Gardening 101

Yearning to garden but not sure where to start? Learn just how easy it is to get outside and get started growing the garden of your dreams.
woman gardening

We’ve talked about the health benefits of gardening. Even reviewed a few easy-to-care-for herbs.

You’ve picked out a couple of plants and you’re ready to get started, but where do you go from here?

Getting started is always the hard part, right? You’re super pumped…

  • Gardening gets you outside
  • Allows you to eat better
  • Gets you a gentle workout
  • Boosts your mood

The list goes on! What could be better?

Sometimes, though, that enthusiasm fizzles out pretty quickly and you’re met with an overwhelming amount of information.

Enter confusion, frustration, and feeling like you’re way under-qualified even to be thinking about having a garden.

Don’t worry. You absolutely can have a garden. It just takes a little work.

Let’s dig even deeper (I crack myself up) and get you started the right way.

Soil

Soil matters a lot more than you think.

Sure, you could take a tiller to the dirt in your backyard and leave it at that.

But, what’s really in that soil?

Probably nothing terrible — unless you’ve tilled over Fido’s bathroom (aka, free fertilizer). Though, there may not be much in the way of nutrients, either.

If you plan on using an in-ground garden bed, grab yourself some gardening soil (or topsoil) from your local nursery.

Gardening soil is a fertile, dense soil meant to mix in with your native dirt to provide additives like manure — oh, boy — and compost to create the perfect, nutritious balance for your plants.

And, hey, if you’re planting in pots, you can do the same thing, right?

Well…not so fast.

There’s a reason there are two kinds of soil at the nursery.

Potting soil is better suited for container plants and has added ingredients — like peat moss — that hold on to moisture to keep potted plants from drying out quickly. It’s also far less dense than gardening soil, which allows roots to breathe and water to drain correctly.

Watering

Have you ever had a little flower box you were super proud of? You tended to it and watered to it every day.

Then you started to notice your plants looking a little, well, sick

Congratulations! You just drowned your plants.

Proper watering will make or break your garden. 

Your plants need to drink, too. Just not quite as often as you might think.

Water too often, and your roots will rot, causing the plant to die, or drown.

Water too little, and your plants will wither away, which also equals plant death.

Unfortunately, there are no hard fast rules when it comes to watering. But, it’s pretty easy to figure out when you need to water.

Check your plants daily for dry soil. If the soil is dry below the top two inches of soil, it’s time to water.

Or, use my approved method: does the plant look like it’s dying?

Just kidding! But not really.

If sticking your finger in the soil isn’t your thing, use your eyes:

  • Does the plant look limp?
  • Is the soil ashy or pale?
  • If you pick up the container, is it light as a feather? (This only applies to potted plants)

If you answered “yes” to any of these, your plant might be a zombie.

Time to grab the ax…

Or, just water it instead.

Drainage for Container Plants

Drainage and watering go hand-in-hand.

Without proper drainage, your plants can become waterlogged, causing them to drown.

Wait a second. First, you’ve got to worry about zombie plants and now you have to worry about your plants succumbing to a watery grave?

Sounds scary, right?

No need to worry. As long as your containers have the right amount of drainage, you’ll be just fine.

Take a look at the bottom of your containers before you buy them. Avoid planters with no drainage holes and beware of a reservoir at the bottom — you can still over-water with a reservoir.

Tip: add some mulch or even small rocks to the bottom two inches of a pot, or even your in-ground bed, to encourage better drainage and plant health.

Mulch

Mulch is more than just a pretty face.

This popular ground cover does so much more than keep your garden looking neat and tidy.

Mulch not only helps keep your soil moist for longer, it adds nutrients as it breaks down, adding to the health of your garden.

Plus, it’s easy to replace when you notice it starting to thin out.

Cutting Out Dead Growth

You wouldn’t just walk around with your hair full of dead ends, would you?

Just like a trim is good for the health of your hair, trimming up your plants is key to maintaining vibrant, healthy plants.

While your plants will — eventually — shed dead leaves and buds, it can take a while. And all that while, your plant is putting energy into trying to keep those dead and dying bits alive.

Energy that should be used to grow.

So, what do you do about it?

You grab your trusty gardening shears and go to town on that sucker!

Clip off any leaves that are obviously dead (they’ll be brown and “crispy”).

Also, look for leaves and stems that are starting to turn yellow or leaves that have holes in them and nip those suckers in the bud (ha!) before the die — sadly, those yellowing leaves aren’t going to turn green again.

In-Ground or Containers?

Ready to get digging?

Great!

But, before you get started, it’s important to know where you’re going to plant.

The easiest option is a container garden. Container gardening is perfect if you’re:

  • A beginner
  • Want something small and easy to manage
  • Have physical limitations and can’t easily dig up your yard
  • Live in an apartment or rented house
  • Need to be able to move plants out of reach of small hands or curious paws

An in-ground bed is more of a commitment and a better idea if you own your home.

Can you imagine building a beautiful in-ground garden only to have to rip it up — or leave it behind for someone else to use — once your lease is up?

Fortunately, you don’t have to imagine. I’ve already done that for you. Let me tell you: it’s no fun.

Picking the Right Plants

If you’re starting with containers, I recommend herbs.

In 4 Easy to Care for Herbs for Beginning Gardeners, you’ll find a couple of great suggestions to get you going and add a little bit of spice to your cooking.

If you’re feeling ambitious, or are choosing an in-ground garden, tomatoes are a great start in food-bearing plants.

They do require a lot of water, so if you feel the need to water something every day, tomatoes can scratch that itch.

Play in the Dirt

You know how that jingle goes…

Your first — or tenth — garden may not be perfect, but it’ll be yours. Something to be proud of.

And you should be proud. Not many people get past being overwhelmed.

Don’t worry too much about being an expert all at once. Start small and add a few more plants every year, setting a goal to learn one or two more things each growing season.

Sooner than you think, you’ll be telling me how to do it.

Please do, though.

I need all the help I can get.

What are you still doing here?

Get out there and start growing things.