You spent this past year searching for gardening advice for beginners, but after your very first growing season, you're ready to start preparing for year two. Using the experience under your belt and a few strategic improvements, you can take your garden from basic to bountiful. Implement these nine gardening tips for a second-year garden that grows along with your skills.
1. Reflect on Last Season
While it's tempting to forge ahead to the next gardening season, taking stock of what worked well — and just as importantly, what didn't — your first year can help you maximize results going forward. Some questions to ask yourself include:
Which plants thrived in my garden?
Which ones struggled?
What unanticipated challenges did I run into, such as pests, drought, overcrowding or changes in sunlight? What can I do to prevent them next season?
Based on what I learned last year, what would I do differently?
2. Expand Your Plot
If you started small your first year, consider expanding your garden's footprint. A larger plot will allow you to grow more of the things you love, experiment with new varieties and more easily navigate between rows.
3. Draw Out a Plan
If you tend to stock your online cart to the brim or come home from the garden center with a trunk full of impulse purchases, save yourself time, money and overwhelm by creating a plan. First, create a wish list of what you'd like to grow. Then, research each plant's mature size. Purchase or print graph paper (where one grid equals 1 square foot), draw the shape of your garden, and sketch where each plant will go and how much space it will take.
At planting time, you can confidently place each seed or seedling, knowing it will have plenty of room to grow and that you're making the smartest use of your space.
4. Replace Plants Throughout the Season
Succession planting, or rotating plants in and out as the growing season progresses, is one of the best gardening tips for increasing your plot's productivity. The practice essentially involves growing early-season crops, such as peas, lettuce and kale, harvesting and replacing them with warm-weather veggies like tomatoes and peppers as temperatures rise, then transitioning back to cool-weather crops come fall. With this method, you get a steady supply of produce from spring to fall instead of one big burst.
This same practice also works for annual flowers. For example, start with spring classics like pansies and violas, move into bold summer blooms like zinnias as the season progresses, then close out the year with fall favorites like ornamental kale.
5. Start Your Own Seeds
There's no doubt about it: Seedlings are a surefire way to set yourself up for gardening success. With much of the hard work done for you, you're able to put plants in the ground that are already off to a strong start.
On the other hand, starting seeds ensures you're able to grow exactly what you prefer in the quantities you want and that they'll be ready to plant at just the right time. With a handful of basic supplies, you can grow an entire veggie garden or flower bed from a few packets of inexpensive seeds. Consult seed packets or product listings for specific details on when to start seeds indoors, and make a schedule of when to start each kind.
Note that some plants don't necessarily benefit from an early start and will perform just as well through direct sowing.
6. Grow at Least One New Fruit or Vegetable
While it's tempting to stick with what worked well last year, consider expanding your palate — and your gardening prowess — by planting at least one new fruit or vegetable. If you didn't know you could grow your own garlic, now's your chance! Or if you missed the boat on getting blueberry plants in the ground last year, this is the season to make it happen.
7. Try a More Advanced Veggie
Now that you've got the basics down, challenge yourself by planting something on the persnickety side. While they may take a bit more research and TLC, you'll achieve a fantastic homegrown flavor that's 100% worth the effort. Plants perfect for more seasoned gardeners include:
8. Get New Gear
Now that you know gardening is more than a passing phase, it's an excellent time to upgrade your gear. Quality, long-lasting tools will make gardening easier and more enjoyable while helping you care for your plants more efficiently and effectively. If you're on a budget, consider putting your money toward a sturdy, multipurpose trowel you'll use for years to come. Other ways to up your gardening supply game include:
A cedar raised bed
A new hose and multisetting nozzle
A potting or workbench
Grow lights for starting seeds
Floating row covers to protect plants from pests and frost
9. Replenish the Soil
There's a chance your soil became depleted of essential nutrients last growing season. To create the optimal environment for draining excess moisture, developing strong roots and more, you'll need to add back any diminished minerals.
Several weeks before you want to plant, send a soil sample to your state's extension office. They'll analyze what your soil needs (or just as importantly, doesn't need). Depending on the results, you may need to mix fertilizer or aged compost into the top several inches of soil before planting.
Always take a less-is-more approach — unnecessary fertilizer can do more harm than good by burning and even killing your brand-new plants.
Pair these gardening tips with everything you learned during your first year, and you're ready to tackle year two. By setting yourself up for success with the proper planning, the right products and some fun new plants, you're well on your way to creating a garden you're proud to call your own.
Fill the bulk of your garden with easy-to-grow vegetables as you continue to develop your skills.