Few things in life are as satisfying as reaping a harvest you’ve grown yourself. Whether you’re nibbling a carrot you started from seed or enjoying a bouquet of flowers picked from your flowerbeds, creating and caring for a garden is a rewarding hobby.
If the idea of starting a garden from scratch is intimidating, fear not! Here are some essential tips to turn your backyard’s blank canvas into a healthy and thriving growing space.
Start Your Tool Collection
The first thing any new gardener needs are basic tools. Tools will be your best friends when it comes to working the soil and completing ongoing garden tasks. The right tools will make you more comfortable, the job easier, and turn gardening into a joy instead of a struggle. Consider your tools a long-term investment and buy the best you can afford.
The basics include a garden hoe, rake, and shovel. Each of these will help you work the soil in larger spaces, whether it is digging, weeding, or moving dirt. You can find a variety of styles at your local garden center. Test out several styles to see which you like best. Comfort and fit are key.
A set of hand tools, including a trowel, cultivator, and transplanter, will also come in handy. These smaller tools are ideal when it comes to planting small flowers and vegetables and working in tighter spaces. The transplanter is especially useful, because it comes with measuring marks imprinted on the spade. This helps you plant things at the correct depth.
Having a few cutting tools in your collection is also a solid investment. Small pruning shears make it easy to trim tender growth and deadhead spent blooms. The longer handles of loping shears make quick work of keeping larger shrubs and trees tidy.
To round out your initial gardening tool collection, consider comfort items like garden kneeler pads, heavy-duty gardening gloves, and even a gardening stool. Your hands, knees, and back will thank you.
Pick the Best Spot
The perfect location for your garden is where you can see it daily and easily tend it. However, there’s more to it than that. Two important considerations for anyone creating a new garden are weather and potential threats.
Depending on the type of garden you want, sunlight will play a big role. Nearly all vegetables and even many flowers require six to eight hours of direct sunlight for maximum growth. While some plants, like hostas, love a shady spot, if you have your heart set on a big tomato or cucumber patch, you’ll need sun – and lots of it. Study your yard throughout the day to determine how much sun each area gets.
You’ll also want to consider things that will pose a threat to your new garden. Certain wildlife is infamous for devouring vegetable gardens. If you have rabbits or deer in the area, you’ll want to locate your garden as far away from their natural habitats as possible. Even then, a tall, sturdy fence might still be needed.
Another potential threat is neglect. Out of sight really can mean out of mind when it comes to your garden. Locating it where you can easily see it and tend to it, helps eliminate the neglect that often befalls gardens tucked away behind garages or sheds. Likewise, you’ll want an easily accessible source of water close by, so you don’t have to drag the hose great distances.
Test the Soil
Once you’ve determined the location, be sure to test the soil. Most areas have facilities that offer this service, often for free or just a small fee. They will test the pH levels of your soil, identify any nutrient deficiencies, and offer instructions for soil improvement.
If you have concerns about toxic substances, you can have them test for that, too. If any potential issues are detected, you’ll want to avoid planting edible things in that soil. Consider a raised bed, a different location, or container gardening for those veggies.
Prepare the Area
Now it’s time to prepare your garden for planting. First, you’ll need to get rid of the existing growth. You can pull weeds by hand and cut out any lawn with that new shovel you bought. If you’re not a fan of all that digging, you can also rent a sod cutter and tackle the job with ease.
Once you’ve removed the unwanted growth, amend the soil by spreading a thick layer of compost and working it into the soil. You can also opt to leave the compost on the surface and allow it to naturally work its way into the ground. Either way, compost gives your garden the nutrient boost it needs to grow strong, healthy plants.
Select the Right Plants
When it comes to successfully growing a flower or vegetable garden, the key is choosing the plants best suited for your climate. Start by identifying your hardiness zone. Most plants have a rating that identifies the zones for which they are best suited.
Once you’ve confirmed the plants you want are suitable for your growing zone, consider how much sunlight your garden area will receive each day. Planting sun-loving flowers, like purple coneflowers, in a shady spot won’t produce the massive pop of color you expect. Likewise, putting a fragile fern in an area drenched in all-day sun will also yield unwanted results.
Plant, Mulch, Water, Nurture
Once you’ve done all your homework and fully prepped your garden, you’re ready to plant. Follow the directions for each type of plant you’ve selected, including adequate spacing and depth. Once you’ve got everything tucked into its new home, put down a three- to four-inch layer of mulch to cover the exposed soil, and water the entire garden on a regular basis.
With a little time, love, and attention, your garden will yield beautiful results.
A US expat who has lived in many different regions of the world, Liz has honed her gardening expertise in a variety of climates and environments. Whether mastering the rainy environs of the Pacific Northwest to battling iguanas and other invasive garden critters on an arid Caribbean island, she’s been planting and experimenting with new gardening techniques for decades. You can find out more about her and her writing at www.lizwegerer.com.