Gardening season has arrived! If you’ve always wanted to try out your green thumb but never knew where to begin, fear not: starting your own garden is a very doable endeavor if you make the necessary preparations and learn some basic principles. No matter the size or of your space, or your gardening ambitions, prepare to sow the seeds of success.
1. Get in your zone
Source: Forest Seedling Network
Before you start planning your garden, you need to figure out what Plant Hardiness Zone you’re in. Your zone, which is based on climate and lowest temperatures a given plant can withstand, will enable you to identify which plants grow best in your area and at what time of year.
2. Plan your layout
Now it’s time to think about what kind of plant life you want to grow; vegetables, flowers, a combination? Then use your knowledge about which zone you’re in along with these helpful tools to create a garden layout. If you know the size of space and how much precipitation you get (or you zone), you can use these sources to find a list of plants and a layout plan.
Make sure everything in your garden doesn’t harvest or bloom at the same time; you want a combination of early, mid, and late season vegetables or flowers. Once you’ve picked your plants, purchase seeds from a reputable seller or local nursery.
3. Get equipped
Stock up on essential garden tools: gloves, wheelbarrow, garden trowel, garden fork, pointed shovel, hose, pruning shears, watering can, gardening belt, and a bucket for harvest. Store them in a safe dry place so they don’t rust or chip. You may think of additional tools as you begin to garden, depending on your particular needs, but these will get you started.
4. Prep the plot
It’s time to prepare your plot for planting. If there’s existing lawn, remove it by slicing underneath and cutting it into small pieces. Kill any existing weeds. You can test the pH level of your soil by sending a sample to a lab or garden center. Add amendments as necessary to adjust the pH level (limestone and sulfur) and improve fertility (a layer of organic/compost material over the top).
5. Time to plant
Now for the fun part! Follow package instructions when planting seeds, which should tell you how deep to make the furrows and how far apart they need to be; some seeds can be scattered, others are best to plant in rows. Some can be directly sown into the ground while others are best started in a smaller container. Get more tips for planting seeds here.
Potted flowers need to be removed from the pots and placed in the ground, as described here. Dig the holes first, water the plants while they’re still in the pots, then remove them and and gently pull apart matted roots so they’ll spread in the ground. Add a bit of flower food to the bottom of the hole before planting.
6. Keep it wet
Keep your garden thriving with a proper watering routine. The frequency of watering will depend on the season and how much precipitation you get, as well as the needs of your particular plants.
Before watering, check the moistures of the soil with your hand. Use a watering wand, hose, or can depending on the size of the garden. In warm weather, water in the morning so plants can absorb before it evaporates in the heat. Make the soil damp (not soaked) to about 5 or 6” below the surface — and don’t overwater!
7. Cover with mulch
Covering soil with a couple inches of mulch will help it absorb water and keep weeds from growing. You can use everything from pine needles to cocoa hulls, depending on what’s planted in your garden. Check out this article for an overview of all mulch types so you can pick the best for your climate and plants.
8. Prune regularly
Pruning, or the selective removal of certain parts of the plant that are dead, diseased, or damaged, ensures healthy growth and flowering of your plants. Different types of plants need to be pruned at different times; most fruiting plants should be pruned when they are dormant, perennial plants need some pruning before or after their growing season, and flowers either during their dormant season or shortly after they flower.
Trees and shrubbed also need to be pruned to prevent overgrowth and for aesthetic reasons. Be sure to prune branches at a 45 degree angle, and don’t cut them too short.
9. Get rid of weeds
Weeds can steal soil nutrients from other plants- and they look messy! If you can manage it, weeding 10 minutes a day will keep you ahead of the curve and will stop weed roots from getting too big. Try to prevent weeds as much as possible with mulch and by aerating the soil.
Planting cover crops in the fall will help prevent spring and summer weeds; they’ll reduce the availability of soil, and they’ll also act as a barrier between your garden bed and weeds that do manage to grow.
10. Keep out pests
Pests can put a damper on your gardening fun, but there’s no need to resort to chemicals. Everything from a scattering of egg shells to a can of beer or sprinkling of baby powder can be used to keep out unwanted guests (flies, ants, slugs, etc.) Figure out what kind of invaders you’re dealing with and find the best natural solution for your situation here.
11. Harvest produce & cut flowers
Be sure to enjoy the fresh fruits, vegetables, and flowers that you’ve grown. Check out this guide for when to harvest fruits and vegetables, and how to tell when they’re ready. When cutting flowers for arrangements, remove branches from the back of flowering shrubs and perennials; cut only a few flowers at a time from smaller plants.
12. Prepare for winter
When the fall arrives, it’s time to put your garden to sleep and set it up to thrive in the spring, which largely involves cleaning and covering up. Cut back any dead or damaged branches and stems, and use them to make compost. Add a 6” layer of winter mulch after the ground freezes —this will keep the temperature even. Mulch bulb beds with evergreen branches to stop the soil from shifting and the bulbs from rising to the surface.
Few endeavors are as rewarding or as good for the soul as starting a garden, and it’s an ideal way to enjoy springtime in the great outdoors. Whether you use it as solo time to relax or make it a family affair, watching your garden bloom will bring much joy.