Get Your Garden Started: 5 Gardening Tips for Beginners

Get Your Garden Started: 5 Gardening Tips for Beginners
Fresh lettuce and herbs grown in pots outside.Fresh lettuce and herbs grown in pots outside.

Whether you're strolling down a garden nursery aisle or scrolling through a seed company's website, you'll be met with hundreds of colorful and tasty temptations. Plant and seed names can be rattled off like farmer's market poetry: 'Red Dragon' arugula, 'Porcelain Princess' pumpkin, 'Sugar Cube' cantaloupe ... need we go on?

It's easy to go overboard and envision tilling up the entire lawn, or to feel overwhelmed by plant choices. Take a step back with these first-time gardening tips before you plunge into the dirt. Of all the gardening tips for beginners, keeping your first season as easy-peasy as possible is number one. Start small and focused, revel in your successful homegrown flowers and produce, and look forward to many years of gardening to come.

Envision Your Garden Plan

Start by deciding what brings you the most joy and make a list. Do you crave fresh tomatoes or cucumbers for salads or salsa? Coneflowers and cosmos to attract pollinators? Morning glories like your grandma grew? How about basil for pizza on the grill or healthy greens for smoothies? Stick with about five varieties for your first-time garden.

While you're imagining your blossoming bounty, evaluate your proposed garden location as well. You'll have to decide where your plants will live and prepare your space so it's ready to host your plants for the season. Are you thinking of growing in raised beds or in containers? Do you have at least six hours of sun for most vegetables and flowers? If you have semi- or full shade, look for varieties such as impatiens and begonias that thrive in those conditions.

Burpee Tip: As you plan your planting space, keep your convenience in mind. Grow plants near your door or patio so they're easy to monitor, and have a way to water your plants within reach. It takes just a few minutes to pull a few weeds, check for dryness and to find those sneaky ripe green beans or cucumbers that can blend in and hide under leaves.

Stick With Seedlings

As you start out, you may want to consider buying seedlings, which are young plants started from seed. Garden-ready seedlings give you a head start and shorten your wait for blooming flowers, vegetables, fruits and herbs. Because they're young and tender, seedlings do need "hardening off," which is letting them acclimate for several days to shade, sun and slight breezes before planting them.

If you'd prefer to start plants from seed, look for prepackaged seed sets with combos that grow well together, like green beans, space-saving cucumbers, leaf lettuce and tomatoes for a patio garden. You can also look for varieties designated as All-America Selections Winners for prolific, dependable choices.

Start Small With Containers

You don't need a yard to grow beautiful plants — truly! If you live in an apartment, loft or patio home, you can choose container gardening. Containers can also be a good fit for homeowners who aren't ready to dig up grass or build a raised garden bed. Plants that do best in containers are usually shorter and more petite so they can handle less space for roots and won't get gangly or tip over in the wind. Look for flowers less than 3 feet tall, vegetables that are designated bush varieties, or compact plants made for containers. You can mix different plants into one container, such as tomatoes with Italian and Thai basil or cucumbers with chives and nasturtiums (the flowers add a peppery taste and pop of color to salads).

Use a potting mix containing fertilizer and organic material that helps feed your plants and retain moisture so they don't dry out too quickly. Stick a finger gently into the soil to see if it's still moist beneath the surface before watering. Also, make sure your containers have good drainage holes or your plant roots may rot or drown after an unexpected storm or lengthy rain shower.

Find Your Garden Friends

Local green thumbs can offer some of the best gardening tips for beginners because they know your regional climate and soil. Look for a nearby garden club and check out monthly meetings. Or find public events such as spring plant sales or summer garden tours, which are a fantastic way to get fresh ideas for what to plant together or to discover new varieties. You can also visit public gardens or arboretums for inspiration. Many have ongoing workshops and trial gardens that test up-and-coming varieties you might want to put on your wish list.

Carry a Garden Journal

Let's end on a tried-and-true gardening tip for first-timers: Keep a garden journal, take photos as you go and track what you plant each year. Keep notes on what worked and what didn't so you don't have to reinvent the wheel next season. You may be a beginning gardener, but don't take the flops personally. Longtime gardeners will assure you that in every season there are some plants that are vulnerable to weather or pests.

Your next season's self will thank you for the good note-taking, especially if you're planting perennials that grow back year after year. You don't want to accidentally dig into and damage a forgotten plant that's late to emerge the next season. Keep track of your tastiest, top-performing varieties, and compile a wish list of what you'd like to grow in the years to come as your experience expands. Best of all, consider a garden journal as a way to celebrate your gardening journey.

Share your gardening journey with your fellow green thumbs on Instagram using #MyBurpeeGarden.

Browse our gardening tips with our Garden Guide.

Written by Lisa Meyers McClintick

Lisa Meyers McClintick has been an award-winning journalist and photographer for publications such as USA Today, Midwest Living and Twin Cities Star Tribune for more than 30 years. She also has authored travel guidebooks on the Dakotas and Minnesota and volunteers as a Master Naturalist based in St. Cloud, Minn. Her home garden includes fourth-generation perennials, herbs, heirloom tomatoes, fruits for making jam and jellies, and a variety of hybrid and native flowers that inspire illustrations and photography.

July 13, 2021
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