, or some other method to vertically grow my tomatoes, beans, peas, cucumbers, and sometimes other crops.

What if your yard doesn’t have much room to grow things? If you want to start a garden, you could use grow bags or containers.

Terracotta flower pots tend to dry out quickly, but self-watering containers are much more forgiving.

Vertical planters like GreenStalk are a great way to grow a lot of plants in a small space. They have a watering system with steps so that the whole growing area gets the same amount of water.

Get some basic tools for gardening.

tools for starting a garden
Garden tools requirements

When getting started with gardening at home, you’ll need to buy at least a strong shovel and a pair of gloves.

But there are a few other tools that might come in handy: a potting soil scoop to easily fill pots and planters, a standard kitchen knife to make precise cuts when harvesting vegetables, a battery-powered or rechargeable cordless drill to make drainage holes when turning found objects into planters, a hori hori knife for dividing roots and other rough garden tasks, hand pruners to cut stems and branches up to a half-inch in diameter, and gloves. Basic gardening equipment includes:

  • Garden hoe Scuffle hoe
  • Dirt rake Leaf rake
  • Garden Shovel or D handle Shovel Hand tools

Check your soil and make it better

Get a soil test done through your county cooperative extension office to find out more about your soil. They’ll show you how to do things: How much soil to send from which parts of the garden and when to get samples.

You’ll have to wait about two weeks for the results, which will tell you what your soil is missing and how to fix it.

You can also use a do-it-yourself kit. My advice is o seek a professional if you are getting started with gardening at home.

The kit is not complex. It may not be as detailed but will give you a general idea of the nutrient levels in your soil.

Residential soil almost always needs a boost, especially when the topsoil has been stripped away, which can happen when a new house is built.

Your soil may not have enough of the things plants need to grow, and it may also drain poorly or be packed down.

Usually, the answer is easy: Add organic matter. When you dig or till a new bed, add a 2- to 3-inch layer of compost, rotting leaves, dry grass clippings, or old manure.

If you don’t want to dig or are working with an existing bed, leave the organic matter on the surface, where it will eventually turn into humus (organic material). Most of the work of mixing humus into the soil will be done by earthworms.

Get your plant beds ready.

Before sowing or planting in new beds, loosening the soil makes it easier for roots to grow and get the water and nutrients they need.

There are two ways to do this while getting started with gardening at home: with a machine like a rototiller or by digging with your hands. The first method works well when you need to mix in a lot of changes.

But it’s easy to do too much, hurting the soil’s structure. Small beds are easier to get ready by digging.

No matter what, you should only work the soil when it is wet enough to form a loose ball in your fist but dry enough that the ball will fall apart when you drop it.

When the soil is too dry, it’s harder to dig, and when it’s too wet, you can damage how the soil is put together.

With a spade or spading fork, gently mix the organic matter from Step 4 into the top 6 to 8 inches of soil.

Walking on beds compacts the soil. Put down temporary plywood boards to spread your weight evenly.

If you start with sod, you can either cut it up and use it again, till it in, or cover it with wet newspaper or cardboard and build a bed on top of that.

The best time to get ready is in the fall, but don’t let that stop you from beginning in the spring.

Most plants like soil that is deep, well-drained, and full of organic matter. To make good vegetables and fruit, plant roots need good garden soil.

If you start a garden, you’ll learn to value healthy soil more as it gets better each year. Healthy, thriving soil means healthy, thriving plants naturally resistant to disease and pests and providing more nutrition.

Every year, I add a variety of organic matter, such as compost, worm castings, and mulch. In the post “Adding Worms to Raised Beds,” you can find out more about building soil.

Start to plant

Some plants, like pansies and kale, can handle the cold, so you can plant them in the fall or late winter.

On the other hand, tomatoes and most annual flowers like it warm, so don’t plant them until your area is no longer at risk of frost.

Word of advice for these getting started with gardening at home, plant perennials in the middle of spring and the middle of fall.

Many annuals grow easily from seeds planted right in the garden. Take the time to read the seed packet to find out when, how deep, and how far apart to plant the seeds.

If you’re a beginner who likes to try new things, you can get a jump on the growing season by starting seeds indoors a few weeks before the last frost date.

You can buy seed-starting soil mixes, and containers or flats made just for seedlings at garden centers.

Follow the directions on the seed packet and put the pots under grow lights or a sunny windowsill. Focus on keeping the seeds and seedlings moist, but not wet, or they may rot.

Buying young plants, called set plants or transplants, is an easier way to start a garden. Follow the instructions on the tag to dig holes in your ready-made bed.

To get the plants out of the pot, push up from the bottom. If the roots have grown into a big ball, which is called “root-bound,” separate some of the outer roots with an old fork or your fingers before putting the plant in the hole. Pat soil around the roots, and then drench the soil with water.

Nurture Your Garden

“The best fertilizer is the gardener’s shadow,” says an old saying. If you don’t have time to take care of your plants, you might be better off going to a farmer’s market or sticking to plants that don’t need much care, like sprouts or herbs.

Depending on how big your plants are, it could take anywhere from a few minutes a day to a full-time job to care for them.

Use a scuffle hoe to get rid of weeds when they are small, or use them as ground cover, food, or medicine.

During the growing season, plants need about an inch of water per week as a general rule. If it doesn’t rain, you will have to water your garden yourself.

Overwatering is just as bad as not watering enough, so check the soil before you turn on the tap or use the rain barrels.

When the soil is too wet, seeds and roots can rot. While watering, you can add foliar feeds like compost tea to give plants more nutrients and healthy microbes.

Bugs are more likely to attack plants that are stressed or lacking in some way. If your plants are healthy and well-fed, pests shouldn’t bother them much.

Most problems can be solved in a natural way. Why would you go to all the trouble to grow your own food and then put poisons on it?

Read More:

How To Grow Cucumbers In Pots: When, Where, And How

Weeds Day Out! How To Keep Weeds Out Of Your Raised Garden Bed

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