Growing plants has been practiced for centuries, but backyard gardening has seen a resurgence in recent years. Whether it’s due to rising food costs or the spare time everyone had in 2020, it seems like more people are getting their hands dirty in the soil these days.
Have you caught the gardening bug but don’t know where to start? Gardening can be a lot of work, but it doesn’t have to be! You can start growing something if you have sunlight, a seed, soil, and water.
Let’s look at everything you need to grow your own food and flowers.
- Establish Your Virtues
- Make a Plan
- Gather Your Tools
- Acquire Your Plants
- Prepare Your Plot
- Start Planting
Establish Your Virtues
This may sound silly, but many first-time gardeners are unaware of what it takes mentally to grow plants. You won’t be as prone to discouragement if you know what you need ahead of time!
Very few crops are ready to harvest in 30 days. If you want pumpkins for Halloween, you need to plant them in early spring.
Gardening is a waiting game.
Plants may grow rapidly one year and slowly the next, so prepare yourself to watch your garden grow.
Every gardener has an archnemesis. (Ask one, and you’ll see!) Some people can’t perfect tomatoes. Others can’t grow roses no matter what they do.
Be prepared to never give up; don’t let your failing garden get the best of you. Learn from your mistakes, write down what does and doesn’t work, and try to make it happen next year.
Nature has a mind of its own. Basil may run rampant, potatoes may never show up, and rain may make itself scarce. You must learn to roll with the punches and grow with your garden. Make a plan, but also plan to go off course if your plants send you in another direction.
Not every gardener has an eco-conscious state of mind, and that’s okay.
Before you begin gardening, figure out what’s important to you. Are you planting to help the pollinators? Are you okay with using synthetic chemicals, or do you want to garden organically? Decide how you want to raise your garden to make decision-making easier down the road.
Make a Plan
Although your plants may never follow the schedule you set up for yourself, making a thorough plan will prevent you from getting overwhelmed and will help you get your plants into the ground at the right time.
Why do you want to garden?
The answer will help you determine how much time, space, and effort you’ll need to grow everything you want.
If you want to grow plants to have a good time, you only need to be as methodical as necessary, and you can pick and choose the plants as you see fit.
However, if you want to grow a garden to provide food security for your family, this will require more money, space, and careful planning to make sure your family will have enough to eat. Plus, you’ll need to grow staples like potatoes and beans, which may limit your choice of variety.
Gardening is all about timing! Seeds need specific temperatures to germinate, and many plants will die on the first frost. Use a frost date calculator to get an estimation of how long your growing season is so you can plan when to plant seeds, transplant seedlings, or direct sow seeds.
Plants will need sunlight. A plant that loves as much direct sunlight as possible may die in full shade, so you need to watch your yard or balcony to determine how much shade or sun your space receives. Take notes, take pictures, and draw diagrams to plan where to plant things.
It’s easier to plan ahead than it is to correct mistakes later in the season. If you’re not a planner, at least take the time to figure out sunlight exposure.
This is a big question with several answers.
Are you going to plant in the ground, in raised beds and containers, or opt for hydroponics? Are you going to have a greenhouse?
How are you going to budget for a garden? Are you going to buy everything brand new, or look for used or recycled containers and tools?
How easily can you acquire tools and seeds?
If you’re on a tight budget or overwhelmed by this barrage of questions, start small. Start with one flower bed or one mini greenhouse. Don’t try to do it all in your first year. Let your first year be an experiment to see how much things really cost and how often you have to buy supplies.
This is the fun part! What are you going to grow?
Do you want a garden full of rare plants? Do you only want heirlooms? Do you want to grow the ingredients you need for your favorite dish? Maybe you want whatever’s struggling on the discount rack in the garden center.
The possibilities are endless. Having a well-thought-out plan will prevent you from buying every seed packet you see. Remember, you only have so much space!
Gather Your Tools
Now that you’ve got a plan, it’s time to get ready to put it into action. Grab your keys! We’re headed to the garden center.
- Water: How will you get water to your garden? Decide what’s best for you: a watering can, drip irrigation, a rain barrel, or keep it simple with a watering hose with a sprayer attachment.
- Soil and amendments: Consider buying a test to determine your soil’s pH level before adding amendments to your soil. You may have to buy soil if you’re filling raised beds or containers. If you’re growing in the ground, you’ll likely need compost and fertilizer to give your new garden a healthy start.
- Tools: At the bare minimum, you’ll need a trowel, a shovel, and a sturdy pair of shears. A hoe, rake, shovel, and gardening gloves will certainly make life easier! You won’t need as many items if you stick to container gardening. Start with the bare minimum and make a second trip to the store later when you discover something else you need.
- Supports: You’ll need stakes for tall bushy plants like peppers, trellises for vining plants like cucumbers, and tomato cages. You can DIY your support systems to make simplistic or fancy supports, or you can buy whatever is available in the store. As your garden grows, you’ll quickly learn what does and doesn’t work for certain plants.
- Pest control: If you established your “gardening virtues,” you’ll know just what kind of pest control to buy. Synthetic chemicals work like a charm and will kill almost instantly, but they have their downsides: they’re not safe for beneficial insects, and they can harm people, pets, and the environment, too. There are organic options available that are much safer if you want to avoid harming anything.
Acquire Your Plants
The most cost-effective way to start gardening is to buy seed packets, but you can start with transplants if seed starting seems daunting.
For budget-friendly options, see if your local library has a seed library for free seeds. Talk to gardening friends or neighbors to see if they have any seeds to spare. If you’re looking for cheap packs online, be wary of seedy sellers. Many online stores don’t vet their third-party sellers, so you could potentially buy fake seeds for plants that don’t even exist. (Tip: blue strawberries aren’t real yet.)
Seed packets aren’t always the cheapest option, though. Rare seeds are expensive, and you won’t get as many in one pack. For your first year of gardening, it’s best to stick to common plants so you can get high-quality seeds from trusted sellers for a reasonable price.
Prepare Your Plot
Now it’s time to assemble your garden. Till the ground, build and fill raised beds, assemble greenhouses, and amend the soil. Do this in early spring if you’re aiming for a summer garden.
Water the soil thoroughly and make sure the area drains well to prevent plants from waterlogging. The water may cause the soil to settle, so you may need to add more and water it again. You don’t want the soil to be too loose or compact, so don’t overwork it.
Once you have everything you need and your garden space is assembled, it’s time to start planting!
Gardening will require weekly effort. You may have to go out daily, or you may have slow weeks that don’t require much work. Treat gardening like an adventure—you never know what a day will bring!
For many backyard gardeners, the growing season begins in the spring and ends in the fall. Once you’re comfortable gardening and feel like you can handle cool season challenges, you can keep growing all year long.
Grow with your garden, and don’t be afraid to try new things.
Kaleigh Brillon is a freelance writer specializing in web copy about gardening. If you need blog posts, product descriptions, newsletters, or anything else that can be written, Kaleigh can help you! View her Services page to learn more.