I’ve been gardening since I was a very young girl. Some of my fondest memories of my childhood revolve around time in the garden or at the annual Garden Sale my mother helped run for my elementary school. As an eight year old, I was extremely proud of my ability to name nearly all of the plants without looking at their markers, and I thought nothing of the fact that I knew which ones were shade, part shade, or full sun. As I prep to write this post with some gardening tips, in answer to a request from Kira, I am acutely aware of just how much I don’t know. I’m no gardening expert, but my garden has always been my happy place, and I’ve picked up a few things along the way.
In truth, growing things is a really simple process, all you really need is soil, seeds, water, sunlight, a bit of love, a go- get-‘em attitude, and some know-how.
Soil: Technically you don’t need soil, if you want to, you can experiment with hydroponics, but that’s not something I’ve ever ventured into. A lot of my gardening efforts, are spent readying the soil. It’s really the basis for everything and definitely not something to ignore. By adding compost or fertilizer to my soil each year, I replenish the nutrients that my plants will need. I understand not everyone can have a compost bin in their yard, but even just digging in some compostable materials before you plant, is beneficial. If something’s not growing in your garden, one of the first things to check is your soil.
Seeds or Seedlings: Once you have your soil set up and you’re ready to dig, you’ll need either seeds or seedlings. It’s really important to choose your seeds and seedlings wisely. I buy my seeds online or from a catalogue because of the selection available, but if you’re not as picky as I am, definitely head to your local nursery. Purchasing seeds or seedlings at a local nursery is a great option for two reasons; one, they’ll only have plants that will grow in your area and two, the people who work there will happily discuss and advice. Befriending the employees at your local nursery is one of the best things you can do for your garden. Their tips are the most beneficial because they’re specific to your area. Whether to plant from seed or buy seedlings is a personal decision. My family used to buy seedlings but when I started to become more involved and in charge of the gardens, I opted to plant from seed. I enjoy the process of seed starting, appreciate the larger selection of plants seeds provide, and value the money I save by starting from seed. Seed starting is a win-win-win for me but for others with less time and/or less experience buying seedlings is a great option. Just remember to buy seedlings that look healthy and are in appropriately sized containers (not too small or too big for the plant). And unless you’re not transplanting it, never buy a plant that already has fruit on it!
Water: Plants, like people, need water to survive, but they can also be damaged from overwatering, watering at the wrong time, or watering in the wrong way. I don’t have a specific way to tell if my garden needs water. Instead we keep on a basic schedule, watering nearly every day and skipping a watering when it rains enough. My dad taught me the importance of watering at the right time. We never water between 10 and 4 in the summer, because (according to my dad) the roots will move up to retrieve the water and fry! (I’m not sure this is true, but I stick to the rule anyway.) I either water in the morning before 10 or between 4pm and 7pm. I don’t water at night or in the early evening in order to prevent mold or disease. We are also careful in our watering methods. I try very hard to only wet the soil, not the plants. Only the soil really needs to be wet and wetting the entire plant can cause disease and/or sun damage. We don’t use sprinklers, just a hose with a soaker spigot. In my dreams I have a system of soaker hoses dug into the ground and all I have to do is turn the water on when I want to water, but right now this manual watering system works for us.
Sunlight: All plants need sunlight, to varying degrees. It’s important to know which plants need full sun, partial shade or full shade. Some plants will grow under any condition, but they always do best in their recommended place. If anyone’s interested, I can make a more detailed list of what plants have worked for me where.
A Bit of Love: Plants need love. I don’t think my garden would be as successful as it is, if I didn’t love the process as much as I do. The amount of time and effort I put into my garden would be considerably less if I didn’t enjoy it. I talk to my plants from the time I stick the seeds in the soil until the end of the season when the plants are composted. I encourage them from the start and at the end I thank them for all they gave me. Am I a bit creepy? Undoubtedly, yes. Do I care? No, because I think it makes a difference. The amount of love I put into gardening almost always correlates to the amount of love I get back. And nothing is better than having a sizeable harvest to share with friends. I think gardening is fun, but if you don’t enjoy it, don’t do it (Join a CSA instead.)
A Go-Get-‘Em Attitude: While sowing the seeds and prepping the soil are important aspects of the planting process, gardening definitely doesn’t end there, and it’s not easy. It takes a lot of effort and labor to garden. There’s watering and weeding and harvesting that continuously demand attention the entire season. If you want a constant supply of a particular veggie, there’s repeated seed sowing involved as well. It’s important to be excited to tackle this feat, but it’s also important not to jump the gun and get in over your head. I recommend only trying out 1-3 new plants a year, that way you can keep track of what each plant needs and how it reacts to your treatment of it. If you’re just starting to garden for the first time, try growing tomatoes, cucumbers, and string beans or zucchini. In my opinion, those are the easiest things to grow and the most productive.
Some Know How: I could definitely write an entire post on just this subject, but since this post is getting long in and of itself, I’ll try to keep this brief.
Make sure what you plant can grow in your area. The US is divided into areas and not all plants grow in every area. Sometimes something isn’t growing because of your area’s weather patterns or the length of your growing season.
Pick the appropriate placement of your plant. Some plants need more space than others. Make sure you check each specific plant and give it the appropriate amount of space in all directions.
Pests are going to hang around your garden looking for a free meal ticket. Know who’s good and who’s bad and how to keep them away. Evil bunnies will chew through plastic fencing, and unless there’s space between your fence and your plants deer will chew plants’ tops off. Having trouble identifying a bug? Bring it to your nursery and find out how and if you should eliminate or deter it. Marigolds are great to bring beneficial bugs around while deterring rabbits. Have an evil tomato-loving, possum in your garden, set a trap and take him at least 5 miles away before releasing him into the wild. Pets can easily become pests; teach them not to trample your seedlings and to stay out of the garden!
It’s better to harvest things when they’re on the smaller side, than when they’ve grown way too big. The more string beans you pick, the more will grow, and the same goes for almost every other plant.
Only grow vegetables that you like to eat or herbs you’ll use or flowers you like the sight of. If you’ve never bought a jalapeno from the store, it makes no sense to plant them in your garden. You’ll end up with way more frozen jalapenos than you can ever use!
Read gardening books and blogs, consider others advice, and then experiment. Gardening for me is all about learning from trying different things.
This post was really general and unintentionally aimed at the beginner gardener. I may write a post or two about more specific gardening topics, if anyone’s interested. Did I miss something in my description of the simple process? Again, I want to stress that I’m not an expert or a professional. I’m still a pretty young gardener and I’m learning as I go but I love to help so if you have any questions don’t hesitate to ask!