Gardening Tips for Beginners

Gardening is one of those hobbies that may seem intimidating, but every new green thumb has had to start somewhere. The key is to start small and grow from there.

Whether you’re working with an existing plot that you want to make your own, or want to learn how to start a garden from a a blank slate, gardening for beginners can be both fun and relatively easy with a few helpful tips.

1Decide what you want to grow.

Decide what you want to grow

When you’re learning how to plant a garden, plan a scouting mission to a local garden centre or two before buying anything. Simply browse what’s available and see which plants you gravitate towards. Bring a little notebook to record your favourites.

Stephanie Rose, author of the Regenerative Garden recommends perennial plants for beginner gardeners. “They offer four-season greenery, are easy to take care of, provide you with culinary flavours, and they flower for bees and other pollinators,” she explains. “They also tend to be more pest resistant.”

Keep in mind perennial plants, like echinacea, ornamental grasses, sedum and English lavender, will have a higher price tag. These are a long-term investment because they come back each spring—provided the right growing conditions are met. You can fill in any gaps with showy annuals, like cosmos, zinnias, calibrachoas and petunias, that will last for one growing season.

If you’re growing a vegetable garden for the first time, focus on easy-to-grow crops that appear most often on your grocery list, such as tomatoes, cucumbers and beans. This is a great way to get your kids involved in planning and planting.

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Did You Know
Want to grow your own salad? Rose recommends sowing seeds for greens like kale, chard, beet greens, Asian greens and lettuces. The cut-and-come-again method allows you to harvest just a few leaves from each plant at a time, so the plant can continue to grow. This technique will also extend the harvest of your salad garden.

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2Choose your location.

Choose Your Location

There are a few things to keep in mind before you start digging and planting. Is your soil compact or clay? Or is it nice and loose and friable? This will affect what you plant and how much you’ll have to build your soil. It’s also worth checking with your local “Call before you dig” program to ensure there are no underground lines or cables that could be affected digging your garden or planting.

If you’re concerned about what might be in the soil or you’re looking to provide the right nutrients to vegetable plants, a soil test can help you find out what you’re dealing with.

Determine whether your plants will be in full sun, partial sun or full shade. Make note of where the sun is throughout various points of the day. If you’re planning earlier in the spring, be mindful of shade cast by any trees once the canopy fills in with leaves.

If you’re planting close to the house, leave at least one foot (30.5 cm) of space between the foundation and where a mature plant’s width will reach. Your plant tag will provide this information.

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3Plan your garden beds.

Plan your garden beds.

How you choose to design a garden bed is really a matter of personal style. There is lots of inspiration online and in gardening books. If you’re overwhelmed, you could even choose to enlist a professional to draw up a plan for you. Then you can follow the blueprint to gradually build your garden as you have the time.

“Think about how you want to use the space,” recommends Rose, who also runs the website Garden Therapy. “Do you want to have it as an entertaining space, a relaxing space, a space that provides food and nourishment for your family, or all three?” The key is to start small and expand over time.

If you’re planning to grow food, raised beds are an option that are both aesthetically pleasing and practical. The vegetable garden layout can be contained to one part of the yard. Just make sure a raised bed gets at least eight to 10 hours of sunlight a day.

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Quick Tip
Use flagstone, pavers or stepping stones to connect different areas of the garden.

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4Prepare your soil.

Prepare your soil

Digging up sod from a lawn to create a brand new garden can be an arduous, time-consuming task. In her book, Rose recommends sheet mulching as “a turnkey method for reclaiming land as garden beds to build soil, suppress weeds, and mulch all in one.” This process involves spreading out moistened cardboard (with tape and labels removed) or newspaper over the lawn or an existing garden. It is then covered with about 12 inches (30 cm) of organic material, such as mulch, followed by a couple of inches of manure and/or compost.

This can take at least four to six months to break down, but you’ll be able to plant directly into that space when it’s ready. Similarly, if you’re adding a new raised bed to a lawn, you can sheet mulch underneath where the structure will be placed and add the vegetable garden soil directly overtop.

If you have existing garden beds, amend the soil with a couple of inches of compost. You also want to make sure you remove all the weeds and any invasive plants that may impede the growth of the new plants you’re introducing to the garden.

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Quick Tip
Instead of trucking in new soil every year, Rose suggests thinking about how a forest or meadow builds soil: When things grow and die back, allow them to fall in place and decompose. You can make it look a little neater by covering that plant material with a layer of compost or topsoil, so it helps further decompose what’s underneath.

5Round up your essential gardening tools.

Round up your essential gardening tools

You don’t need a shed full of garden tools, but it’s nice to have some essentials to start. Over time, as your green thumb becomes more experienced, you’ll learn what your favourites are and what else you need.

Probably the most important thing to buy first is a pair of gardening gloves to protect your hands. Next on the list would be a sturdy hand trowel (basically a small, hand-held shovel). Use it to dig holes for small plants and seedlings, create rows for seeds and to dig up weeds. If you’re planting a shrub or a perennial with a large root ball, you’ll want something bigger, like a spade.

Tubtrugs are lightweight and versatile. They can be used to carry your tools around the yard, move soil, bring plants to the garden from the car, fill with weeds destined for yard bags, among other gardening tasks.

Rose’s favourite tool is soil knife a because of its versatility. “It’s a trowel, it’s a saw, it’s pruners when you don’t have anything,” she says.

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6Plant with care.

Plant with care.

Your growing zone determines how your perennial plants will fare over the winter. It is based on the average cold winter temperatures. Your local garden centre will be able to help you determine if a certain perennial is appropriate for your zone.

Another thing to be mindful of is the last frost date for your region. Many crops—warm-weather veggies, like tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers—and annuals do not like to be cold, so they should be planted after all threat of frost has passed, usually in May or June. You can find out your first and last frost dates here.

When you’re deciding on which garden plants to buy, the plant tag is your friend. It provides all the essential growing information—how much light the plant needs (full sun vs full shade), how tall and wide the plant will become, how far to space it from other plants, etc.

If you know your plants will grow tall and are at risk of flopping, have stakes ready to hold them up. If you’re planting vegetables, add structures like tomato cages at the time of planting as you can risk harming the plant when it gets bigger.

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7Nurture your garden.

Nurture your garden.

Caring for your garden will require a bit of upkeep for it to thrive—especially if you’re in for a very hot, dry summer. If you’ve chosen drought-tolerant perennials for your flower garden, they’ll be able to withstand less precipitation. However, your vegetable garden may need to be watered daily during a hot spell.

A rain barrel captures storm water and can help you save on your water bill. It’s easy to connect to your downspout to divert water for your garden.

Regular weeding will help your plants to thrive and prevent them from competing with plants you don’t want.

Organic fertilizer will add nutrients to the garden soil and help to promote fruiting in your vegetable garden and flowering in your perennial garden. Read the directions carefully on the package so you know how much water to add and how often you should be fertilizing your gardens.

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8Enjoy your harvest.

Enjoy your harvest.

If you’ve started a vegetable garden, there is nothing more rewarding than harvesting a fresh tomato for a sandwich, cucumbers for a salad, and herbs, like parsley, basil and cilantro to flavour summer barbecue meals. Have a basket at the ready and tools like herb snips to gently harvest your vegetables.

You can also preserve some of those fresh flavours to enjoy all winter long. Lifestyle websites and those that belong to canning jar companies, like Bernardin, are great resources for recipes and how-tos for jams, salsas and sauces. Ample recipe inspiration can also be found by following your favourite cookbook authors and veggie garden experts on social media. Here are some delicious recipe ideas for seasonal produce that might also come in handy.

If you’ve planted cut flowers, like zinnias and dahlias, be sure to snip a few for your vases, so you can enjoy them on your patio table or indoors.

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