I go over planting in-ground, in raised beds and containers. Whether you are planting vegetables, flowers, fruits or anything else, this is an all-inclusive guide.
And if you have no idea what any of this means, I will be explaining everything!
This guide is supposed to be efficient so you will learn all the essentials to start gardening. For further information on a specific topic, I have included links that you can check out.
Here are the steps on how to begin gardening!
The first thing you should do is figure out where exactly on your land you should build your garden.
Here are the factors to look at:
- Hardiness zone
- Land and structures
- Other external factors like wildlife
Sun is one of the most important here. Without sunlight, plants won’t grow. You’ll need to map out your potential garden space with the amount of sunlight each spot gets. You can draw a map on paper or take photos and draw on top of them. Here’s more on how to create a sun map for your garden.
Mapping out the sun involves plotting out where the sun is at each hour of the day, from dawn till dusk. Each spot will either be in:
- Full sun – more than 6 hours of direct sun
- Partial shade – sunny area with some shade. For example, 4-6 hours of hot afternoon sun
- Partial sun – shady area with some sun
- Full shade
Depending on the season, this may change, so you may want to create more sun maps for off seasons. Note that most vegetable and fruit plants need at least 5 hours of sun per day. Greens, root vegetables and herbs a bit less.
Pick spots that are easy to access and that you can see. You don’t want to forget to water plants because you forgot they were there!
Different plants are best suited to different regions. Check your Plant Hardiness Zone here if you live in the USA. If you live elsewhere, simply google search your country + hardiness zone. This will help you to select plants that will thrive in your area.
Land and Structures
Plants grow best on flat land or gentle slopes. According to this article, slopes create microclimates that you can take advantage of. The disadvantage is that plants need more strength in their roots to hold themselves upright on slopes. There is also more soil erosion on slopes.
In terms of structures, planting near a structure that provides some wind cover to the plant is worth considering.
Other External Factors
Wildlife, proximity to children’s play areas in your garden, and any other factor you can think of, you should consider before finally deciding where to place your garden/s.
Another important thing to consider before you actually make your garden is soil quality. It’s best to figure out the type and composition of the soil in the ground before you do any planting, so that you know what you’re working with.
You can conduct a soil test easily. The goal is to determine the pH level of your soil. Generally, you want your soil to have a neutral pH, or pH of 7. If the soil is too alkaline or acidic, crops won’t grow. You can get soil home testing kits at your nearest gardening store.
Fix the soil before planting so that your plants will have the best chance of surviving. If pH is above 7, soil is alkaline. Make the soil more acidic by adding compost, leaf matter, garden clippings or mulch. Powdered sulfur is a quicker alternative.
If pH is below 7, soil is acidic. Make it more alkaline by adding lime or poultry manure. This article explains how to adjust your soil’s pH in more detail.
Keep in mind that some plants and vegetables prefer slightly alkaline soil, while others prefer it slightly acidic. Research each plant’s preferences before making all your soil’s pH the same.
Decide on Plants
The golden rule on deciding what to plant is to only grow what you eat. Of course, this applies to vegetables and fruits. Flowers are the exception. You can grow whatever flowers you like, but you may like to choose ones that offer a contrasting or bright color to make your garden look amazing!
The second rule is to start small. Especially if you’re new to gardening, plant only a few things while you adjust to learning to manage and maintain the garden. If you don’t have much time to tend the garden, plant only what you can manage.
How to choose plants depends on the information you discovered above about location. Once you know your hardiness zone and have a general idea of what vegetables and plants grow well in your region, it’s easier to decide what to plant. You can either use a process of elimination or just randomly google each plant or vegetable you’re interested in and see if it’ll work in your area.
These are the factors to look for when deciding what to plant:
- Starting with seeds or transplants?
- When does it bloom or bear fruit? Read about annuals vs. perennials vs. biennials.
If you’re interested in starting a vegetable garden, these are some easy vegetables. Remember to check if these will grow in your area.
Tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, peppers, cucumbers, beets, potatoes, peas and swiss chard or spinach.
The last tip is that you could group plants together based on similar sunlight and water requirements. This makes it easier to take care of them and ensure they get the correct amounts of sun and water.
Plan Garden Beds
The next step after deciding what to plant is how to plant it. If you are brand new to gardening, these are the ways you can grow plants, fruits and vegetables:
- In containers
- In raised beds
- In the ground
Ways to Plant
Containers are self-containing and don’t need to be in contact with the outside ground. Any indoor planting is usually in containers (minus greenhouses).
Raised beds are made of a frame, typically wooden, that sticks out of the ground. You then fill these beds with soil. They are narrow so that you can reach the center of the bed from either side. The advantage of raised beds over planting straight into the ground is that soil is less compacted – you won’t be stepping in your raised beds. The other is that you have full control of the soil in a raised bed.
The height of the raised bed depends on how deep the roots of the vegetable or plant will go. If you don’t want to bend while you garden you can have a raised bed with legs.
Raised beds can either have a base with drainage holes, which means they aren’t in contact with the ground. Or, they can be in full contact with the soil in the ground below. It’s good practice to add a mesh layer if there are critters that may get into the raised beds.
Planting directly into the ground is the last option. Of course, you will need to add good soil and fertilizer. We will go into detail on how exactly to do this in a bit.
Garden Bed Size
Especially for beginners, it’s best to start with a small plot size. If planting in the ground, ten feet by ten feet is a good size. If planting in a raised bed, three to four feet wide and six to eight feet long will work.
You can upsize your garden or add more beds after you’re sure you can manage a smaller plot size. If you want to go all out and feed your whole family from the get go, try 12 feet by 24 feet.
For ground plots, make sure to include places to walk every four feet or so.
When designing the garden, always take into account the size of the mature plant. The last thing you want is plants cramping up and dying because they don’t have enough space! This also applies to vertical space. Make sure if you use raised beds that they are deep enough for the roots of the plant.
A not-so-important tip here but something to keep in mind. If you want an absolutely beautiful garden, use color theory! If you want to give your potential garden viewers a treat, use red, orange and yellow plants to excite them. Use blue, purple and green to relax and invigorate.
You will need a set of basic garden tools to begin gardening. Get good quality ones that you don’t have to buy again anytime soon.
Here’s what you need:
- Garden gloves – get a pair that fits well and will protect you from thorns, cuts, scratches and blisters. Choose a fabric that is breathable and water resistant.
- Hand trowel – this is a must-have for anything from transplanting, digging up weeds and arranging soil.
- Garden hose with adjustable nozzle – you need to water your plants! If you have a small plot or use containers, you can also use a watering can.
- Pruning shears – these are for cutting parts of plants like branches that are taking over the space of other plants.
- Rake – use this to get rid of debris like dead leaves.
- Hoe – for removing weeds or cultivating soil
- Shovel or spade – this is like a trowel, but for less delicate work. Trowels are best for working with small plants and soft soil. Also for container gardens and raised beds. Spades and shovels are better in hard soil and moving large amounts of soil around. Here’s more on shovels vs. spades vs. trowels.
- Garden fork – the most efficient way to turn soil.
- Wheelbarrow – useful to move large amounts of soil or compost.
Make Garden Beds
In this section we’ll talk about how to prepare your garden beds for planting.
In-Ground Garden Beds
For planting in the ground, first of all check that there are no utility lines running under the ground. Then you want to outline your garden bed. You can use the garden hose or some string.
Next, you need to remove existing vegetation. This could be grass, weeds, or other plants. Ideally, you’ll have some time before planting. Use black plastic that you can find in garden stores or even newspaper to cover the entire area. This blocks the light and will kill the vegetation.
After that, till the soil. Remove all debris and rocks. Keep in mind killing the existing vegetation could take a month or more. There is a quicker way using herbicide, but this is a chemical and best avoided if possible. Another alternative is simply to dig up the vegetation.
Now, test the soil as described earlier in the article. This will tell you how much organic matter of which type to add.
Add organic matter. This could be compost, fertilizer, and other things like lime or brown matter, depending on the target pH.
The last step is to check the drainage rate of your soil. Dig a hole about 1 foot deep and 1 foot wide. Pour water into the hole until it’s filled, then let it sit and wait for all the water to drain. This could take a while.
Come back once it’s empty and fill water to the top of the hole again. This time, come back after one hour. Measure the rate of drainage by how many inches the water has gone down. You want a water drainage rate of between 1 and 6 inches in an hour. If it’s not at this level, add more organic matter until you hit this drainage rate.
Raised Garden Beds
There are two ways to create raised garden beds. One way is to buy raised bed kits from your local garden store or online, then assemble it. If you are experienced with tools you can build it from scratch yourself. Here is an in-depth guide on how to build raised garden beds.
After you’ve got the frame installed, line the bottom so that pests and weeds don’t get in. You also don’t need to test the ground soil since you’ll be adding your own. Use landscape fabric or weed block for lining the base.
The next step is soil. Keep in mind that dirt is not soil. Soil is full of organic matter and nutrients, which you need for healthy plants. One method is to use 60% topsoil, 30% compost and 10% potting mix. If you want to get very detailed into making the perfect soil, this article is useful.
We have a full guide on vegetable container gardens for beginners, which covers container gardening.
Now for the exciting part, the actual planting!
The first thing to consider is depth. For seeds, a good rule of thumb is a depth of three times the diameter of the seed. Or, look at the instructions on the seed packet. Pat the soil down firmly over the seed with your hand. Water the soil so the surface isn’t dry.
For transplants, the same depth as it was in the pot. When transplanting, gently remove the plant from the pot. Free the roots from the soil of the pot so they aren’t stuck in that pot-shaped block. Dig a hole that will fit the plant snugly, then press the plant into the soil. Cover the roots well with the soil but do not block the stem of the plant. Give it a good watering.
Make sure taller plants will not block sunlight from shorter plants. And plant in the correct season! Seed packets will usually tell you this.
Water your plants regularly. A good rule of thumb is one inch of water per week during the growing season. If there is not enough rainfall, water more. The best way to tell if you need to water the soil is to stick a finger in about 2 inches. If the soil is dry, water it.
Do not over water. Roots get soggy and you may cause root rot. Soil must be moist and not soggy.
Seedlings must never dry out, water these more regularly. Transplants need to be watered every second day or so. Once the plant is larger and more established, you can water it less, about once a week.
Water early in the morning so there’s less chance of evaporation.
Depending on the season, you will have to do varying degrees of maintenance.
During growing season, keep a close eye on plants. Clip off yellowing or dying leaves. Add stakes for plants that are collapsing from their own weight. Dense vegetation must be pruned to allow air to circulate and to provide enough sunlight.
The best thing you can do is to simply look after your garden. Don’t forget to feed and water the plants. Get rid of weeds as soon as possible. Get rid of dying or diseased parts of plants. Deal with pests using insecticide or another method. Also harvest them as soon as they’re ready.
Remember, the earlier you catch problems the better. You will most likely be able to save your plants and your hard work will not be wasted!
Spend time in your garden each day – observe and keep a close eye on everything.
And now for the best part, enjoying your harvest!
Harvest as soon as your plant is ready for the very best quality.
Now it’s your turn
You can also grow things in your garden to sell. If this is of interest to you, here’s our small farm income ideas article.