If you don’t know much about how to start a garden, this post lays out the basic gardening tools you’ll need, how to plan your garden, and more! These are beginner gardener tips from someone who’s gardened for years.
I was honored when Katelyn asked if I would like to write for her blog. I am a Fagan so I suppose that makes me part of the What’s Up Fagans team.
My name is Susan, and I am Joshua’s mom and since I am at a different stage in life, with two grown children, I now have time to focus on other areas.
I like to garden, cook and I enjoy watercolor painting. I still work full time as a registered nurse and have a home and a husband, Brent, with whom we will celebrate forty-four years of marriage this month, so my life is busy still.
As I thought about what to write, now that the holidays and all the entertaining and preparation for family and church events are over and sweet memories had, I had an epiphany when my Swan Island Dahlias catalog came!
The arrival of the catalog made me realize that now is the time to start planning my gardens for the spring. I had already started to think about rearranging my herb garden, moving out the Clematis and the Baptista this spring to allow room for radishes and possibly tomatoes when the catalog arrived.
My dad was a gardener. He planted vegetables and flowers and then mom would “put up” tomato juice, beans and do beautiful flower arrangements. I remember we had fresh flower arrangements on the dining room table from the spring into the fall.
Daddy didn’t start planting until his children were grown and then expanded his garden once he retired. Going home was a special treat because I would take walks with daddy through the garden and help pick fresh produce.
I love roses and my favorite color is yellow so Daddy made sure he had a yellow rose bush in his garden; there were a number of times he had a fresh yellow rose picked just for me. These are now special memories I will always have in my heart.
My favorite flower to grow is Dahlias. I look at their symmetrical petal pattern and marvel at the beauty God created for us.
I have planted vegetable gardens in the past and have “put up” vegetables, however, I have not been planting vegetables where we currently live as the rabbits, raccoons, deer, and other wildlife have big appetites.
The first year in our home here in Indiana I spent hundreds of dollars feeding the wildlife. Since then I know what the local animals like and have avoided planting their favorites. However, now that Duncan the cat monitors the rabbit population I am able to have a successful herb garden!
How to Start a Garden
If you want to plant herbs or flowers there are some things to consider:
- Space/size of the area to plant
- Available time and money for gardening
- Basic Gardening Plan
- Basic Gardening Supplies
Space for a Garden
Space is a big factor.
I started glowing flowers when I lived in an apartment. A decorative pot and bright flowers can brighten up the patio and you can enjoy all season long either sitting outside or walking by the window.
If you have a yard, determine the size of the area you want to plant and the sun exposure it receives.
I used to plant flowers next to the house but I could not see my beautiful flowers from inside, so I moved all my gardens away from the house so I can enjoy from any window.
Just because you have a yard, you don’t have to plant a garden for flowers or herbs, you can plant colorful pots mixed in with the shrubs or on the porch.
Time and Money for Gardening
Time is something that is determined by the size of the garden or the number of pots. A large garden will take more time to prepare, plant and maintain as would be expected.
How to Create a Garden Plan
Once you have decided on the space and size to plant in, you need a plan.
Annuals are one-time growers and do not, as a rule, come up again the next year.
Perennials will come up every year without replanting.
I have a garden I try to only plant with perennials that way they come up every spring and other than weeding and mulch I don’t do anything but enjoy.
In another garden I have a mix, my hosta and Black Eye Susan are perennials, however, I throw seeds in this garden for Zinnias and Cosmos, which are annuals.
Seeds or Plants?
You can buy flowers started in pots or buy seed and sow them yourself. You can even grow your own seedlings indoors first before planting them outside.
I buy my herbs and some flowers in pots personally.
If buying from places like Wal-Mart or grocery stores make sure you buy early as these places don’t typically have the staff to maintain them and they get dried out as the season progresses.
Seed you can buy from anywhere, but check the date on the package to make sure you are not getting old seed. I will order my Dahlia bulbs soon and they will arrive at the appropriate time for planting. It’s important to read and know when the appropriate time for your area is to plant various seeds!
I used to buy magazines to get ideas, however, there is so much information on the web I now look for inspiration at places such as HGTV.
Here is a hint if you are not sure how large a garden or what flowers you might want: look at catalogs online.
The catalogs will have prices for plants and also seeds. During the fall when planning look at what you might like to plant and the work intensity of the plant. This will help first-time gardeners decide on the size of garden and potential cost.
Also look to friends that are ready to divide plants. Tuber plants such as Hosta, Daylilies, and Lily of the Valley multiply and need to be divided. It is a good way to share plants with friends and family.
Herb Garden Basics
Start your herb garden with herbs you normally cook with. My go-to are rosemary, thyme, basil, and dill. I also did sage, oregano, and lavender this year and have chives that I planted when we moved into this house about twenty years ago.
I keep my herbs near my kitchen. They started out as a pot of herbs, but have since grown to an herb garden dedicated to the herbs, a lemon tree, and (hopefully this year) some French radishes.
I like to cut the herbs and have them in a vase next to my stove to add while I am cooking. They also make a nice scent when added to a flower arrangement!
Basic Garden Care
Prepare the Soil
Initially, the ground will need to be turned to loosen the soil. Once you sow seeds or plant, the soil needs to provide the ability for the plant spread their roots. If the soil is too compact, the roots will not thrive. Dependent on the size of the garden, this will take time and energy to prepare the soil.
The cost of this initial process is more energy than actual dollars. You will need the garden tools I recommend later on in the post. Your local hardware or one of the large stores such as Lowes or Home Depot will have everything you need. Avoid buying tools at the local nursery as their prices tend to be higher.
Next comes the planting
Seeds will have the directions for planting on the back of their packet. Follow the directions for depth and when to plant.
Packets of seed range from a couple of dollars up to ten dollars per packet dependent of the plant with a few to hundreds of seeds per packet.
Zinnia, for example, a standard garden plant, can range from $2-7 dependent the style of Zinnia you want. The cost will depend on the style of Zinnia: a simple color or more vibrate, special features like striping or petal form.
Make sure you look at the date on the packet to ensure your seeds are fresh and not left over from the prior year. This will ensure better results.
Going to the nursery and choosing plants is such a joy to me. I love going out in the spring and looking at plants and weighing the possibilities. Look at your plan for your garden and utilize the nursery staff if you need help with selections.
For planting in mass, such as borders, flats of flowers can be purchased. These are flowers that are small in two to three-inch plastic planters that can include four to six plants per planter.
These usually run from $2-4 each with a discount if you purchase a flat which is usually six to eight planters. These are small versions of the larger plantings you can find, however, the larger planters run more in the $5-25 range depending on the size of the plant.
For borders the flat of plants is best; they will grow together in a cluster and cover a large area of ground. To use the same plant as a specimen, may be a single or couple here and there to provide texture and a splash of color, the larger plant might be better.
Catalogs are also great for outside the box plantings. I can buy my Dahlias bulbs online and they are delivered at the correct time for planting or I can buy a limited variety from the nursery.
Mulching and Weeding
Once the plants or seed are in the ground the next steps are to ensure the plantings stay hydrated and also weed free.
Weeds can choke out the sun and overtake your garden.
There are a couple of options to remedy this. First is using mulch.
My first garden my husband was a college student and we had no extra money. Our landlord taught me to use grass clippings. That worked very well.
Just remember this can be used as long as there are fertilizing chemicals with weed killer in the grass and you don’t want to use weedy yard clippings as the weed flowers or seeds can sprout in your garden.
There are all kinds of mulch products through your local hardware stores, Walmart or Lowes and the like.
Use bags for small projects and for a larger project you may have to have some delivered. Two cubic feet of mulch dependent on brand and type can be anywhere from three to five dollars per bag. Pricing varies per product and again the cost will depend on the size of the garden.
Mulch helps to keep weeds down, hold in moisture for your plants and helps shade the roots. Note if you have pets that come into the house do not use the dyed products. When wet, some of the dyes can adhere to the pet’s paws and they can track it into the house!
Watering a Garden
Once the garden is planted and mulched the next step is to make sure the plants have sufficient water.
In the hot months when there is limited rain you may need to water a couple of times per week dependent on your area. You can judge if they need water when the plant droops however that does tend to create stress for the plant, inhibiting the plant’s growth or bloom.
Pots tend to need water once a day but if you are in a cooler climate or they are in the shade you may be able to go every other day or more.
To check for moisture, take your index finger and push down into the soil. If the soil is dry to the center knuckle then the plant needs more water. Watch the weather: a good rain is always the best.
Pull stray weeds as they sprout to prevent it becoming overwhelming. Again dependent on the size of garden will dictate the time spent weeding.
Fertilizing a Garden
If your soil has a lot of clay you may need fertilizer to maintain growth and flowering.
I use Miracle Grow. It can be purchased in a water solvent medium or a shaker form.
For the garden, I usually use the shaker form. The label on the box will tell you how often to fertilize.
I might fertilize one to two time per season, a lot depends on the plant, some gardens I may not fertilize at all.
Fertilizer can be purchased at any hardware store. I have used cow and horse manure when I can get it. As students, we had access to a horse farm and during those years I had the best roses ever!
Basic Gardening Tools and Supplies
Supplies you will need are dependent on how large a project you are contemplating.
For small gardening projects in pots, a small hand shovel, clippers and gloves may be enough.
If you chose a clay or ceramic pot the air will flow through and help keep the roots cooler than a plastic pot.
If you go for a plastic pot the sun will bake the roots and water needs escalate.
I have purchased great arrangements of plants that are in plastic containers however I always transplant them into a more porous pot.
For pots I like to look at Home Goods, they have beautiful Mexican, Portuguese and Italian painted pots at a reasonable price.
Lowes and the like will also have pots but usually, they are the terracotta which can still be lovely when planted.
Local nurseries tend to price their pots higher however you can get a broader selection of styles and colors.
Of course, you will need potting soil and I do not cheat here. If you buy cheap potting soil your plants will dry out to quickly and will not thrive.
I typically buy Miracle Grow or its equivalent for potting. Watch for sales at Wal-Mart, Lowes or any local store in the spring.
A note on gardening gloves, make sure they fit well, that the glove fingers are not bulky and that there is some leather on the palm and fingers. You want to protect your hands at all costs; a cut or splinter can end your enjoyment for the day.
Always wear sunscreen and a hat when working in the yard.
This should get you started to think about your gardening project. There are so many options for plantings; flowers, vegetables, greenery, just have fun and enjoy the results.
It sounds like a lot of work, however, a little planning can make a big difference in the enjoyment of your garden.
Be sure to check out this post about growing seedlings too!