There are many reasons someone chooses to plant a garden. It may be because the rest of the neighborhood has one and their yard looks grim in comparison, they simply want to perk up their property, they want to use their plants to cook, or other reasons. Gardening can be very enjoyable and rewarding. It gets you outdoors, gets you active and in better shape, and gives you a sense of accomplishment. At the same time, it can be challenging for some people, leading them to let go of that dream. This does not have to be you. With some research, some great tips, and a plan, you can enjoy gardening, as well.
Decide what you want your dream garden to look like
You should not go into gardening haphazardly. You will be digging and upending some section of your yard. It is better to take the time to really think about what you want your garden to look like before starting. Look online or through some home and garden magazines for inspiration. Decide what you’d like to grow and where you want to grow it.
You may find it helpful to print out or cut out some pictures that you like and place them on a poster board. You can tape or glue each picture on the poster as you would like everything arranged. Whether you keep it simple with a list of what you want or you get creative with some pictures is up to you. The most important thing is to have a plan in mind.
Before you dive in to planting, you need to do some research. The following three items are very important contributors to a successful garden:
Studying what you want to plant
This is really, really important. Different plants require different levels of care and maintenance. Some do not grow in warm climates and others do not grow in cold ones. Find out how they grow and how much maintenance. If they require more than you have time to give, choose something else. Do not set yourself up for failure by choosing plants that you cannot take care of.
What grows well in your area?
Not everything grows well everywhere. Do some research online to find out what grows well in your area. You might speak with friends or family, research online, or check into your community’s social media pages for the answer.
It can be exciting to start a garden, but if you jump the gun before the earth is ready, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. If you plant too early, you could kill your plants before they even get a chance to come alive. Learn your areas frost dates: the last average spring frost and the first autumn frost date. This tells you when you can plant and when you should move your plants indoors or harvest them.
You need to have a plan. Here are a few places to start your planning:
1. Decide what to plant
Deciding what you want to plant is exciting. By this time, you have researched your area, so you should be able to pick out some good plants. Below are the three basic categories of plants to choose from- or choose all three.
If you want to beautify your yard, colorful flowers are a great way to do it. However, beauty is not the only thing flowers have to offer. In fact, many of them serve great purposes including natural insect repellant, lovely fragrances that can improve some mental health, and even make your air a little healthier to breathe. Look into the different flowers you can grow in your area and research what all they can do for you.
Herbs are used for a variety of purposes, including cooking, creating fragrances for your home and car, and repelling insects.
Growing vegetables is a great way to cut down grocery costs and feed your family more natural foods. It can also be a great hobby or side job. Whatever you choose to do with them, only plant what you can cook, sell, give away, or store safely away. If you end up with more than you planned and have no other way to get rid of them, take them to a church or charitable organization, or simply tell people in your community to come pick what they need. Many people like canning items, which you can do pretty easily once you research it.
- Great plants for beginners
If you are just beginning to garden, do not dive head first into the difficult to grow and maintain plants. Instead, start with some easy ones. You can always go for more difficult plants later. For now, here are a few to start with:
- Onions and peppers
There are some even simpler than those- you literally just throw the seed on bare soil and water them. These are another great way to start your gardening venture. Here are a few to get you started:
- Do not plant too much of one thing
Unless you will eat 300 carrots in a season, sell them, or give them away, do not plant enough to make that many. Instead, mix your garden up and plant a variety of items. This way, you are more likely to use what you plant.
2. When should I start planting?
For the most part, you do not want to plant anything outdoors until the last spring frost. However, it is always a good idea to start your seeds indoors about six weeks to two months prior to the last frost. This gives you a bit of a head start instead of having to wait until the optimal weather outside.
3. Choose a Location
Deciding where in your yard to plant is important. There are quite a few things to take into account when choosing your location. First, do not put it in a far corner of your yard that you never look at. You want to remember to take care of it, but that might not happen if you do not see it.
- Follow the Sun
Most flowers, especially your edible plants, need at least 6 hours of sunlight. To be sure that your plants get optimum sunlight, watch how the sun moves across your yard before you plant anything. Plant them in the path of the sun.
As a side note, not all plants grow best in full sunlight. Leafy green veggies need little sun or a little shade. While the general rule is to plant in full sunlight, it is always best to read any information that comes with your plants or seeds, or look it up online. Sometimes the garden center attendants can help but not all of them are gardeners or experts, so do not expect them to be.
- Close to water source
As important as sun is to the health of your plants, water is important, too. When you choose your location in the sun’s path, be sure that it is also close to a water source. Natural water would be best and the cheapest, but not everyone has a creek in their backyard. Thankfully, a water hose will do just fine as long as it can reach your garden.
- Companion Planting
Companion planting is an interesting way to help your garden grow better. Some plants complement others by providing nutrients to one another, creating combinations that keep pests away, or other important things. Check out the plants you chose to put in your garden. Are any of them great in combination with another? If so, be sure to plant them side by side.
Invest in Basic Gardening Tools
As you improve in your gardening- and decide if you really want to do it- you will likely find new tools that you want to try out. For now, just grab some basic tools, such as:
Though they are great for keeping your hands clean, it actually goes beyond that. Your hands can take a real beating digging, weeding, and everything else you will be doing. Invest in some quality gloves that fit you well enough to easily grasp things and that are tough enough to protect your hands. You want to find some that are both water resistant and breathable, and you want the cuffs to cover your wrists so you do not get scratched up there.
You will use pruners to keep your flowering beauties free from branches, green stems, and more. They should easily fit in your palm and should be sharpened consistently.
Hand trowels are excellent for digging up weeds, to dig into rocky soil, and to transport plants and herbs. Again, it should fit easily and comfortably in your palm. Those made from stainless are the most durable options.
- Container for tools
You do not want to leave your tools laying out in your garden, but lugging them back and forth every gardening day can get tiring. You have a couple of options here. You can choose something on wheels that you can simple push back and forth- think road side garbage can- or choose a bin with a handle. The choice is yours, but try to choose the most convenient container you can find to keep gardening enjoyable.
- Watering gear
All you really need here is a garden hose and an adjustable nozzle. You want to soak the roots, not the leaves, so there is no need for extra. Few plants, such as ferns, do benefit from having their leaves misted, but mostly watering your leaves is a no go.
- Quality fertile soil
When you are starting your garden out, try not to skimp. You do not necessarily have to choose the most expensive thing on the market. Just make sure that your choice does a good job by checking out the ratings- and the company that produces it.
- Plant food
You want to give your plants a great start, so feeding them a ton of nutrients is a great way to do that. Mixing it in with your dirt is the best thing to do.
A shovel will be especially useful in the beginning as you are digging up the ground for your plants, but you will find them useful in many other occasions, too. Choose a tough shovel with a good handle. Do not forget to wear your gloves when using your shovel because your hands will blister, which is not fun, of course, and can keep you from doing any additional gardening until your hands feel better.
- Garden fork
It is exactly what it sounds like- a garden tool that looks like a fork. It is excellent for digging in soil, especially compact, rocky, or clay soil. For jobs such as these, they work much better than a shovel. Many people recommend a stainless steel option. The best advice, though, is to get one with an ergonomic handle- something that fits well in your hand.
You can bet that you will have some items you need to rake away. Adjustable rakes seem to be the rage at the time. On these, the rake head expands and it collapses for easy storage.
A garden hoe can be used for a variety of tasks, including preparing and turning the soil for planting. Tempered steel is a great material for maintaining a sharp edge. Be sure to get one with pretty long reach and a comfortable handle.
You will inevitably be moving things around, and having a wheelbarrow for that is an excellent help.
Time to Plant
You are finally ready to plant, but you may have a couple of other common questions. Here are two of the big ones:
Why buy soil when I already have dirt?
While dirt is natural and great for growing, it is important to give your plants a good start. Just like we give babies all we can to give them a great start in life, you want to do the same for your plants. Soil- whether organic or store bought- is full of nutrients that provide your plants with things your dirt may be missing. Mix about 3 inches of soil to about 6 inches of your dirt for the best results.
Organic vs store bought soil
Those not used to gardening may not enjoy this, but learning about organic soil is important. Purchasing inorganic soil is fine, but organic soil has more nutrients in it. However, it comes from natural items such as compost and manure. The good news is that you do not have to go out and find some yourself since retailers sell organic soil.
Maintaining Your Garden
The work does not end when the plants go in the ground. There is consistent maintenance that needs to take place. The amount of maintenance depends on your plants, but the following are a few great tips to get started:
When to water
Generally, about an inch of water per week is enough water. Do the whole inch at once, too, so that the water will actually get down into the roots. Shorter watering periods will barely penetrate the surface. Do not water in the mid-day heat either. Instead, do an early morning soak or at dusk.
If you see leaves turning yellow, that means that they are being over watered. Try not to wet the plants’ leaves too as this can lead to a sickly plant.
Use mulch and plant food
Mulch is an excellent way to prevent the growth of weeds and prevent the evaporation of moisture. Place a layer about two or three inches deep around each of your plants. You can purchase bags of mulch, or you can use shredded leaves, pine straw, or any similar material.
It may seem silly to think about feeding your plants, but the fact is that the feeding and care of your plants is very important for a beautiful, thriving garden. Isn’t that what good soil, sun and water are for? Yes, that’s true, but adding plant food is like a human taking a vitamin. It is just extra nutrients for your plants so they grow stronger. After your plants have been in the ground for about a month, start feeding them some plant food. The frequency with which you need to feed them will be stated on the packaging of the different brands.
Composting is a very natural process of decomposing organic material. This may include leaves, fruit, veggie scraps, grass and more. It is excellent for the environment as it reduces the production of greenhouse gad emissions, replaces trace minerals and organic material and more. Compost can be purchased, but it really is not that difficult to do yourself.
Getting Rid of Weeds
In addition to laying mulch down around your plants, you might also want to purchase some weed prevention products, like Preen, as an added measure.
Keep pests and furry creatures out
- Make a border of marigolds around your garden to keep pests out.
- Either purchase something prickly or use plastic forks. Put them in the ground around your garden with the pokey side up. Most creatures will step on them when trying to get in your garden and the discomfort usually will deter them.
- Plant the any or all of the following herbs for natural mosquito repellant:
- Lemon grass
- Lemon thyme
- Citronella geranium
Trim and Prune
It is important that you trim and prune your plants as this is what keeps them growing healthy and beautifully. This will generally mean cutting off dead leaves or other unhealthy parts that may interfere with healthy growth. As always, learn what you should do specifically to the plants you purchase. Often, you will find the same steps, but it is always best to check just in case.
Mulch leaves instead of raking
Here is a gardening tip that will help prevent back pain: stop raking your leaves. They are excellent composting materials. Try mulching them instead. This is simple as you just need to do it with your lawnmower. An added benefit is that it will cut your gardening costs.
Improve your soil
Okay, this is going to sound repetitive- because it is- but those mulched leaves have tons of minerals in them that your soil needs. If you burn wood, the ash is full a potassium and calcium, so it can improve the pH balance of your soil. Composting your kitchen scraps, such as egg shells, banana peels, coffee grounds, and so on add vitamins and nutrients back into the soil. You can even send cardboard through a shredder for some mulch. One great thing about gardening is there usually is not a reason to spend money doing it unless you want to.
Gardening Tips-Indoor Gardens
Growing your garden outdoors is the best way of doing things because there are a lot less things for you to figure out. However, not everyone has the luxury of a yard or want to garden outside, so here are a couple of tips for indoor gardening:
How to grow indoors
Growing indoors is a little trickier than growing outdoors, and can vary according to plant. In fact, some plants will not survive or thrive indoors, so it you want to grow an indoor garden, you have to be picky about what you plant. Instead of garden soil, you will need potting mix and some containers that drain well.
The container size you need will depend on what you are planting. For instance, some only need a couple of inches of soil while others need up to a foot of soil. You will also need a spot with plenty of sunlight.
What to Grow Indoors
This is not an exhaustive list by any means, but some things you can successfully grow inside include:
- African violets
- Peace lily
Gardening Tips-Outdoor Gardens
Outdoor gardens are the most common, of course, but it is often much better to start them indoors first. A couple of months in a mostly controlled environment gives the plants a chance to grow and strengthen before planting them in the ground. This also gives you a chance to start your garden before the last spring frost.
With a little creativity, pretty much anything can be turned into a planter or other garden item. For those who are not so creative, that’s okay. A lot of people have been creative for you and shared their ideas online. Making your own garden items is a great way to save some money, repurpose old items, and make your garden as unique as you are. Before throwing anything away, find out if you can use it in your garden. I have seen some fun planters and functional garden décor created from:
- old jeans and purses
- empty wine bottles
- small kids’ tricycles
- broken chairs
- tin cans
- wicker baskets
- metal tubs
- old rain boots
- mail boxes
- whiskey bottles
- and more
It seems that if an item exists, someone has figured out how to reuse it for great garden items.
15 Fun and Quirky Gardening Tips
Check out these cute, fun, and quirky gardening tips:
- Try using broth to water your plants– at least some of it.
- Ever had soap build up under your nails? It is some thick stuff, and a great way to keep your nails clean when gardening. Keep a bar of soap with gardening supplies and run your nails across it anytime you will be digging in the dirt.
- Garden tools can easily get lost when you lay them down to prevent this, try painting the handles in bright colors or wrap them in bright colored tape.
- Spray your garden tools with a lubricant for soil to slide off easily. This will keep your tools cleaner.
- Spray your weed eater line with vegetable oil before installing it to minimize the breakage.
- Find some smooth stones and paint markers for your flowers and veggies.
- Repurpose toilet paper tubes as seed starters. Save money and help the environment.
- Turn a pallet on its side and you can use it as a plant shelf (not good for giant pots as the plants need to fit between the front and back). Spray paint it or add some wood stain first to improve the look.
- Put coffee filters in the bottom of pots to keep in the soil while letting the plant drain.
- Dig a hole and put an air tight container in that hole to store excess veggies.
- Put buckets out on rainy days to fill up with rain water. Then, instead of running up your water bill, you can water your plants with the rain water.
- Skip the chemical weed killer and pour some vinegar on them instead.
- There are two odd looking but very ways of keeping birds out of your garden. The first is to put old CDs on fishing line and hang them around your garden. As the sun hits the shiny surface, it will reflect brightly. This tends to deter birds from coming any closer.
- The second way is actually pretty much the same thing except that you use old Christmas ornaments instead of CDs. These are proven to be effective, but do not feel bad if people stare at your garden like you have lost it. You can always make it a little quirkier by painting some things on the CDs or ornaments. Just be sure you leave enough of the reflective surface clear to do its job.
- Have a garden theme. Some fun ones include:
- Spooky forest
- Jungle theme
- Gulliver’s Travels
- 50’s era
- A game board
- Italian setting
You can plant flowers with the themes color, and create some fun décor for it. For more inspiration, Pinterest is full of gardening tips and ideas.
Possibly my favorite quirky tip is to use old bath tubs as garden couches. You cut off one long side, add some cushions, cute feet, and paint it.
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If you are growing vegetables, harvest time can be really exciting. Seeing your hard work form into an edible item is very rewarding. Here are some tips for harvesting:
How to know when your veggies are ripe
Different vegetables have different signs, each of which will need to be learned separately. To simplify it somewhat, we will discuss six common vegetables.
- Carrots- When you see them start to poke out of the ground, you will know that it is getting close to time. When the roots are somewhere between ¾ and 1 ½ inches wide, you can pick them. However, if you will not be eating them quickly, just leave them for now. They can stay in the ground longer than most veggies, so wait until you are ready to eat them.
- Bell peppers- They are technically ready when they are firm and about four inches. You can eat green peppers green, or you can let them ripen a little longer for some sweeter yellow, purple, or red peppers.
- Summer squash- You want to catch these at the right time as they harden if you leave them on too long. Approximately four days to a week after you notice they are flowering, you can start picking them.
- Tomatoes- With tomatoes, do not rush as the longer you can wait the more flavor they will provide. Pick them when they are glossy and starting to soften.
Dry out your herbs
While there may be many methods to drying out herbs, doing so in the sun is always a good idea. What happens, though, if a gust of wind comes along? Instead of leaving it to chance, lay a piece of newspaper in the front seat of your car or in your car window, whichever is the sunniest. Place the herbs on the newspaper and make sure windows are rolled up. This will dry them out quickly without having to worry about them blowing away.
Common reasons plants do not bloom
There are a few reasons why plants fail to bloom, some of which are listed below. If you are having trouble with yours not blooming, try to determine which of these could be the culprit through a simple trial and error method.
- The most common is that they are not getting enough sun.
- The gardener may be using too much fertilizer.
- Pruning too late in the season is an issue because it means that you are taking off all the buds for the next year’s flowers.
- They may not have had enough time. Annuals and perennials usually bloom in their first season, but biennials usually take longer.
- They are not in the right location. You cannot expect plants that require sun to bloom if they are not receiving enough of it, and those that require shade will not bloom in continual sun.
Also, as discussed above, some plants simply do not grow in certain areas or climates. This is why it is very important to research what you should try to grow.
Enjoy Your Garden
After all of your hard work, it can be very rewarding to just look around. Create a spot in your yard in which you can simply sit and enjoy your garden. Consider the following items for your spot:
- a rocking chair
- some regular chairs for guest seating
- a table- either a small side table or a larger wrought iron one
- a canopy for rainy days
- a yard swing
- some wind chimes close by
- some type of little waterfall or even a small pond
What you put in your garden spot is up to you, of course, but consider the possibilities. Do you enjoy reading, sketching, or painting? You colorful and calm garden can be the perfect spot to complete these activities in. You might even find it enjoyable to do yoga or Tai Chi in your garden. You might just want to take a nap, which you could do on your yard swing or a hammock.
Gardening is both fun and challenging, but it takes some knowledge to start if off right. We have taken a look at what to plant, where to plant it, how to maintain it, and more. If you are ready to begin your gardening adventure, start off on the right foot with these gardening tips.