Having houseplants throughout your house or apartment is downright dreamy and oh so lush, but having your own garden? That’s next level. But if you haven’t had a garden before, it can bring on a slew of questions and leave you thumbing around for gardening tips for beginners. For one, where can you put a garden? Secondly, what types of plants and veggies should you harvest? And most importantly, especially for those who’ve killed a plant (or seven) in the past, how do you keep them alive and well?
Below, a few plant pros spill gardening tips for beginners that will set you up for blooming success. Like with most skills, however, gardening takes practice, patience, and a hefty dose of love for the craft. So stick with it even if there are a few casualties along the way. Being a plant parent is worth it.
Gardening tips for beginners
1. Use a garden planner
A garden planner is a nifty tool used to help you plan and keep records of your garden using measurements, along with a grid pattern. It’s particularly helpful for visualizing the entire garden and spacing out your plants to ensure they have enough room to grow.
“Record notes of when, what, and where you planted,” says Reed Newman, founder of Revival Roots, a company that builds and maintains vegetable gardens for homeowners in Los Angeles. “It will allow you to keep track of successes and any areas you may need to adjust to improve.”
You can use a journal-style notebook as your garden planner. Or you can go with an online garden planner which includes 2D and 3D graphics, but maybe only if you’re techy—Summer Rayne Oakes, author of How to Make a Plant Love You and host of Plant One On Me on YouTube, says the online version may be a bit too complicated for a beginner.
2. Check the best time to plant
We all know weather changes dramatically season to season, and is dependent on location. So, before you get to planting, Oakes recommends checking to see when is the ideal time to plant your crops of choice in your area. This will set you and your plants and crops up to win in the long run.
3. Make sure to water them correctly
Plant babies need to be watered, obviously. As a newbie gardener who may or may not have a track record for killing plants (guilty), it’s easy to forget, so it’s worth reiterating.
During peak growing season, especially on sunny days, Bloomscape’s “plant mom,” Joyce Mast recommends watering your plants every day or every other day. “If you see drooping, wilting plants or burnt edges on the leaves, that indicates that they need water,” she says. “Remove the spent blooms from blooming annuals like geraniums, petunias, and dahlias. This will encourage new growth and also keep the plant clean and free of anything dead or decaying material.”
4. Start with beginner-friendly plants and crops
When you’re just dipping your toes (er, green thumbs) into gardening, it’s best to start with plants and vegetables that are easy to maintain and grow.
Beginner-friendly annuals include geraniums, petunias, calibrachoa, begonias, and impatiens. “Geraniums, petunias, and calibrachoas are fantastic for sunny areas,” Mast says. “They continually flower all season long and give bright spots of color to your garden. Impatiens, coleus, and begonias will give fabulous pops of color to the shadier areas of your garden.”
If you want to plant crops, Oakes suggests to not overthink it, and start with ones you’ll actually use and enjoy. For what it’s worth, herbs, such as basil and mint, as well as tomatoes, are easy things to grow.
“Tomatoes are not fussy with their care requirements and produce lots of tomatoes throughout the season,” Mast says. “Basil is a very fast grower. It loves lots of sun and water, but if watering is missed, it is easily able to bounce back after a thorough watering.” Mint also grows quickly and can be added to a slew of things, including desserts, tea, and cocktails.
5. Choose your garden spot based on sunlight
Sunlight is key when it comes to choosing where you start your garden. “Find the sunniest spot in your home, patio, or yard,” Mast says. Ideally, you want a spot that gets 8 to 10 hours a day of direct sunlight, or at the minimum 4 to 5 hours.
“While some plants can tolerate less, starting a garden in a sunny location will allow your plants to thrive and mature much more quickly,” Newman says. This will also depend on what you plant. Vegetables, for example, tend to love the sun, while some flowering annuals prefer a shadier area.
6. Start with a small garden
As a novice gardener, Newman says it’s best to start with a small garden, and once you get more experienced, expand from there. Mast suggests starting by deciding how many plants you want. “If you are planting them in the ground, budget about 1 to 2 square feet per plant, on average,” Mast says. “Keep in mind the growth pattern for each plant, as that will affect how much space is needed. Many plants are compact or grow only vertically, but for some larger or vining plants, more space might be needed.”
Vegetable gardening tips
When it comes to planting herbs and veggies, the care will differ a bit, from blooming annuals. Here are some veggie-centric gardening tips according to the pros.
1. Look for clues
According to Newman, your vegetable garden will give you little clues to let you know what it needs to thrive. So keep your eyes peeled. If the soil is dry and crispy, for example, he says it’s time to add water. On the other hand, if the soil is very wet and water is pooling, cut back on watering. Or, if your plants are leaning and falling over, install a stake or trellis. “Plants react very quickly to stimuli,” Newman says. “It can be helpful to keep a garden journal and record any changes you may notice.”
2. Ensure you have the correct conditions
When growing fruits and veggies, Oakes notes that it’s essential to ensure that the space in which you plant them will allow them to thrive. Root vegetables, for instance, need depth in the soil. Leafy greens, on the other hand, will grow with less soil. Add a trellis when growing plants that tend to climb, such as cucumber. And, other plants like squash love to take over the entire plot because they need room to grow. Not sure what the right conditions are? A quick Google search will likely help.
3. Water in the morning or evening
With veggies, Mast recommends watering in the morning or evening. “Watering during the heat of the midday is not as effective, as the water can quickly evaporate before the plant uses the water it needs,” she says. “Plus, water on really hot foliage can cause a bit of burn.”
4. Trim your herbs
Good news for foodies who love cooking with herbs: trimming your herbs regularly is encouraged. “Trimming also helps the plant stay a good size and encourages new growth, helping your plant to remain bushy,” Mast says.
5. Pick veggies quickly
“Pick your vegetables as soon as they grow to maximum size and ripeness,” Mast says. “Doing this prevents animals or bugs from eating your vegetables or fruit since they are more attracted to ripe fruits.”