The Best Advice for First-Time Gardeners
Start small. Think about how much time you are ready to commit to this new hobby. What do you want to plant, and how much effort will it take to prepare your soil for each plant in your zone?
Consider the sun
When you're researching what plants will go in your garden, seriously consider the location. Check what kind of sun it gets through the course of a day. Don't forget one important fact—the angle of the sun can change rather drastically from spring to summer to autumn. A location that is "partial sun" in March and April could be "full sun" by July. This could work to your advantage, or else it could ruin a tender plant.
Create a watering plan
Many plants require about an inch of water a week. An easy way track rainfall is to place an empty tuna can somewhere in the garden. When the can—which is approximately 1 inch high—is empty, it's time to get out the hose. Another way is to just stick your finger an inch deep in the soil and judge the moisture there. You aren't afraid of getting some dirt under your fingernails, are you?
Once you get a sense of how much water each of your plants needs, consider making up a weekly, biweekly or monthly schedule to make sure you don't over- or under-water.
So much beauty in dirt
Make sure you conduct the test early enough to give yourself time to fix any problems before you find yourself with a bunch of dead plants.
If you have...
- A pH greater than 7: You have alkaline soil. Add sulfur.
- A pH lower than 7: You have acidic soil. Add lime.
- Low nitrogen: Use a nitrogen-rich fertilizer.
- High nitrogen: Probably caused by over-fertilization; stop adding fertilizer.
- Low phosphorus: Add superphosphate, or bone meal, to your garden soil.
- High phosphorous: Probably caused by too much high-phosphate fertilizer. Grow plants to use up the excess.
- Low potassium: Add wood ashes. (Be careful. This could limit the growth of any acid-loving plants.)
- High potassium: Do not use potassium-rich fertilizers, and add nitrogen and phosphorous to help balance the soil.
If you are growing a fruiting plant, such as garden tomatoes, bees will help with pollination. You can actually attract bees to your plant by planting brightly colored flowers like marigolds.
The one thing you do not want to do is upset your garden's ecosystem with chemical insecticides. These harsh treatments could upset the delicate balance between helpful and harmful bugs—leaving you with only bad bugs and no good guys to defend your garden.
10 things every gardener should know
What kind of gardener are you? Take the quiz and find out
Organic gardening essentials
How to grow your own herbs