Have you ever wanted to start a garden but all the information was so overwhelming that you decided not to? Yeah, me too.
Professional and long-term gardeners mean well when they throw a ton of information at you but I think maybe they’ve forgotten what its like to be a new gardener and how scary it all is.
Well, I’m on my third year of gardening and I still feel overwhelmed by all the info.
I mean, there are quite literally HUNDREDS of ways to garden and everybody’s way is “the best”. How do you know what to do??
So Ive compiled a list of things that every beginner gardener should do before getting started.
1. Find out what zone you live in. You can find a map here. Once you find your zone, then you can Google “Zone X planting schedule”. Not all plants will grow in all zones and every zone has a different start date. When I started, I was looking for something to tell me “Everybody, plant your garden on March 15th” or something, but that simply doesn’t exist. Here in Texas (8A) I can put most of my plants out on Mar 22, but farther north, a gardener has to wait until May. This is probably THE most important piece of information.
2. Decide on a gardening method. There are many gardening methods. Some more complex than others. I have done Square Foot Gardening (SFG) for the past 2 years and I definitely recommend it, especially if you live on less than an acre of land. SFG allows you to plant more in less space and starts you out with perfect soil so you have less problems. You can read up on Square Foot Gardening at the Square Foot Gardening website or you can pick up the book on Amazon (note: if you choose to pick the book up used or at a library, make sure its the second, “All New” edition). This year I’m choosing to incorporate some Back To Eden gardening as well as some techniques I have picked up from Gardening Like A Ninja. Whatever method you choose, just focus primarily on one method your first year. Don’t try to mix and match, it will only confuse you. (Trust me on this!)
3. Start small. Pick only 3-5 plants that you want to grow. This allows you to focus completely on those plants and become an expert on them. If you start with too many, you can easily become overwhelmed by all the information. Every plant has different needs and it all begins to get jumbled pretty quick! Next year you can add a few more. Be sure to choose foods you normally eat so you can anticipate the harvest!
4. Pick easy plants. Some of my favorite easy, impossible to kill plants are Okra (if you live in a southern area), Beans, Lettuces (if you live in a cooler area), herbs and potatoes. Sweet potatoes are excellent too for warmer climates. I’ve had the worst luck with cucumbers and squash. They are prone to all kinds of pests and I’ve lost them both years. In addition, when you buy plants, try to find ones that are disease resistant. That will make your job easier!
5. Don’t be cheap. If you are going to do this, do it right, otherwise you probably wont be successful and you’ll easily become discouraged. On a budget? Then figure out how much you can do in that budget and work backwards. Maybe you can only afford one bed and 2 types of plants. That’s ok. At least you will do well with those 2 plants. That’s better than failing at 10! Factor in the cost of materials, soil, additives/fertilizer, seeds/plants, trellises/supports. Keep in mind that you may need to purchase things throughout the year such as specific fertilizers or you may need to get rid of some pests.
6. Don’t expect success. Yes, this may seem counter-productive but I’m serious. Please don’t start a garden expecting bushels of vegetables. It probably wont happen. And if it doesn’t happen, you’ll be discouraged. Consider your first year (or three!) as “garden college”. Its all about learning. And hey, if you get some produce, great! That will be a rewarding bonus!
7. Don’t be afraid to get help. Gardeners love to garden. And they love to talk about gardening. Once you’ve got the basics down, don’t be afraid to ask for help if you have a specific problem. Maybe you are struggling with a pest or your plants aren’t growing. Join a gardening Facebook group or, if you are lucky, a local gardening meeting, and ask the questions you have. Gardeners really do want other gardeners to have success!
8. Start early. May is not the time to think about starting a garden. Even in Northern areas, this is about the time to be actually putting things in the ground, not just starting to plan. The best time to start planning is actually Dec/Jan. This gives you PLENTY of time to plan, research and make decisions. Are you reading this post in May? That’s ok. Why don’t you plant some indoor herbs this year and go ahead and start planning next year? I know that’s not what you wanted to read, but trust me, putting plants out on the edge of summer will only lead to sad plants, lots of pests and a very frustrated gardener. The only exceptions to this rule are hot plants like Okra or Sweet Potatoes or maybe Peppers if you live in a more Southern area.
9. Find a garden blogger that lives in your area and follow their posts and suggestions. Live in Texas? Don’t follow someone from Idaho. They will plant completely different plants at completely different times and this will only confuse you further.
10. Just do it! Once you’ve found your region, picked your gardening style, decided on the plants you want and are following some local/regional gardeners then stop thinking about it and just do it. Here’s the thing, if you totally fail this year and don’t grow a single thing, then just turn over the soil, add some compost and start completely from scratch next year. You’ll learn quite a few lessons and you may decide you hate the gardening method you chose. So try a new one next year! Fortunately we live in a society that we don’t depend on our gardens, so you’re family probably won’t starve if you don’t grow any food this year. So don’t put the pressure of success and perfection on yourself. Consider yourself a gardening baby, and how many times do babies fail before mastering something? A LOT. You cant walk if you don’t fall down a few times.
11. HAVE FUN! Seriously, the best thing about gardening is getting out and digging in the soil and watching the plants grow. Even if you don’t grow a single veggie, just getting into the dirt is a major boost for the soul! Be sure to plant some pretty flowers too. The bees will love them and they will be sure to make you smile! (Not to mention, flowers grow easier than most veggies so you’ll have a better chance at growing something successfully!)
So what do you think? Do you feel ready to start a garden? Do you have any questions? I’d be happy to answer them in the comments or feel free to email me!