Have you decided to start a garden, but are not certain how to begin? This step-by-step guide is designed for beginners who are willing to carry-out 10 simple actions that will help them create a beautiful and productive garden.
You'll have the opportunity to enjoy the variety of plants, fruits, vegetables, herbs, flowers that only your imagination can dream of. Plus, you can have fun doing it and enjoying having a green thumb with the clear knowledge of what it takes for you to create and maintain an amazing garden.
Our purpose is to help answer all the questions you may have going through your mind as you take on this project. We have broken down the process into 10 simple steps you can easily understand and implement.
Let's review the steps below for starting a garden:
10 Simple Steps to Start Your Garden
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1. Make a List of What You Want to Grow
One of the first steps in creating your garden is to know your region. You'll have to figure out what is adequate for growing where you live. Looking up your gardening zone and knowing your first and last frost dates will give you an idea of the types of plants will thrive in your climate.
A great way to know your garden's potential is knowing your garden's microclimate or how you can create the perfect environment regardless of the obstacles your region's climate may pose. Here are a few ways you can create the perfect microclimate:
Check USDA Resources
Your region's climate strongly affects the growing conditions of your crops. You'll have to check your soil temperatures, air, heat accumulated over the growing season, and precipitation.
In the United States you can become familiar with your garden's microclimate by checking the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) hardiness zones. Each zone is optimum for a specific type of plant life that can bare the low temperatures of that particular area.
You can see your specific zone by studying the USDA's Interactive Map. To look up your region, you'll be able to enter your zip code and locate your specific area by zooming in on the map.
Other factors that will affect how particular plants thrive are snow, wind, humidity, pH, moisture, soil type, winter sunshine. By viewing the USDA’s Interactive Map's "About" section, you'll be able to consult their gardening guide. As previously mention, regardless of the conditions you face, there are ways to create the optimal microclimate for the best yielding garden.
Speak to Neighborhood Gardeners & Local Farmers
If you know people in your area that are successful gardeners, talk to them about their experience with the region's best crops. You can also learn a whole lot by talking to local farmers and visiting farmer's markets to see what is most easily produced locally.
An experienced gardener will be able to tell you what crops grow in your region and which ones do not. They may also give you their tips and trick for how to overcome certain limitations. You'll want to pay attention to what comes natural to your region and avoid forcing particular crops.
Consider What Your Family Consumes
An important point to consider when deciding what you want to grow is exploring what your family wants to consume. Think about what type of produce items you buy at the grocery store often. Also consider which types of flowers you want to have around.
If you regularly consume certain items, it makes sense to grow them in your garden. This is also an opportunity to create goals for yourself. For instance, perhaps you want to start having more leafy greens in your diet. Or, you want to use herbal remedies instead of over-the-counter medications.
Again, it is important to grow what naturally thrives in your area so that you're not forcing the soil to produce anything that doesn't belong to that particular region. Another consideration is to produce according to the season so you're not forcing crops unnaturally.
Ask yourself how much space you have available or want to devote to this project. For example, if you can only devote a small space in your yard, don't plant giant pumpkins that will spread over a wide area and will require a lot of space.
2. Choose Your Garden's Location
Once you decide what types of plants you want to grow, you have to consider what type of space they will need - how much square footage they require to grow and if they call for direct sunlight or shade. For example, almost all fruits and vegetables require full sunlight, that's equivalent to at least five hours of full direct sun each day.
On the other hand, leafy greens, root vegetables, and herbs thrive in partial shade. This means that if you're located in the northern part of the country, your garden will probably need as much sunlight as it can receive.
However, if you're in a southern state where is much sunnier most of the year, your garden may benefit from receiving the shade that occurs in the late afternoon hours. Once you become familiar with your climate, it will be easier to select your crop.
Location, Location, Location!
As you plan the layout of your garden, think about how you will access it for watering, weeding, general maintenance, and harvesting. You must place your garden where you can easily get to it on a frequent basis. Far away gardens are often neglected as you can't even see what's happening to them.
You'll want to set up your new garden in areas that are away from wind currents or frosty pockets, meaning where frost has the tendency to settle. You may have to spend some time observing what happens on your property and become familiar with these occurrences.
See what other things happens on the land around you besides climate when looking for a place to place your garden. Observe if neighbors' dogs, children, or wildlife visit the area often. This can cause potential harm to your garden and other unexpected problems.
The last thing you want is for the area to be unprotected and exposed to potential dangers. Imagine delicate seedlings being destroyed by your neighbor's dog running through them.
Rabbits, deer, birds, all have the potential to affect your project. There are ways you can keep these visitors from invading your crops. Garlic is an example of a powerful deterrent for some wildlife. You may also choose to enclose the garden with a thin mesh to keep out unwanted guests.
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3. Design and Plan Garden Beds
Once you know how much space you'll need to grow the items you select and where you'll want to grow them, the next step is to choose the size and type of your garden beds.
Having raised beds is a great idea to make your garden look more attractive and to make it easy on your back as you won't have to bend down to tend to your plants.
Raised beds tend to dehydrate much quicker than planting on the ground, so you'll have to keep hydration on the top of your priority list. An alternative to raised bea can touch the center from both sides. It is a good idea that the length of your beds are no more than 10 feet long.
These dimensions make up a perfect size that will allow you to comfortably walk around the bed to tend to it. You don't want something so big that you have to step on the soil because this will compact it. You want your soil to stay fluffy and loose, and you want to be as gentle on it as possible.
Placement of Plants in Beds
You want each plant to have enough room to grow. Calculate how much space you'll need to avoid overcrowding. Think of how big the plants will become when they are fully grown, it is much different from their start as tiny seedlings and transplants.
Having enough room will make plants more productive. It is better to tend to a small garden well then to have a large garden that is poorly taken care of. If you want to maximize the growing space, you can minimize walkways.
To be more efficient and save money, only use fertilizer and amend the soil on the planting area. Also, place companion plants together because this will attract beneficial insects and will ultimately improve their yields.
When placing plants, use a grid pattern or rows. Even if your beds are circular in shape, you will still be able to use a grid pattern or some type of row system.
Most Commonly Used Beds
Most gardens have square or rectangular beds, they are easy to measure for plant placement. However, let your imagination run wild! There are many different shaped pieces that serve the same purpose.
The most important factors are that your plants have enough room to grow and that you can easily access each plant for care. If you have mad building skills, you can create anything you can dream of.
There are incredible DIY projects that result in artistic pieces that bring an extra spark to your garden. A creative way to make bed is by re-using existing items such as water tanks or sections of a drain pipe.
Other ideas include a huge old vintage sink, a wooden barrel, a box drawer dresser, and many other crazy designs that people create with random pieces. The possibilities are endless!
Another great idea is to use the space vertically. You'll be able to fit more crops in a limited space. Some great plants to grow vertically are tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, and peas.
Gardeners have been very creative with their vertical planters using baskets, wooden pallets, metal containers, tin cans, even old jeans! Vertical planters not only save space, but create endless possibilities that bring an artistic touch to your garden.
Plus, there are plants that do better vertically than horizontally on the ground, so you may want to do a combination of vertical and horizontal to accomodate the variety of crops you may choose to have.
4. Acquire Garden Tools
Investing in the right tools will make your gardening experience a pleasure. Not only will you be more efficient, but you'll also keep yourself safe. You wouldn't use a butter knife to chop carrots in the kitchen, so the same concept applies when you are working in your garden.
You want tools that are not flimsy and can withstand the endurance required for you to get the job done right.
The following items make up the basic tool set for any beginner's garden:
It is important that you purchase quality tools made from durable materials. You may be tempted to get the cheap stuff, but it won't be worth your investment. Sturdy tools are meant to be around for years, and hopefully so will your garden.
Keep your tools sharp, clean, and lubricated. Good maintenance will ensure your safety when using them and will make them last longer. Shopping around in estate or yard sales is a great way to gather quality tools for a better price than buying them new at the garden store.
Not all tools are equal, find those that fit your body size and feel comfortable to you, safety first! You'll get to know certain brands that get good reviews, which are usually a bit more pricey, but well worth the investment.
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5. Perform Soil Testing
Before you start planting, you have to do a soil analysis and know exactly what type of dirt you're dealing with. Find out if your soil has a neutral pH or if it leans towards an alkaline or acidic state.
What type of soil do you have? You may have rocky or muddy soil, silt, clay, sand, or a mixture. You may be able to tell with your own eyes, but it's better to have it tested for an accurate description.
Be sure to check out structures nearby to detect possible contamination risks from roadways, factories, or other sources. You want to find out if your soil has enough of the basic nutrients needed to safely grow plants, especially if you will be consuming them.
Your best bet is to have a professional inspection performed that analyzes your soil in a lab. The last thing you want is to plant a new garden that is contaminated with led or other toxic substances. It is worth the extra effort to perform a soil test and have peace of mind to know that you will be able grow a quality crop.
Most crops thrive in a soil that has a neutral pH of approximately seven. There are some items such as potatoes that prefer a more acidic environment. The existence of organic matter as well as a balanced nutrient profile are key to a healthy garden.
Who To Contact For Soil Testing
You'll want to reach out to cooperative extension offices for a state-by-state list of soil testing labs. Many state universities serve the public with affordable and accurate testing.
You'll not only receive the soil test results, but you'll also get a fertilizer/amendment recommendation based on what you tell them you want to grow. Once you're ready to order a test, they will provide you with instructions so you can properly collect a soil sample.
6. Prepare Your Soil
Ideally, you will prepare your soil during the fall season, however, you can also start in the spring time. If you are beginning with sod, you may start by cutting it into chucks that you can repurpose, you can till it in, or you can spread wet newspaper or cardboard over it to smother it and place a bed on top of it.
You'll want your soil to be fertile, rich in organic matter, well-drained, and deep. To enjoy healthy vegetables and fruits, you need really good garden soil to accommodate plant roots.
Each year that passes, you will see your soil improve and will feel a new appreciation for strong fertile soil. Healthy soil will yield plants that are lively, resistant to pests and diseases, and are packed with nutrients.
As the years pass, you can enrich your soil by adding a different combination of organic matter to improve its diversification of nutrients. This organic matter can include worm castings, mulch, and organic compost. Learn about the microbes present in the soil and create a whole ecosystem beneficial for your garden.
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7. Obtain Seeds or Transplants
A seed starting calendar will show you which plants do better planted directly into the soil as seeds, and which ones are better to germinate then transplant to the soil. If you're growing a particular variety of plants, such as heirloom varieties, you will likely have to grow the seedlings and transplant them into the soil.
A good way to save on costs is to start your own transplants from seeds. It is very easy and you'll get the pleasure of seeing your plants grow from scratch. You may also be able to grow more varieties this way as you'll completely have control over how the seeds are sprouted.
If you rather skip this initial step and get transplants from the nursery, you'll want to keep these points in mind:
8. Plant Your Items With Care
You'll find instructions on most of the transplant containers or seed packets you purchase. Follow directions with care ensuring that you treat each variety with the individual precision it requires.
This is actually the easy part! At this point, you've done all the hard work of breaking ground, setting up beds, and preparing the soil. Now, you just have to carefully plant everything. You'll learn as you go, so don't be afraid to make any mistakes.
These are simple rules to follow to sharpen your green thumb:
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9. Nurture and Maintain Your Garden
Wise gardeners have said through the ages: “The best fertilizer is the gardener's shadow."
Although it doesn't take a whole lot of time to tend to your garden, you do have to be consistent. You may also want to start with plants that are very low maintenance and work your way up as you practice.
Sprouts and herbs are a great way to get you on your way to having a green thumb.
Water and Nutrients
Most plants need approximately one inch of water each week during growing season. It will fluctuate depending on the rainfall. If there's drought, be sure to water them much more than usual.
Too much water can damage plants as much as not watering enough, so be sure to not over water. It is best you check the soil before watering to sense how much water it needs. Overwatered soil causes seeds and roots to rot.
A way to increase nutrients and healthy microbes when watering is to use foliar feeds such as a compost tea. When plants are deficient, weak, or stressed they attract bugs. If your plants remain healthy, well-nourished, and strong you will likely have minimal issues with pests if any at all.
If you encounter any problems you will most certainly be able to find an organic solution. It is magnificent when you can enjoy homegrown food without a trace of toxins. Since you're making all this effort, you might as well do it in the most beneficial way.
10. Harvest Your Creation!
You've made it! You are now ready to enjoy the fruits of your labor. We have to say that the process to getting to this point should also be enjoyable. The joy is in the process of the steps, not only on the results, so be sure to enjoy every phase along the way.
Harvest mature crops promptly for the best quality. Leafy greens continue to grow as you clip off the leaves you harvest, these can be harvested constantly. You can pick peas and beans about every other day or every three days.
Corn can be harvested when the silk is dark and the cobs are well filled. Peppers and tomatoes can be harvested when they are green, or left to ripen fully to get the most flavor and sweetness out of them.
The best time to pick your harvest is when the dew in the morning has passed and before the heat in the afternoon comes, this is when the flavor is at its peak. Experiment with your harvest until you find exactly what tickles your taste buds.
Once you start to harvest and collect the goods, you'll want to find out how to store them. Fermenting and jarring certain crops are a great way to reap the benefits long after you pick the harvest. You may have a surplus to give to friends and family.
Have Fun Year After Year
Gardening is very forgiving. If you make mistakes there's always next year. It takes a bit of trial and error to find the methods that work best for you. There are tons of ways to do everything around the garden, so you'll fine tune your techniques as you go. There also gardening books for beginners to help aid you.
Don't give up on a crop so easily, sometimes it takes at least a few years under the right conditions for something to finally succeed. Try different varieties of plants and most of all have fun doing all that you do.
Gardening can enrich with your life in many ways, it can lower stress, improve your diet, and ward off depression. The most important step of all is to enjoy all the steps and not take yourself too seriously. Happy gardening!