I have fallen hard and fast in love with gardening. Something about the smell of vine-ripened tomatoes, the taste of fresh herbs, and the feel of dirt on my hands just makes me happy. I believe my family has saved money and eaten higher quality food since we started a garden in our backyard. The pandemic has motivated a lot of people to spend more time gardening and growing their own food (yay!), so I thought I would share my 8 best quick tips for the new gardener.
I would still consider myself a fairly novice gardener. I have dabbled for years, but just got serious about planting a vegetable garden last winter. In that short about of time, I have learned a ton and these are the most important lessons I have learned.
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1. Buy seeds early
I quickly learned that many avid gardeners buy their seeds in the middle of winter to get the best selection. Some popular varieties will sell out as times goes on. I now buy seeds in January. I grow the majority of my herbs and vegetables from seed because it costs much less than buying plants at the home and garden store.
If you’ve missed that window, don’t worry, there are usually seeds available through the spring, you just might not have as much of a selection.
Of course, you can absolutely buy plants at the garden store when the growing season starts. It’s an easy, albeit more expensive, way to get started.
2. Determine your area’s growing season
One of the most important tips for the new gardener is to determine your area’s growing season. Knowing your area’s growing season is very helpful because it will help you decide when to plant and what to plant. Several websites will tell you based on your location what your average last spring frost date, average first fall frost date, and the average length of your growing season is. I use almanac.com.
My area in Kentucky is projected to have the last frost in mid April, so I can plan to put plants outside around that date. I will have about 200 days to keep those plants outside before it frosts in the fall. This is especially helpful to know you live in an area with a shorter growing season, as you’ll need to pick plants that mature in a shorter timespan.
3. Grow what you eat
I always try to focus on growing what my family eats most. For us, that is tomatoes, herbs, and bell peppers. I do not recommend you spend a lot of effort growing things that your family won’t eat. Gardening can be a lot of time and work and you want to enjoy the fruits of your labor.
4. Consider heirloom seeds
Heirloom seeds are seeds that are open-pollinated and have been around for at least fifty years. Heirloom plants have great flavor and planting them is a way to preserve these plants for future generations. I have bought organic, heirloom seeds from both True Leaf Market and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and highly recommend them both (not affiliated).
5. Find a garden mentor
It can be especially helpful and encouraging to connect with other gardeners. If you can find someone in your area to be your garden mentor, that is super helpful. Because they’re used to growing in the same location as you are, they can help you navigate the specifics of your area, like critters, pests, dry conditions, and so on. My mother-in-law, for instance, gave me tons of tips on keeping the squirrels in our area from eating my tomatoes.
If you don’t have anyone in your area, no worries, there are tons of great resources and places to connect online. I have been enjoying Jill Winger’s podcast Old Fashioned on Purpose Season 3, which is all about gardening. It is full of great tips and tricks.
Pay attention to the plants you’re growing and how much sun they need. Most of the vegetables I grow call for full sun, which is directed on the back of the seed packet, so I located my garden in a sunny spot in my backyard.
Taking some time to note where the sunlight is in your yard throughout the day can be really helpful. Your plants just won’t grow as well if they’re not getting the correct amount of sunlight.
7. Watering is important
Where I live in Kentucky, it’s hot hot hot in the summer and few things will kill my plants faster than lack of water. The best time to water plants is between 5-9 am.
There are all kinds of fancy watering systems available, but I just use a long hose with a sprayer. I’d love to set up an irrigation system in the future.
8. Just start!
Gardening can be overwhelming when you’re just starting out. There are lots of choices to be made: Do you want to plant in raised beds, pots, or in the ground? Do you want to plant herbs, vegetables, or flowers? Or all three? I say, if you really want to garden, don’t get caught up in the details.
In my experience, gardening is a lot of trial and error. You’re probably never going to have it completely figured out. Decide what you think will work best and try it.
Start small with some herbs in your window sill if that is appealing. You can always do something different next year.
What do you think of these 8 quick tips for the new gardener?
I love to hear from readers. Did you find my tips for the new gardener and first time gardener helpful? Is there a tip that I need to add to the list? Comment below.
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Both posts are full of great information for new gardeners.