Tips on Gardening for Beginners
Are you new to gardening and don’t know where to start? Gardening seems overwhelming when you start out. In this post, we give tips on gardening for beginners.
Location, Location, Location
Location is everything when gardening. Make sure you place your garden in the optimal area for success.
Ideally, the location should receive at least six hours of sunlight for warm-season plants. Cool-season crops do fine with four to six hours.
Locating your garden close to your house allows you to check on your crops easily. With the garden close, spending a little time in it each day is feasible.
A garden fails without water. Ensure your garden is within reach of a water source.
Next, determine what kind of garden you will have. Will you have raised garden beds or an in-ground garden?
Raised Beds vs In-Ground Gardening
Raised beds are gardening areas made out of just about anything that holds dirt: wood, plastic, metal, masonry, etc. They are usually 6 to 8 inches high, 3 to 6 feet wide, and 6 to 8 feet long. Raised beds have many benefits.
- Raised beds minimize soil compaction. Because the beds contain borders, people do not walk through them, reducing soil compaction.
- Raised beds are compact and easily made, allowing you to garden just about anywhere. You just need four sides and some soil.
- Adding soil amendments is much easier in a raised bed. If a crop needs acidic soil, it is simple to add the necessary amendments without causing the soil in another bed to become acidic.
- Because the soil in raised beds is above the ground, it warms up quicker than in-ground soil. This warming means you get a longer growing season.
- Raised beds require less weeding over time.
In-ground gardens are what you think of when you think of traditional gardens. There are benefits to these types of gardens as well.
- In-ground gardens are not associated with a lot of expense. The soil is already there, and containers or boxes do not have to be made.
- An in-ground garden doesn’t dry out as fast as a raised bed. If water conservation is an issue, in-ground gardening is a better bet.
- An in-ground garden is easier to relocate than a raised bed.
- Some crops are better suited for in-ground beds. Vining plants like pumpkins, watermelons, and cucumbers need room to stretch out. Raised beds don’t give them that much room.
Once you decide between raised, in-ground, or a mixture of both, it is time to think about how to arrange your crops.
Square Foot Gardening or Rows
Traditional gardening is planting your crops in rows. However, a new and space-saving gardening technique started in the 1980s, square foot gardening.
This type of gardening is a game-changer. It allows you to plant more crops in a given space than gardening in rows.
In a square foot garden, carrots grow nine per square foot, compared to four every foot in rows. For a 4×8 bed, you harvest 288 carrots. The row gardening produces only 128 in the same space.
Square foot gardening shades out weeds by filling up space quickly. A downside to square foot gardening is a possible increase in plant disease due to the close spacing. The plants do not dry quickly after rain. This excess moisture makes plants susceptible to diseases such as powdery mildew.
Raised beds and square foot gardening seem to go hand-in-hand. This combination is not necessary. Square foot gardening can be achieved in an in-ground garden as well.
Selecting the Crops
Always aim for growing what your family eats and not planting too much. Nothing is more disappointing than growing crops and seeing them waste away in the refrigerator. This website offers an informative chart on the number of plants to grow for a family of four.
The easiest time of year to get started is the summer. Warm-season fruits and vegetables grow fast, and you are rewarded quicker than with cool-season vegetables.
Design Your Garden
It’s time to get out that graph paper and get to work. Plan out your garden.
Below is a picture of our raised bed garden. Each square on the graph paper equals a square foot. Since asparagus is a perennial, it has its permanent bed, as does the garlic. The one on the left is before we chose our crops. The right is the tentative plan for this year.
Seeds or Plants
When you first start gardening, I suggest purchasing starter plants instead of starting seeds indoors. Starting seeds indoors costs a bit to set up and takes a lot of thought and preparation.
Research the varieties of crops that grow best in your area. If you choose to go with seeds, always buy from reputable seed companies.
Last Frost Date and First Frost Date
The most important dates to know when gardening are the last average frost date and the first average frost date in your area.
Most planting times are based on these two dates. The Farmer’s Almanac website allows you to look up your frost dates.
Peppers, for example, suffer significantly from frost. These crops need to be planted two to three weeks after the threat of frost has passed.
The soil is such an important and often overlooked part of the garden. Some plants do better in acidic soil, whereas others do not. All plants love nitrogen and need it to remain healthy. These needs are why knowing your soil is so essential.
Be sure to perform a soil test to know what nutrients are available to the plants.
Performing a Soil Test
- Take samples of soil from various areas of your garden.
- Mix them together, breaking up any clumps and removing rocks.
- Place the dirt in a ziptop bag.
- Send or take the soil to your local agriculture extension office.
- They will send you the results.
You can add the appropriate amendments to the soil based on the results.
Mulching Your Garden
Mulching not only reduces weeds but also helps the soil retain moisture. Examples of mulch are straw, leaves, dried lawn clippings, and pine straw. Pine straw may add acid to the soil, so make sure it is appropriate to use with your crops.
Mulch between rows and around the plants. Add mulch to about two to three inches in depth, avoid piling it against the stems of your plants.
Weeding Your Garden
Weeds compete with the crops for the nutrients in the soil. Controlling the number of weeds present is vital in creating a healthy crop environment.
Herbicides used on weeds affect other plants nearby. Use these chemicals with caution.
I set aside time one day a week to pull the weeds between the plants. This schedule allows me to stay on top of them.
Watering Your Garden
The amount of water needed for your garden varies depending on rainfall, soil type, and the slope of the garden. If your garden is sloped, more water runs off than stays in the garden area.
Wet foliage increases the chance of diseases. Water in the morning so the foliage dries throughout the day.
Remember, raised beds dry out faster than an in-ground garden and need watering more often.
Pollinators in the Garden
Many crops need pollen transferred from the male flowers to the female flowers to produce fruit. This task is best left up to the insects who do this naturally.
Bees are excellent pollinators. To attract them, consider planting flowers interspersed and along the edges of your garden.
Starting a garden seems like a daunting task at first. Every gardener will tell you that gardening is a constant learning experience. Some years are great. Some are not. However, every year offers new opportunities to grow and learn.
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Tips on Gardening for Beginners
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I’ve always loved gardening and recently started gardening full-time. I also enjoy tending to our chickens, dogs, and other family pets (a bird, a snake, and rabbits).