Gertrude Jekyll once described gardening as a grand teacher: “It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust.” The benefits of a garden go beyond learning: dedicated and thoughtful planting improves the soil, the air, and your diet with whatever you grow. Gardeners can spend their whole lives learning from this grand teacher! There’s too much to fit into one growing season, so we’re just going to teach you the very basics, because we know it might feel intimidating. Think of us as your cool substitute teacher. In this overview, we’ll outline broad strokes of a gardening timeline, needs and supplies, and how to plan your new garden.
- It’s tempting to jump right and get your hands dirty (and we won’t really stop you if that’s what you want to do) but putting some thought into your garden plan can make a big difference to your success.
- Take some time to think about the different spots you have to garden, how much light they get, whether you will need to buy or adapt a container, and what different veggies require to grow.
- Read about the veggies you choose beforehand so you know what to expect.
- Planting usually happens in the spring. Some people who live in warm climates can plant throughout the year, and some cool weather veggies can be planted in the late summer for a fall harvest. Seed packets will say when each veggie should be planted.
- The important time for planting spring veggies is the average last frost date. Frost happens when temperatures go below freezing (32°F/0°C) at night and it can be pretty bad for seeds and seedlings! Some seeds can be planted before the last frost, but some veggies should be planted after the last frost. You can find your last frost date here if you live in the U.S./Canada.
- Some people start their seeds indoors to get a head start. This is particularly helpful if you live in a cooler climate where the growing season is shorter.
- However, planting indoors can be tricky. If you are new to gardening, we recommend you plant your seeds directly in the ground or container.
- Growing season lasts a different amount of time for different veggies. Generally, it won’t take too long—a couple of weeks—to see some sprouts, but after that, there’s a wide range of growing times. Seed packets will tell you how long you should expect to wait for the specific seeds you’ve planted.
- During the growing season, the sun, the soil and your veggies will do most of the work! You just need to make sure they get enough water, do some weeding, and watch out for any signs of trouble. You really just need to take a few minutes, a couple of times a week.
- This is the fun part! Harvest can start in the mid to late summer (depending on where you live and what you planted). Some veggies are harvested in the late fall!
- If you are growing herbs, your “harvest” season will start early. Most herbs can be harvested regularly once they’ve established themselves. You can clip back some (but not all) of the leaves or shoots to enjoy, and the plant will keep on growing. Regularly harvesting herbs like basil will encourage much better growth.
- For veggies, the harvest will either be all in one batch (determinate) or continuously over a period of time (indeterminate). For example, some tomato plants mature and produce one big batch of tomatoes, while others keep producing new batches of tomatoes for a while.
- Root veggies, like carrots, are generally harvested all at once, but some people stagger their seeds—planting someone week, some more the next, and more the week after—so that their harvest is spread out over a longer period of time.
Hardiness zones are general guides based on the average temperatures. They can help you decide what sort of veggies you can grow, and when you should plant your seeds.
- Average temperatures are helpful, but there are many more factors that will affect your garden and there are varieties of many veggies that grow more quickly for people who live somewhere cool. If you’re focusing on indoor gardening, zones can mostly be ignored.
- You can check your hardiness zone with this map of the U.S. and this map of Canada. You can generally gauge which plants are well-suited to your area through this map, but each region has microclimates and year-to-year changes.
All plants need sun, water, soil, and space in different amounts to prosper. Think of everything you do for your garden as ensuring that each plant gets its needs met, and every tool you have is to make it easier for you to meet those needs.
- Water source
For a windowsill garden
- Cup/jug for watering
For a container garden
- Watering can
- Trowel (or spoon you don’t mind dirtying)
For raised beds or beds in the ground
- Watering can/hose
- Digging fork
CHOOSING YOUR SEEDS
If you want our help in selecting which plants to grow in your garden, we have a guide here that outlines plants by light intensity, easiness, and if you want to grow indoors. We also have an interactive plant selection tool to help you find which plants you want to grow with our Garden Pathway guides.
POTTING vs. GROUND
If you want to plant your fruits and vegetables outside, you can either keep your plants in containers or move them directly into backyard soil, or even raised beds. Containers don’t have to be solely used for gardens, there are a lot of improvised plant containers from objects you have around your house or garage.
If you’re keeping your seedlings in containers, they will likely outgrow the pot you start them in and require to be moved to larger pots, maybe more than once, along with fresh soil and whatever additions you think are necessary, such as crop markers or wooden supports. Buying soil can be tricky, so talk to staff at your local gardening supply store about what you’re planting so that they can direct you to the best soil to purchase.
For planting in yard soil, it’s best to loosen up your soil before planting and remove any obstructions that will make your life (and the plants’) harder: rocks, sticks, misplaced trash, and the like. If you have organic matter to add, such as compost, now is the time to mix it into the loose soil with a trowel or shovel.
Now that you have great soil, great places to plant, and a good sense of what you want to grow this year, you’re ready to begin planting!