Spring’s finally here, which means things are blooming again, bringing some life and color back after a long winter. Thinking about helping Mother Nature along by starting your own garden or some house plants?
Gardening can be a relaxing hobby, a way to stay in touch with nature, even a source of food for the table. But if you’ve never done it before, where do you begin? The promise of a “green thumb” doesn’t seem like enough when you’re trying to make sense of thousands of seed varieties, fertilizer types, and growing tips.
Take a breath — gardening really can be easy! Here are some of the most basic but useful tips to help even the most noobie of noobs become a successful gardener.
You Don’t Need Fancy Stuff
Start small, if you’re just beginning to garden. Ditch the daydreams about becoming an at-home farmer and concentrate instead on trying out a few simple, hardy plants. That will build your confidence and encourage you to garden more.
If you start small, you’ll only need a few essential tools and supplies, like a gardening trowel, some containers for planting, and a few plant cages or stakes. I’ve even had success growing potatoes in a bucket on an apartment balcony!
Choose Easy-To-Grow Plants
When you’re just starting out, all you really want to do is make sure you can actually see a plant survive under your care! Vegetables like cucumbers, zucchini, peppers, and peas are all relatively painless to grow. Radishes are probably the easiest of all, and you can go from seed to ready-to-eat in as little as 28 days.
Tomatoes are super popular, but a little harder to grow — cherry tomatoes are a good variety to try. If you want to try your hands at herbs, basil and mint are very hardy. As for flowers, marigolds, nasturtiums, and sunflowers are great for first-timers.
Check Plant Labels, and Keep Them
Don’t throw those seed packets and labels away! They’ll tell you how long to expect before seeds sprout, when to set the seedlings outside in your area, how long you can expect it to take before your plants are mature, and tons of other useful information.
Start a Seedling Station
Many seeds can be started indoors in small planters or seed pods when it’s still too cold for them outdoors. Do yourself a favor and start early! Use a soil labeled for seedlings, and keep the seedling station near a window or other sunny spot. Transplant them into larger containers or into the ground when recommended on the seed label.
The average garden only needs about 1 inch of rain per week. You can buy a simple rain gauge at a gardening supply store. Or, for a really simple test, just stick a finger down into the soil — if you can feel moisture underneath the surface, you probably don’t need to water.
If you do need to supplement with water from a sprinkler, hose, or can, plan to water early in the morning. This both helps water reach plants’ roots before it evaporates, and keeps their leaves from staying wet too long (which can cause problems).
Keep an Eye On Lighting
Many plants, like tomatoes, thrive in full sun. Others, like lettuce and other leafy greens, will need to be covered during the hottest times. Check the info that came with your seed packets, and get a simple cover for your plants if necessary. If you’re growing plants in containers, you can simply move them into or out of the sunshine as needed.
Pellet or liquid form fertilizer (like Miracle-Grow) can be helpful if you have needy, short-lived plants like seasonal vegetables. However, if you plan on using a certain patch of soil for gardening year after year, or if you have plants that you expect will grow for several years, organic fertilizer mixes are best. They actually increase the strength of your soil, and slowly release nutrients over time for long-term health.
Problems Can Be Dealt With!
If you’re afraid of gardening because you think pests and plant diseases will be difficult, don’t let that stop you. Many of the most common gardening problems can be handled in simple ways.
Have a problem with slugs, for instance? Leave out cups of beer — they’ll be attracted to the brew, and drown in it. Powder mold showing up on your plants? Just spritz them with a little plain old milk! Insects or deer bothering your garden? Plant some lavender around it — many animals can’t stand its lovely smell.
Reach Out to Your Local Extension Office
Colleges, universities, and many county governments have a ton of resources to help wannabe gardeners. Google “[your area] extension office” to find yours, and check out their website or give them a call. Extension agents can give you helpful tips, tailored to your specific location, on what to plant — and how.