How to Start a Garden and Have a Successful Grow Season :: 6 Tips for First-Time and Beginner Gardeners
Gardening season is here and I am PUMPED up about it! When I moved to Tacoma last year I noticed there were community gardens ALL over the place and I immediately knew I wanted to join one. It took some researching and a little legwork to find one that had available plots but by the spring of last year I was the proud new renter of a box! I had mini balcony gardens for a few years while I lived in NYC, but having 14 by 6 ft of space?! So many options! So now that we’re in prime gardening season again I wanted to share some of the things I learned for other beginner gardeners. So you can skip some of the mistakes I made and just grow a badass garden yourself.
The dirt you use matters
This applies more to the herb garden we have in the kitchen… but something I learned the hard way is the dirt you use really matters! I thought.. dirt is dirt right?! Turns out that’s wrong and we ended up getting dirt that had chunks of glass in it and fungus gnats in it and AHH it was terrible. So definitely be conscious of the dirt you buy for your plants — especially if you’re doing a windowsill garden. Our community garden is an organic garden and they provide TAGRO — dirt made with a blend of pasteurized wastewater byproducts called biosolids (aka 💩) and our plants have grown awesome. Then for our windowsill herb garden and our other houseplants, we use miracle grow potting mix. So I’d start by saying definitely pay attention to what the dirt is made for and if there are natural or synthetic fertilizers in it. Starting with quality dirt is the first thing that will set you up for success!
Know your zone
Another thing you want to know going into gardening is what zone you live in. This is based on a lot of different things but is important to know! This will help you learn about when you should be planting different things and what their season will be. Once you know your zone you can find a ton of different planting guides on Pinterest too!
Some plants are easier than others
This totally matters on the location of your garden conditions and all of that jazz but some plants are just a little easier than others. this can totally depend on the season too I’ve learned from other gardeners. So going into your season accepting not everything will be a success will ease a little pressure on you! Plus, like I said you learn as you go. After the first season here is where I would rank some of the plants we grew.
These plants are hearty and super easy
sugar snap peas
Easy but need some maintenance or need specific conditions
These plants will produce a ton but need a little more maintenance especially if you’re in a smaller gardening space
zuchinni — these suckers get HUGE. Since our garden is smaller we have to keep them trimmed back some so they don’t take over the world.
raspberries — same with these guys I mean they are an invasive species after all so be diligent about keeping them under control.
tomatoes — They get really heavy so making sure they have adequate support is key.
strawberries — These take a little more time to get rooted and produce (usually a few seasons)
A little tougher
We didn’t have great luck with these our first year for a variety of reasons which is why I’m saying they’re a little tougher (but also may have just been our season)
cucumbers — you need to be careful with the leaves because if they get too wet they will die off eventually killing the plant… We didn’t have great luck last year so opting for a vining variety (vs bush last year) this year
carrots — we actually grew a decent amount of carrots but they require a lot of patience. We grew them from seed and they took all year to be baby carrots
onions — same with the onions. A lot of this was due to not spacing them out enough or thinning them out but I used the tops for green onions a lot more than the actual bulb part.
Give them some room to grow
That little baby zucchini or tomato plant will be a monster in a few months. So make sure you pay attention to the spacing they need. I wanted to cram as much as we could into our box but I quickly realized that some of the plants definitely could have used a little more room. Another thing is some plants need to be thinned out. Which basically requires you to decide the survival of the fittest after they’ve been growing a bit and you’re supposed to pull out some of the weaklings so the others thrive. I didn’t really know about this… but another thing to consider for spacing. If you’re gardening in a smaller space the square foot gardening method is a really great way to make the most of your space. You can learn more on this website and there’s a ton of books and blogs on it too!
Plant some flowers
Bees are your friends so make sure they feel welcome in your garden! Once some of your plants start getting blooms, they need help with pollination and bees will help it happen! We had really great luck planting marigolds throughout our garden in between our veggies. As the garden continued to grow we ended up moving them around a bit (probably not great for them but they survived) and it’s crazy how much of a difference having the flowers made.
Keep up with Maintenance and support
Like I mentioned earlier, your plants are going to grow, grow and grow some more! If you’re in a smaller space pruning is going to be very important. During the peak of summer we were probably pruning at least once a week I’d say and watering every day. It’s crazy how much plants can grow in a day or too with all of that sunshine! I’d recommend getting to know what plants and how you should prune them. The ones that needed the most pruning were our zucchinis, broccoli, tomatoes and now our raspberries. The other thing is making sure your plants have adequate support. Tomato cages are essential and you’ll need to start those when you plant them but you’ll also likely need stakes and other things throughout the season. This year, we actually doubled up our tomato cages to give them more support since they get sooo heavy. Here’s are my recommendations:
Trellis for snap peas/beans/cucumbers: don’t skimp on these.. we tried one of the plastic poles with netting and it was absolute crap… I also know you probably don’t want to spend a million dollars either.. we ended up getting wooden ones that are sturdier but also inexpensive. Of course I also painted them because I’m extra like that.
Stakes: My favorites were these ones. You can get them at Lowe’s or other hardware stores.
Garden Ties: These are just the little twisty ties but are really helpful for securing vining plants like your snap peas to your trellis, tomatoes or peppers as things grow
I hope this post has been helpful! I’m definitely not an expert by all means but this is what I’ve learned so far. Happy gardening!