a senior woman planting some flowers and starting a garden

A Beginners Guide to Gardening

How to Start a Garden

Whether you have a passion for florals or want to pick homegrown fruits and vegetables, starting a garden is both hugely rewarding and great fun. This is a pastime where you can quickly see what you've achieved and quite literally enjoy the fruits of your labor! It's also a great way of enjoying time outside, with the benefits of some exercise thrown in too. Here's everything you need to know about how to start a garden and gardening for beginners.

However, it can also be a little intimidating. If you've ever listened to a gardening program or overheard keen gardeners talking, well, it can be like a whole new language. There are also many different types of gardening. But everyone needs to start somewhere; it is a pastime where you can make it as straightforward or as complex as you would like it to be.

We've come up with a 10-step process to help you start your very own garden with ease.

Step One: So, What Is It You Would like to Grow?

Will it be vegetables, herbs, flowers or perhaps a little of everything? We suggest starting small and easy. So, if growing vegetables, pick those which your family enjoys and are produced in your part of the world.

If flowers are your aim, again look for ones which are native. Then, consider if you want to have perennials that have a short time in bloom but will flower every year, or annuals which bloom most of the summer but will need to be replanted each spring.

Look through the seed company catalogs, browse the garden centers and spend time in the gardens of friends to help you decide what you really like and want to aim for.

Step Two: Location, Location, Location

Almost all vegetables and flowers have a preference for how much sun and shade they need. Watch your garden throughout the day to see which area gets the most sun and which gets very little. Once armed with this information, you can research or ask garden center staff for help in finding plants that will thrive in your garden.

Step Three: A Home for Everything and Everything in Its Home

Now that you know where you want your garden, you can decide on the number of garden beds and their size. Raised beds are more forgiving on aching backs, but they also need watering more often. Whereas sunken beds can gather more moisture, but are going to mean more time bending over to tend them.

Ideally, you want beds that allow you to reach the center from either side. Also, they should generally be no longer than 10 feet long, so that you're not tempted to step into the bed and compact the soil.

If you don't have an area that you can dig into, grow bags or containers are a perfect way to start your garden.

Step Four: Having the Right Tools for the Job

Having the right tools makes gardening a pleasure rather than a chore. Flimsy plastic tools break easily and can be uncomfortable to use. Look out for yard sales, which can be a great source of cheap and good quality metal tools.

Your tool list will likely include:

  • Garden hoe to remove the weeds, shape the soil and harvest root crops.
  • Dirt rake to loosen compacted soil, spread mulch or other material evenly and to level areas before planting.
  • Garden Shovel to dig, lift and move the soil.
  • Trowel to dig small holes, when planting and weeding.
  • Gloves to keep your hands clean and protect them from thorns and splinters.

Step Five: Testing Time!

Before you start building your beds or planting, you need to know something about your soil to work out which plants will grow best. You might be able to see if your soil contains sand, clay, silt or rocks — but to know if its acidic, alkaline or neutral pH — you'll probably need to get a soil testing kit from your local garden center.

Step Six: Preparing the Soil

Most plants prefer soil which is deep and well-drained. When it's rich in organic matter such as compost and mulch, it helps to grow healthy plants that resist disease and problems with pests. You’re aiming for soil which is loose and full of the air which the plant roots need. It also needs to hold the moisture, which can then be absorbed by the plant’s roots. But it also needs to drain well so that they don’t become water logged.

Step Seven: Get Picky

For your garden to flourish, you need good quality seeds and healthy plants. So, check the seed packets for information on the environments they need to encourage the best rates of growth. When picking plants, you’re generally looking for lots of healthy new growth with bright green leaves of an even color. Keep clear of plants where the leaves look dry along the edges or where they're yellowing or brown.

Step Eight: Plant with Care

If you check the packet that the seeds came in or the labels for potted plants, you'll usually find some basic instructions on how they need to be planted. Some general rules of thumb are:

  • Seeds should be planted three times as deep as the diameter of the seed.
  • For transplanting seedlings, plant at the same depth as they were growing in the pot.
  • Do wait until there is no risk of frost before planting heat-loving plants such as tomatoes and peppers.
  • Young plants may need protection from the weather when first planted outside.

There you have it, home gardening, made simple! Then, when all the hard work is done, sit back and enjoy your new garden!