How to Start a Garden

When learning how to start a garden, the most important thing to remember is the soil. The condition of your garden soil will often determine the success of your gardening adventures!

Because most yards are not equipped with the healthiest, most fertile soil, this may mean that you will have to do some building of the area before you can do any planting.

However, before we dive into how to start a garden with healthy soil, let’s choose a spot for your garden.

Where’s the sun?

All of the planting related information on this site discusses location, location, location, as this is often where the success or failure of your project lies.

Where's the sun?

I’m serious, don’t underestimate this! Put your garden in the wrong location (like in “partial sun”) and you will be disappointed with the results.

It’s a vegetable garden, so you need a full sunspot! If your vegetable garden is in a “half sun” location, then you will be disappointed with the results. Whether this is a raised bed garden, or a standard garden plot, choose a spot that gets at least 6 hours of full sun per day.

With this raised bed built in a sunny spot, it will be the perfect place to start a garden.

Look at the location you are considering and make sure the area receives “full sun” as a success criterion. If you want to be sure, you can get a sunshine calculator to measure it.

OK, now for the soil…

Get your hands dirty!

You will need good, healthy, fertile, well-drained soil in order to grow the healthiest, most vigorous vegetable plants possible.

How do you do this?

There are several options.

You can have a few cubic yards of good topsoil delivered to your home and spread that topsoil in your garden.

This is probably the best way to do it, however, depending on the location of your garden, you may have to “dump” the soil on your land and then transport it to the new location one wheelbarrow at a time.

Now, I’m not saying this is a bad option, but it is labor intensive. Take that into consideration before you do that.

Buy a few bags of soil

Another option is to buy a few bags of soil at your local garden center and spread it where you plan to plant.

Depending on how much you buy, this option may be more expensive, but it may be easier to manage. These bags are usually not very heavy and can be handled by most people.

Learning how to start a garden can be tricky if the area you want to plant is covered with grass or sod. If you’re building a garden in an area that is currently covered with sod, try double digging it! You can start planting. You will be able to start planting immediately and will avoid using toxic chemicals to kill the grass.

Once you have added topsoil, you should follow steps 4 and 5 on this page. In addition to adding compost, I recommend adding some sphagnum peat moss (available at most garden centers) to help make the soil more porous for root growth. Vegetable gardens can be less resistant to the effects of compacted soil than most perennials.

Make sure you mix, or till, all of these ingredients together. Not only will this distribute all the ingredients correctly, but it will make the soil very light and easy to work with and create a perfect growing environment for new garden plants.

Where do I put these plants?

Bottom line: put them where you want!

Some people like perfectly lined up rows of veggies,

  • One row of carrots
  • One row of tomatoes
  • And one row of lettuce
  • etc etc etc

but I prefer the “hodge podge” look myself!

The hodge podge look is not highly scientific, and in fact pretty much involves throwing the plants anywhere in the garden you want them.

Where do I put these plants?

Maybe not the best method, but it’s worked for me for years using simple veggies and herbs such as zucchini, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, cilantro, basil, pumpkin, lettuce, oregano and corn.

If you’d like to put a bit more thought into it, take a peek at how to lay out a garden for some ideas and tips that are a bit more well-thought out.

Plant the plants

Assuming you have purchased all your plants from your local garden center, you are ready to put them in the ground. You can certainly buy seeds and/or plants online, but if you are new to vegetable gardening, I suggest you take the easy route and buy your plants locally. They are already established and relatively inexpensive.

Once you are more familiar with the whole gardening process, you can grow plants from seeds and start a few plants at different intervals. For example, you could start a row of lettuce one week, a row the next, and a row the next. This will ensure that your “harvest” is spaced out, and that you’ll have a consistent lettuce binge for a few weeks.

Again, if you are new to this, I wouldn’t worry about it. Take your time, get familiar with the process, and then start improving it over the next year.

Follow step 8 on this page to put your vegetables in the ground. If you purchased your plants early in the season, you shouldn’t have any problems with “root binding,” but the pictures on that page will help you determine if this is the case.

Be sure to give the plant the space specified on its growth label. Although these babies are small now, they will grow quickly and will spread significantly If you don’t give them the space they need, they won’t grow to their full potential.

Do I need to fence in the area?

It definitely depends on what you are growing!

Most of the plants I used in the “hodgepodge” design discussed above do not need to be predator-proof …..EXCEPT …. Peppers (rabbits seem to like them) and pumpkins (once they turn orange). My pumpkins were fine and dandy until I noticed they were turning bright orange and I left them on the vine that night. The next morning I noticed all the pumpkins had holes in them and the contents had been removed.

Oooooo…., I was so mad!

But cutting those pumpkins off the vine and putting them on your front porch? They are safe as can be. Go check it out!

Oh, and the corn is usually safe until the ears start showing, then the squirrels come. I don’t know how to stop squirrels because they can climb anything…… Scarecrows do work, or use bright, shiny, overhanging objects to keep them away. This predator is something I fight a lot and I haven’t figured out the best way to deal with them.

Berries, such as raspberries and blackberries, are able to survive in the wild and therefore do not need protection, but you will have a hard time growing strawberries without some type of netting over the beds. I have a specific method for growing strawberries that seems to work well.

Should you mulch it?

I find that if I place a small amount of mulch around my plants, it is easier for me to take care of my garden on a regular basis. I don’t use any heavy or inorganic material and usually stick to a light sprinkling of grass clippings. And I do this to minimize weed growth, but also to make it easier to walk through – muddy shoes in the garden are no fun.

Weeds are a gardener’s nightmare! And they can be particularly challenging to deal with. Considering the fact that you can’t use pesticides in your garden, dealing with these weeds is especially challenging. The substance can harm or destroy valuable plants, as well as seep into the soil, get into the roots of vegetable plants, and then be “drunk in”. This would mean that you are essentially putting poison inside your home grown vegetables.

I don’t think that’s what you’re aiming for when you plant a garden.

Therefore, you will be forced to seek some type of organic weed control to manage the weeds in your garden. You will also need to regularly till the soil of your garden to ensure that the weeds do not take over.

Remember that weeds grow much faster than vegetable plants, and keeping them at bay will be a major part of your job during the first few weeks of caring for your garden.

Should you fertilize?

It really is a matter of personal choice.

I don’t feel the need to apply any fertilizer during the growing season, although I know most gardeners do. I personally don’t want any substance on my plants or vegetables, even if it is supposedly harmless.

My method of fertilizing my garden is to add compost at the beginning of the season. Another method I’ve tried is to bury compost material (prior to composting – such as raw vegetable pieces, coffee grounds, tea bags, etc.) directly into the soil a few weeks before the planting season begins. Compost enriches the soil and provides a delicious and nutritious bed for garden plants.

Final thoughts

Of course watering your plants will be critical to their success and longevity.

And while you’re there, share your own tips! Almost everyone knows something special about working in the garden, and we’d love to hear your own special tip!

By Colleen

I'm your average, everyday kind of gardener; I learned from trial and error and reading magazines; gardening for many years. ....Since I was about 23 and a first-time homeowner. I’m also a working mom with a wonderful husband. We keep busy with our yard and garden, and also the visits from our 6 grown children and other family and friends that we entertain on the weekends.

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