When I began gardening, I had no clue what I was doing. Most of us don't, rest you think you are the only one.
We had just moved into a new neighborhood and luckily we had a garden which was kind of a big deal coz I grew up in the city.
Although new at and no prior gardening knowledge I was determined to make something work. So armed with nothing but enthusiasm I bought a passion fruit plant, a strawberry plant and a couple of cabbage seedlings. Stuck them into the ground, did a little mulching and watering then sat tight waiting for Godot.
Godot never came.
Turns out the weather and soil ganged up to choke my plants faster than I could blink. And an issue after another, I've learned gardening is a lot more than a shovel and fancy gloves.
Hence if you are new at gardening, learn these priceless tips rest your gardening skills or lack thereof drive you crazy.
10 Perfect Tips For All New Gardeners
Know Your Zone or Region
See how it sucks during winter in the midwest and up North to Maine and all the way to Canada?
Well it sucks for your plants too, and it gets worse when its summer down South. However, exactly the same way people adapt to low temperature in Iceland and the sizzling sun in Dubai so do plants.
Plants that can tolerate frost like rhubarbs will do fine in cold regions some hard enough to survive the lowest winter temperatures.
Knowing your zone will let you understand what you can plant and when your frost-free times are; when to plant and when your planting season is over.
Question is how do you know which plant will do best where?
That's when the good folks at the United States Department of Agriculture come in; with their awesome Hardiness Zone scale.
The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map is the standard by which gardeners and growers can determine which plants are most likely to thrive at a location.
The map is based on the average annual minimum winter temperature, divided into 10-degree F zones.
Or use any of this data, outside the USA
- European Hardiness Zone: Provides data for selected European cities that have somewhat unique conditions than what is general for Europe's climate.
- Australian Hardiness Zone: The USDA hardiness zones are in use in Australia, but in addition, the Australian National Botanic Gardens have devised another system more in keeping with Australian conditions.
- Canadian Hardiness Zone: This classifies the conditions in selected Canadian cities and the environs.
Since the USDA Hardiness zone map is formulated for the USA only, other specific administration may or may not have their own stats and classification.
If not is a fairytale in your region it doesn't mean all is lost. Although it would be nice to have something official and eye-pleasing.Or at least something created by a botanist or by a botanic company, even if it is made by a gardening forum.
The system is a scale based purely on statistics, so if you have the temperature data for your area you just match that to the USDA scale and then match the results to plants.
Humidity, upper temperatures and hours of sunshine are also very important so if you have a way around this it would be awesome.
Quick tip: recent research suggests that USDA plant hardiness zones will shift Northward under climate change. Is this helpful? You tell me.
Assess Your Soil
I could start by telling you how awesome the "Till less Lasagna method" is or how "Organic farming" is the revolution. But then it's not fair if I don't tell you it's futile with crappy soil.
First thing you need to do is test your garden's soil. You can get it professionally done or do it yourself which saves money.
Contact your local extension office. They do free -or cheap-soil testing. This will assist you in deciding upon soil improvements, though you can never go wrong with adding organic material such as composting.
When a soil test will give you soil pH and mineral content learn which bacteria and fungi plants require to achieve peak health.
Living soil teaming with micro-organisms is healthy. The number of worms in your soil is an indicator of how good it is.
Most bacteria consume simple carbon compounds, such as root exudates and fresh plant litter. By this process, bacteria convert energy in soil organic matter into forms useful to the rest of the organisms in the soil food web.
A number of decomposers can also break down pesticides and pollutants in soil. Others retain nutrients in their cells thus preventing the loss of minerals -such as nitrogen- from the rooting zone.
Feed soil bacteria with organic material like dead plants - dry leaves, wood chips, grass clippings. Dead plant slowly decompose and rainwater leach the bacteria to the depth of the soil.
Add compost prior to planting to further improve the soil.
Set Your Calendar
Once you find what plant does best in your region and you've worked on your soil, determine when to plant, weed and harvest.
Find out what plant does best in summer and which once do best in winter.
To make your plan, either consult your local extension officer, local gardeners or stop by a local Home Depot during the plant season and ask for a Certified Nursery Consultant. Each store has one. They should give you ideas and actually show you what plants will thrive in your zone at any given time.
There are also planters calendar and almanacs tool online.
For first-time gardeners use this list by Toplinefor a breakdown of what would normally happen throughout a garden's year:
- January: This is a quiet month for gardening, its the ideal time to plan your tasks for the rest of the year. Use this time to buy your seeds and gather your tools and equipment. It's the end of Winter meaning you can turn your compost and maybe start preparing your beds.
- February: This month is unpredictable with weather ranging from spring sunshine to late frost. From mid-month start sowing vegetables like tomatoes, pepper, and cucumbers. It also a good time to start potatoes in trays and plant garlic, onions, and shallots in light soil. Trim your hedges to keep them neat through Spring and Summer until September when you will trim them again.
- March: This marks the start of the busy period. March weather allows you to sow plant like carrots, parsnips, leak, beetroot, lettuce, summer cabbage, and cauliflower. Its advisable to cover your plants since there is still some frost danger. Also, protect plants from pest like slugs. Prune your roses at this time to help them grow stronger with plentiful blooms.
- April: During this month sunlight and temperatures increase and plants start to grow stronger and rapidly.Transplanted your potatoes and get ready to spray as pest start to thrive.This is the time to prep your lawn getting ready to spruce the yard. April and September are the best months to sow new grass.
- May: This is when your summer gardens will start to show. Its the time you will need to plant in your hanging baskets and containers. Also, start spraying your roses to keep greenfly and blackspot at bay. Keep an eye on your greenhouse plants. Start weeding your veggies garden and mowing your lawn all through to September.
- June: During this month first early potatoes, lettuce, and parsley can be harvested as many fruit bushes start to bear fruit. You can sow vegetables such as carrots, beetroot, beans, and lettuce. Make sure you water your flowers and veggies in the evening to keep the water from evaporating in the summer heat. Weeds will be growing rapidly hence stay sharp on your weeding schedule. Also, keep a lookout for pest and diseases then prop plants that need support.
- July: Plant colorful and fragrant flowers to attract pollinators. If your compost heap is looking dry, give it a watering and regularly give fruits, vegetables, and flowering plants liquid feed. Deadhead flowers and weeds regularly and water your hanging baskets and containers daily.
- August: As Summer draws to an end the work in the garden subsides apart from few maintenance needs. Continue deadheading, weeding, and checking for pests. Cut back any dead stalks and branches, and support any which may be going limp. Regularly water fruit, vegetables, and baskets if the weather is dry. Use a fork to loosen onion bulbs in the ground to prepare them for harvesting.
- September: Its fall when the weather becomes cooler. Harvest you onion and keep a lookout for pest and diseases on other vegetables. As wind and rain pick up, keep your vegetables supported when need be.You can now plant bulbs for spring, e.g. daffodils, tulips, and crocuses. It is best to get them planted before the frost comes. This is a good time to sow new grass for your lawn.
- October: October can see the start of light frost spells. Disconnect hoses so the water doesn’t freeze inside them when sudden frosts occur.Lift carrots tender bulbs and store them before the frost. Parsnips, however, are said to taste better if they’re exposed to a little frost. Cut back perennials and continue to plant bulbs for spring.Rake fallen leaves off your grass and throw them in your compost heap. This will help prevent moss growth on your lawn. Create small holes on your lawn with a lawn aerator to aid drainage.
- November: By this time of the year the clock has gone back and evenings are shorter hence the workload is down for Winter. Clean up your gardens, beds, and trays an store your gardening tools. Lift any remaining vegetables and mow your lawn one last time.
- December: There is nothing much to do in the garden as the rain and sub-zero temperatures rule.Simply enjoy Xmas. However, you can plant rhubarbs as they do well in frost.
Another important thing to learn is the difference between warm season and cold seasons plants.
Warm season vegetables such as pepper and tomatoes are summer crops; they require both warm soil and higher temperature to grow. They are susceptible to frost and should be planted after the last frost in spring mostly from early March.
Despite their love of heat, daytime temperatures over 90° F, or nighttime temperatures over 70° F, can cause blossoms to drop or fail to pollinate. Subtropical gardeners may have more luck in the spring or fall, particularly with heat-sensitive plants like tomatoes and peppers.
Beans, corn, cucumber, eggplant, melons, okra, pepper, pumpkins, winter and summer squash, zucchini, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes are all Summer crops.
Cool weather vegetables grow steadily at average temperatures 10° F-15° F higher lower than warm-season types. Plant cold seasons plants in early spring for early summer harvest or plant in late Summer for harvest in late fall and early Winter.
Most cold season plants can endure some amount of frost but in hot weather, they get a bitter test.
Beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, collards, carrots, cauliflower, celery.chard, lettuce, budding, onions, pak choi, radishes, spinach, and coriander are all cold season vegetables.
Pick A Few Crop to Try With
Should you start with perennials, annual or both?
Both groups of plants are dramatically different.
Starting plants that take several years to mature will require constant care over a long and hence not good for budding gardeners. It would not be ideal to learn gardening with an apple plant when you could plant vegetables which develop in less than a year.
A zucchini plant will give you a bountiful in less than a year and although it will immediately die off its the sufficient practice.
Consider starting your first garden with vegetables; Tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, cabbage, bush beans, lettuce, beets, carrots, chard, and radishes are all good candidates.
One suggestion is starting simple with cherry tomatoes, they produce abundantly with zero effort. Another easy crop is green beans which endlessly produce. With little work, you could get thirty pints of canned green beans out of an 8x8.
Learn These "Best Practices"
Depending on your local area climate, once you plant you need to establish an irrigating schedule. Determine how often to water your crop each season.
Its also important to note when you need to tweak your schedule. During Summer plants require more water due to higher levels of evaporation.
During this seasons its also best to irrigate in the evening when the sun has gone down to keep the soil wet for long. However, irrigating your plants adequately in late Spring and early Summer accelerate weed development since these are the perfect conditions. Hence you need to be at your wedding A-game.
When you have a small garden you can water your plants manually but regularly but with a bigger plot you may need to get an irrigation system.
A drip irrigation system is easy to install and can save you time. In my region, it's cheaper to get second-hand systems retired from big plantations which with little repairs should be workable. This will save you money especially with smaller plots where new systems are not value for money.
You could use an overhead system-sprinkler- but in colder areas where water doesn't dry off the plant foliage quick enough, this is not ideal. Most plant leaves need to stay dry to reduce rot and diseases risk.
The concept of planting seeds seems simple but what you'll soon realize is every plant seed has a unique process and should be treated differently.
The biggest misconception is; You start all seeds inside, the transplant them at the same time but just like plants, seeds have warm weather and cold weather varieties.
Warm weather seed like warm soil and environment but can't tolerate frost, whereas cold hardy seeds prefer cooler temperatures.Most cold hardy seed won't germinate in hot climate.
Seeds are started in one of two ways
Plant the seeds directly into your garden. The main benefits of this method are that you plant the seeds and you’re done. There’s no fussing with potting up and transplanting seedlings and no risk of transplant shock.
As a general rule of thumb, direct sowing can be used for many types of cold hardy seeds. Also use this method on plants that don't transfer well like kohlrabi, carrots, beets, and radishes.
With this method, you plant seeds indoors in seed flats.
The main benefit of starting seeds indoors is that you can start them much sooner than you could outside, so you get a jumpstart on your garden. But starting seeds indoors can be difficult, time-consuming, and it takes up space inside the house.
In general, most warm weather seeds will grow better when planted indoors, not all of them though. Slow growing seeds, seeds that need warm soil, and cold hardy vegetables that need a long growing season like cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage are all good candidates for starting indoors.
See this guide for more about spacing your garden.
You can buy the first set of seeds online or from local vendors. Look for treated seeds that can restore fertility for longer.
Avoid using hybrid seeds because you could save the heirloom seeds from every harvest for sowing next season. In case of hybrid plants, you cant use the seeds from the fruits for sowing.
In limited space at home, you would need to think of ideas for investing more in vertical space. This can be achieved by hanging the plants and using trellises for climbers.
Its best to plan your garden. Decide whether you are going to build raised beds, plant directly in the ground or possibly use containers.
Do your research on how much each plant need when fully grown. Poorly spaced garden reduce air circulation around crops and is a major contributor to pest and diseases.
While planning you space its best to look into companion plants. Look into companion planting since some plants will chemically attack each other and simply don’t like being at close proximity to each other.
Pest and Diseases
The most disheartening thing for most gardeners is to see their crops perish before their eyes. And when most will curb pest and diseases with chemicals, preventions is ever better than cure.
Well fed, watered gardens that are planted in the right conditions have fewer problems than neglected plots. Always keep your gardens clean and free of weed. Also look out for signs of pest and diseases. This will give you a head start before the perils can completely take over your garden.
Ue this tips to stay ahead of pest and diseases.
- Dont be tempted to plant vegetables to close together. Airflow around each plant reduces the dump conditions that favor mold and mildew.
- Water in the morning so leaves dry out before nightfall. Only water in the evening during summer when the heat from the sun dries the soil too rapidly. Also, use drip irrigation systems to keep water from the foliage as much as possible.
- Clean up dark corners where slugs and snails like to hide. Also, remove infested debris that makes an overwintering site for pests.
- Practice crop rotation by not planting the same or related crops in the same place every year. Diseases can build up in the soil ready to infect the next generation. Also, increase plant diversity to reduce pest build-up
- Not all insects are pests. Some are actually useful because they act as pollinator and predators to pest insects. Use physical barriers or hand remove harmful pest rest you throw the child out with the bath water. Consider introducing unharmful predators that feed on harmful pest insects or use any other organic pest control method.