Gardening is both an art and a science. Even the most experienced gardeners and horticulturalists had to start somewhere and they still make mistakes from time to time.. If you have decided to start a garden, but don’t know where to begin, don’t worry, as with all things, you have to start from the ground up (pun intended!).
Why should you start gardening?
Gardening offers a range of benefits. Starting your own garden not only allows you to create beautiful floral displays, it also provides an opportunity to grow your own nutritious fruits and vegetables. There are also a number of other, often overlooked, benefits:
Vitamin D Exposure
Being outside more regularly is excellent for your health. The sun allows you to naturally increase your vitamin D levels, which, in turn, increases the body’s ability to absorb calcium, which further strengthens bones and the immune system. Gardening is a fun way to ensure you get the direct sunlight exposure you need - even if the temperature is cold outside! (It’s a good idea to wear sunscreen and sunglasses to protect your skin and eyes from excessive sun exposure).
Gardening has been known to boost positive brain activity,allowing you to be creative when designing your outdoor space, while reducing stress levels. It has also been found to reduce cortisol (the stress hormone) levels as you are able to switch off from life’s daily stresses and concentrate on your planting.
Increased physical activity
You’re exercising without even realizing. Gardening is a dream for those who want to be more active but feel they don’t have the time. Pulling up weeds, twisting, turning and bending while planting, even digging a hole - all these (and much more) will work many muscles in your body and help with your strength, flexibility and stamina.
These health benefits alone make gardening the perfect hobby for all of us (regardless of age, interest and ability). Popularity in this art is growing and, although there are no hard and ‘fast’ rules, there are 12 steps that all beginners should take to get started. Now is the time to grab your gardening tools and follow these simple steps:
1. Know your soil
One big mistake many first time gardeners make is purchasing plants before understanding the importance of the soil they have available in their garden. Soil contains everything your plants need to grow healthy.
Plants will thrive depending on soil type. If you’re unsure, try to seek the advice of a neighbour as soil tends to be consistent with surrounding areas. To help you understand more, below is our mini-guide to help identify your soil:
The 6 most common soil types:
Sandy soil tends to be light, warm and dry. It is usually quite acidic and is low in nutrients. It has a higher percentage of sand and very little clay. These soils are quick to drain water and quite easy to work with. They are quicker to warm up during springtime (than clay soils) but tend to completely dry out in the summer.
Clay soil is a heavy soil type with plenty of nutrients. This soil type tends to remain wet and cold in the winter but dries out easily in the summer. These soils tend to consist of around 25% clay which is spaced out throughout the area. Clay soil can really test gardeners due to the slow draining of water and the cracking/drying that happens during summertime.
Silt soil is light and retains moisture well. This is a soil with a high fertility rating. Silt soil usually contains medium sized particles which drain well and hold moisture for a long period of time. The particles tend to be finer allowing them to be compacted more easily. Adding organic matter to silt soil can bound it into more stable clumps.
Peat soil is very high in organic matter and is excellent for retaining moisture. This type of soil is rarely found in gardens and tends to be imported to provide an optimum soil base for planting.
Chalk soil can be both light and heavy. It will always contain a high percentage of alkaline due to the calcium carbonate or lime within its structure. These soils will not support plants that thrive in an acidic environment. If there are white lumps within the soil, it is impossible to ‘acidize’ and you will have to stick to plants that need alkaline soils.
Loam soil is a mix of sand, silt and clay which has been combined to avoid any negative effects of each individual soil. This means that Loam soil is very easy to work with and incredibly fertile. These soils tend to be the perfect balance for particles and are often considered a gardeners ‘best-friend’.
2. Choose the right location
First time gardeners should start small. Consider plots that can be managed easily while you get to grips with the basics of your new hobby. We advise that an 8x8 foot space or smaller is an excellent starting point to getting green fingered. You could also start by using raised beds or containers as you begin to learn how to care for your new plants and understand their growth habits.
Where you place your plants is very important. Attention should be paid to the amount of sunlight and shade the areas you have available to you are exposed to. Most annual flowers, vegetables and plants need full sun for part of the day. If you have more areas of shade you will need to find the right plants that can tolerate these conditions. You should also consider the various changes in climate within your geographical location.The best location is one that is in close proximity to a water source, amount of sunlight it receives, and protection from wind and frost. The soil quality is also important. If you are planting on the ground, the soil should be well drained and fertile. Ensure you have enough room for your plants depending on the particular vegetables you want to grow.
3. Plan ahead and play with garden designs
Before you start picking up a shovel, digging fork or rake - you need to think of the bigger picture. The design of your garden is just as important as the plants that are going to go in it.
We mentioned earlier that gardening is also an art, and artists always prepare before putting their paint brushes to canvas. Using some graph paper and tracing paper, draw a rough outline of the available space you have to play with, how you want your garden to look and which plants you want to go where. Make sure you map out where the light and shaded areas are to ensure you plant wisely.
Once you have decided on placement, we advise physically mapping out your design by putting your new bulbs and plants on the surface of the soil and moving things around until you’re totally satisfied with how it looks and feels. . Once you’re happy with placement - get planting!
4. Plant the Right Seeds
The quality of plant seeds you use has a direct relationship with the yield of your garden. High quality seeds have an excellent rate of germination and are resistant to diseases. Furthermore, seed packets are quite affordable when compared to individual plants. When it comes to what vegetables to grow, you may contact your local cooperative extension for a list of crops that can grow well in your area.
Different seeds have different needs, so pay attention to the environment when planting, as this can have an impact on successful or unsuccessful growth. When you’re starting out, determining the seed depth can be tricky, so follow these general guidelines:
- Seeds should be planted at a depth of two times the width or diameter of the seed
- Tiny seeds should be placed on the surface and barely covered
- Soil should not be firm but not too compacted when planting seeds
Most seeds, vegetables and fruits require covering with soil. These include:
Other seeds need light to germinate. These tiny seeds need to be placed on the surface but not covered, they include:
- Sweet Alyssum
When purchasing seeds, they tend to have instructions included on how you should plant them, what environment they thrive in and general care and guidance.
5. Plant at the right time
Different plants do better at different times of the year. This is why (before supermarkets) a lot of food was ‘seasonal’. It is therefore important to know the right time to put your plants in the ground to ensure maximum productivity. Planting calendars can be downloaded online and provide recommendations based on your location and area.
6. Treat your new plants with love
Your new plants need to be treated with love. If you don’t take care from the initial removal of plants from their pots, you could end up bruising or breaking their stems.
The best way to remove a plant from its pot is as follows:
- Gently squeeze the sides of the pots
- Slowly turn the pot upside-down
- Use your other hand to catch the plant as it slides out
An alternative option is placing the pot on a hard surface and pressing sides as you rotate. The plant should slip out easily when you upturn the pot.
7. Let your plants breathe
It can hard to resist the urge to place all your plants and shrubs near a fence or a wall, but it’s to understand that plants don't just grow one way. Sometimes they can be completely unpredictable in their growth patterns.
Plan for all possibilities of where and how your new plants can grow. Giving your plants plenty of space is advised. Opening up areas and spacing out appropriately provides the perfect environment for growing your garden. If you place your plants too close to each other, they could interlink, interfere with each other and, in some cases, could fail to grow at all.
8. Soak your roots
When plants are incorrectly watered, something can occur at the root of the plant known as ‘dry root balls’. To prevent this from happening, make sure to thoroughly soak the root ball and surrounding soil with water before it goes into the ground. One great way to do this is to fully saturate the roots in a bucket of water. Air bubbles should stop appearing on the surface to indicate the soil is fully wet through. Then you will want to place your plant in the prepared hole and soak the surrounding soil. Allow all the water to be absorbed and repeat if necessary, for example if its a particularly hot day and the water absorbs quickly. Now you’re ready to fill in the hole with more soil and firm up the ground around.
One thing to note is that the intended plant hole needs to be bigger than the root ball. The act of soaking your roots accelerates the plant's process in spreading out to find rich nutrients within the soil and maintain the moisture.
9. Be mindful when watering
Most plants are designed to live outdoors. They draw moisture from the natural earth without the need for daily artificial irrigation. Droughts and heatwaves are the exception to this rule.
To know whether your plants need watering, look out for the following points::
Touch the surface of your soil and check for any irregularities with moisture
Poke your fingers into the ground (approximately 2 inches)
Feel around to gauge the dryness
If there is little moisture from this method, it’s highly likely that you need to add some additional water.
Container plants are a bit of a grey area when it comes to watering as there are lots of them in a finite amount of soil - this means they will need to be watered regularly.
10. Kill the weeds
In short, a weed is any plant growing in your garden where it shouldn’t be. Some weeds can be highly aggressive, such as Wisteria (Japanese and Chinese), whose vines will strangle and damage the plants you have worked so hard to nurture and grow. Don't be fooled by a weeds' pretty exterior, some of the worst weeds will take over your garden quicker than you can say the word 'weed'!
Having a weekly weeding schedule is a good idea to ensure you keep on top of any potential, unwanted growth. Ensure to remove the weed at root. If there are seeds clinging to the weeds, be careful, do not put them in a compost heap as you’ll end up re-seeding the weeds and spreading them around your whole garden.The best way to identify a weed is by really knowing what's in your garden. You should have an idea (a clear one by now if you have followed our previous steps) of what you have planted and where. If something looks a little out of the ordinary, or you fail to recognize the plant growing - take a picture and search online. Identifying weeds is usually done by taking note of its characteristics. There are guides available to help you understand how to deal with their safe removal and what damage that particular weed could do to your garden.
11. Label your plants
First time gardeners are far from expert botanists. This is a learning process and it’s important you give yourself the best opportunity to improve your planting knowledge.
You will forget what you have planted and where, but don’t panic. This is where labelling your plants will be crucial to keeping your garden in order
You can buy or print labels (a lot of garden centers even provide a free label when you buy their plants) you design your own. Once you have labelled everything, simply pop it into the ground next to the bulbs or seeds
12. Relax and enjoy
Gardening is a hobby and hobbies are meant to be enjoyed.Embrace your new skill, have fun and experiment with different plants and garden design.
You can play around with different shapes, sizes, colors and placements. Don’t be afraid of getting it wrong, you can always move plants to suit your creativity.
Most plants and shrubs can be uprooted and replanted depending on your preference. Smile, relax and play with your new surroundings.
Following these simple steps will ensure you have the best chance of starting an elegant and productive garden at home. Many people started their gardening journey by using these simple steps, and now enjoy the fruits (or vegetables) of their labor season after season.