Tips for New Gardeners Tips for New Gardeners

There is nothing more satisfying than having your own garden. The pleasures of watching things grow--whether flowers or vegetables--is a good source of relaxation and can bring fresh food to your table. Whether you are planning a garden in the country, are a city dweller with limited space, there are a few things you need to know.

Pick the Right Spot

Look at the plot where you wish to grow your garden. Determine the hours of sunlight it receives. For example, if planning on growing tomatoes, they need a minimum of 6 to 8 hours of sunlight a day. Will your garden be in the shade most of the day? Determine this before beginning to plan.

Plan Your Layout

Plan your garden so that each different plant gets its own special needs met. If at all possible, lay out the garden so that the rows face the east. This way, taller plants such as corn will not shade out lower growing plants such as green beans or peas. All plants receive the same hours of sunlight each day. Make a sketch of how you think your garden should look.

TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Rachel Klein adds, “Herbs are a great addition to any vegetable garden. Most are very easy to grow, and many are hardy perennials, meaning you won't have to worry about buying them every year.”

Test Your Soil

Know your earth. Is it sandy, loam, or clay? Each type of soil has special needs to grow plants, and loamy soil is the optimum condition. Check the pH balance of your soil by buying a home test at a garden center. It is easy to do. Soil is classified in three categories-- sweet, sour, and bitter. Ideally, soil that is in correct PH balance is considered sweet. If too acidic, it is considered to be sour. If too alkaline, it is considered bitter. Although plants will grow in soil not correctly balanced, you never achieve optimum results by not checking and adjusting the PH balance of your soil.

TIP: Rachel adds, “Also, different plants grow ideally in different soil conditions. Blueberries, for example, grow best in acidic soil whereas beets and broccoli like alkaline conditions.”

Prep the Soil in the Fall

Prepare the garden plot in the fall. Plow your garden plot, or use a rototiller to churn the earth. This allows the winter frost to break up soil clumps into a good soil base during winter months. By doing this, in the spring all you need to do is rake over the plot, removing stones and any possible clumps of sod, or just use a rototiller to prep the soil for planting.

Start Your Seeds in Winter

Start your plants yourself during late winter. This is fun to do, and a good chance for children to learn how plants grow. Many stores sell seed packets, and starting instructions will be on the label. Most stores generally begin to display seed packets around the first of February. You will need seed trays, soil, and either a sunny window or a sun lamp.

Select Healthy Plants

If you choose to buy your plants from a nursery, look for plants that are green and fresh looking, have buds forming on them, and are not tall and spindly. Avoid plants with open flowers or fruit on them. This is a time when smaller is better. Plants that are large have had a diet high in nitrogen, and will be shocked more than smaller plants when transplanting to the garden. Avoid plants that show any sign of disease. Although plants sold in larger containers are usually more expensive than those in cell packs, potted plants will have stronger root structure and will probably transplant better.

TIP: Rachel suggests, “Buy your vegetable plants as early in the season as possible. The longer you wait, the longer the plant you buy has been sitting in its pot. The longer it sits there, the more stunted the root development can become. As the season wears on, many of the best plants are bought and the rest could be damaged or even diseased. Remember- the early gardener gets the worm!”

“Harden” Your Potted Plants

Time your visit to the nursery in accordance to actual planting time of the crop you are planning on growing. It is a good idea to "harden" plants when brought home from the nursery. Remember, plants growing in a nursery do so under optimal conditions. Begin the process of hardening by moving the new plants outside into a sheltered area and let them adjust for an hour or two during the day. Increase the time outside as the plants show signs of adjusting to the new temperatures and wind. Hardening off can be done in about 2 weeks’ time, and you will be rewarded by plants that take the transition well from plant flats to the earth. Allow yourself enough time before planting season to accomplish this.

Fertilize Properly

Know when and how to fertilize. Each vegetable plant has its own unique needs. Depending on the fertility of you soil, you can fertilize transplanted vegetable 3 to 4 weeks after transplanting. With vine crops, such as squash and cucumbers, fertilize when they begin to spread, and then again when they bloom. Plan on using a good balanced fertilizer such as 5-10-10 and figure 2 pounds of fertilizer to each 25 foot row. Sprinkle the fertilizer 6 to 8 inches from the plant's stem, and work it loosely in to the soil.

TIP: Rachel advises, “Organic fertilizers such as bone meal and fish meal add non-chemical boosts to your soil. Composting is also a great way to make your own organic fertilizer.”

Stagger Your Plantings

Stagger plantings of fast growing vegetable such as radishes, lettuce, and other quick growing vegetables so that there is always a fresh supply during the months of harvest. Don't make the mistake of planting just one small row of radishes, and then running out quickly. You can plant these vegetables about every 2 weeks to insure a long lasting supply.

TIP: Rachel reminds you, “Don't forget that different veggies prefer different types of weather. Because of this, don't simply plant all of your veggies at once. Cold weather plants such as lettuce, cabbage, and broccoli, prefer the ground to be cool. Plant these a month or so before you begin planting your tomatoes, eggplant, and beans.”

Make Your Own Compost

As plants die off at the end of the growing season, remove the debris and put it on a compost pile. Leaving the dead plants in the garden only attracts bacteria, mold and insects, and can cause damage to late season plants. Remember, building a good compost pile gives you great fertilizer for the upcoming years of gardening, and is friendly to the environment.

Following these easy guidelines will help you realize a fascinating hobby, will feed the family fresh veggies during the summer months, and help cut back on food costs. Gardening, whether flower or vegetable, is a very relaxing and enjoyable hobby. Plan your garden today.

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