Smart Gardening Tips for Beginners to Get You Started

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Before you buy anything or do anything, learn these gardening tips for beginners. I explain exactly what to do. To be successful gardening, it takes more than buying seeds, planting them, and watering them. Where you plant, what and when you plant, and the soil makes a huge difference.

Your time, money, and garden “real estate” space are important resources. Garden the right way from the start. It’s easy to garden but it involves more than just plant, water, and wait.

I was an absolute beginner with barely anything germinating (sprouting) or growing over a few inches. There was nothing to harvest. Now I have thriving garden beds and flourishing large pots filled with fruits and vegetables.

You will certainly learn as you grow but it’s smart to increase your chances for growing food by knowing important gardening tips.

There are costs involved with gardening: soil, compost, plants, and seeds. You may also need to acquire basic gardening tools and pots/containers or materials for a raised garden bed. You want to buy the right things and not overspend. 

Be sure to grow foods you or your family like to eat! If you won’t eat it, don’t plant it. There are lots of other options!

Use these newbie gardening tips whether you want to grow from seeds, plant starts (transplants), or both. Please read through all of the tips before you buy anything.

Gardening Tips for Beginners When Planting a Vegetable Garden

Here is what to know about what to do and what not to do. For much more in-depth information for each section, learn how to start a vegetable garden. I wrote it for beginners. 

1. Start small

If you aren’t sure you want to become a full-on gardener, start a small garden in pots, containers, in a small area on your property, or in an existing garden bed. You can make a dedicated space in the ground and add new soil and compost to enrich it. 

2. Spend wisely

Consider what you already have before buying anything. If you decide to continue with gardening as a hobby, you can expand the next growing season.

Before spending a lot of money, consider your budget for gardening. It’s best to start small and buy as little as possible. If you find you enjoy gardening and want to stick with it, you can buy more things. This is particularly important with regards to gardening tools and equipment. 

What do you already have? What can you get inexpensively or free? Here are some ideas:

  • Pots and containers
  • An area in the ground you can garden instead of building or buying raised garden beds
  • Cinder blocks or bricks to border a garden space
  • Garden books from the library
  • Online resources
  • See if your local library has a seed savers program. You can check out seeds for free. 
  • Ask a friend for cuttings.
  • Buy a basil plant and root cuttings yourself.
  • Seeds are less expensive than starter plants

Learn the pros and cons of growing in the ground vs raised beds vs pots and containers. 

Things you shouldn’t skimp on:

  • Buy the best soil you can afford.
  • Spend money on compost to amend your soil.
  • Choose organic seeds and heirloom varieties when possible.
Beginner gardening in pots
Beginner lettuce gardening in pots ~ Image credit: Dawn Head

3. Choose the right location

Plants which produce food need full sun, at least 6 – 8 hours of direct sunlight per day. Be sure the spot you choose has easy access to water as well. You also may need to protect it from pests (like rabbits and deer). Your gardening spots should have:

  • Access to full sun for 6+ hours daily
  • Be convenient to water and tend to
  • Ability to protect from animals if necessary
  • If in-ground gardening, soil needs to be well-draining

Use what you have when started. Consider elevated beds if you don’t want to strain your back. Depending on their height, they also keep the rabbits out of your garden.

You can plant in:

  • Tubs, containers, barrels
  • Planters, pots, planter boxes
  • Raised garden bed made of resin, wood, galvanized metal, etc.
  • Directly in the ground

4. Invest in high-quality soil

Soil is everything. Whether you plant in containers, raised gardening beds, and/or right in the ground, the quality of your soil directly affects the success of your plants. If planting in the ground, get a soil test and amend as needed. For containers or raised beds, use a good-quality potting mix. 

No matter where you plant, plan to add new soil, and enrich with compost. In future growing seasons, be sure to not plant the same thing in the same spot. Rotate crops to prevent diseases and destructive microorganisms. This is called crop rotation.

In the future, you may want to start a compost pile or buy a compost tumbler to make your own.

  • To help with drainage, you can add equal parts of peat moss, vermiculate, and compost to your soil.
  • Buy organic soil when it fits your budget.
  • Avoid buying soil with Miracle Grow and other fertilizers.

5. Have basic tools

When you start your first vegetable garden, a small hand trowel and gardening gloves can get you started when gardening in small areas. Remember that anything you buy, you also have to store. 

If you are planning on creating a garden space in your yard and require larger tools, like a rototiller… consider what you can borrow instead of buying. At the least, beginner gardeners should have:

  • Hand trowel, small hand shovel
  • Gardening gloves
  • Watering can or clean plastic jug (milk carton, juice container, etc.)

6. Look at what plants are for sale

If it’s gardening season in your region, stop in a home improvement store like ACE Hardware, Menard’s, Home Depot, Lowe’s, etc., or stores like Walmart and Meijer. See what plants are available.

If you see tomato plants, pepper plants, strawberry plants, and other small plants in containers, it’s likely these will grow in your area. You should be able to plant them in that season. 

If you go to a nursery, you can likely plant the plants they have outdoors. If they are in a greenhouse, ask if it’s okay to plant in the current season. 

It’s exciting to see all of these plants. But don’t buy them until you have a plan for:

  • Where you are going to plant them
  • A way to replenish and enrich the soil 
red romaine plant starts
Start with already-growing plants when you are a beginner to have success ~ these are red romaine plant starts ~ Image credit: Dawn Head

7. Transplant starts instead of sowing seeds

When you buy plants to transplant instead of planting seeds, you get a jumpstart on gardening. Planting already-growing plants (called transplants, seedlings, or starts) means the seeds have already germinated and are established and resilient enough to have made it this far. 

You will have a shorter time to harvest when you plant from already-growing plants versus planting from seeds.

Beginner gardeners should plant from either all plant starts or a combination of starts and seeds. Buying and planting transplants means: 

  • You won’t have to wait for the seeds to germinate (start sprouting).
  • The plant will already be somewhat established and viable.

8. If growing from seed: Learn your climate zone number

You should know your USDA hardiness zone number even if you plant from plant starts. However, being this is a beginner’s guide to gardening, I don’t want to make it too complicated. 

You can’t simply buy a packet of seeds and plant them and expect a fruitful harvest. What you plant for your climate region and when you plant it are essential to know. 

If you want to plant from seed, you MUST know your climate zone. Your area will have a number 1 – 13 with a lowercase letter “a” or “b” after it. Once you learn your USDA hardiness zone, remember it. It will help you choose the right plants for your climate. 

Your zone will help you ensure you buy seeds that will grow outdoors in your climate. 

9. Buy heirloom seeds or organic seeds when possible

Seeds are less expensive than buying plant starts. It’s also usually only a few extra dollars to buy organic seeds or heirloom seeds instead of regular seeds. If you can budget for them, it’s worth it. There are several advantages to buying them.

Benefits of planting organic seeds

  • Come from plants which were grown without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers
  • Often have better disease resistance
  • May be more resilient in varying growing conditions

Benefits of planting heirloom seeds

  • Seeds are open-pollinated
  • Passed down generations because of their prized characteristics (flavor, hardiness, color, etc.)
  • Promotes biodiversity
  • Preserves unique varieties that may be lost in the world of commercial farming

10. Plant easy-to-grow foods

Focus on a few easy-to-grow vegetables or herbs. Vegetables like lettuce and tomatoes can be easy for beginners to have initial success. Herbs like basil also grow easily. Some easiest vegetables to grow are:

  • Leafy greens: lettuce, spinach, arugula, kale, Swiss chard, etc.
  • Radishes
  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers
  • Turnips
  • Cucumbers
  • Zucchini

11. Plant in the right season

I mentioned this earlier in relation to knowing your climate zone. When you plant from seed, you need to know when to plant. Familiarize yourself with the growing seasons in your area, and plant accordingly. Cold-hardy plants can be planted earlier, while heat-loving plants need warmer soil.

When you see plants in a hardware store or home improvement store, it’s likely you can buy them and plant them in the current season. The exception is if you are buying from a nursery.

They will usually have all sorts of plants but it may not be the right season to plant them. If they are in a greenhouse and not growing outdoors, ask before you buy.

Learn more: Winter vegetables list

12. Water

Well-draining soil is essential. If planting in containers and planters, be sure to have enough water drainage holes at the bottom.

Different plants have varying water needs. Make sure to water deeply and consistently but avoid overwatering, which can lead to root rot.

  • Note when it rains.
  • Avoid getting the leaves wet when hand-watering. 

13. Practice companion planting

Some plants grow well together, offering benefits like pest control or improved growth. For example, planting marigolds near tomatoes can deter harmful insects.

Just as some plants can be mutually beneficial when planted together, there are others that don’t grow well together. They may compete for the same nutrients in the soil, each have long vining and sprawling roots and growth, or one may create shade for the other.

Examples of what not to plant together include tomatoes with corn; peppers with kale, broccoli, or cabbage; and onions and garlic with peas.

14. Monitor for pests and diseases

Regularly inspect plants for signs of pests or diseases. Catching issues early is always better. Sometimes it may be as simple as hunting for tomato hornworms and removing them by hand (or with tongs, like me!). Other times, it may be picking all the green tomatoes before the birds get them.

If you set your garden up on irrigation, remember to regularly inspect your plants.

In addition to mammals such as rabbits, pack rats, raccoons, and deer who will feast on your plants and fruits, consider birds as well. You may need to fasten bird netting. 

To minimize diseases and destructive organisms, be sure to enrich your soil and practice crop rotation for successive plantings. 

15. Make a plan and keep a journal

Plan out what you are planting where. You may think you will remember, but it may be hard to, especially if you are growing several different things from seed. It will also help with crop rotation for future growing endeavors. 

  • Draw out your gardening areas
  • Write down what you are planting where
  • Write down if growing from starts or seeds
  • Will help for crop rotation

Keep a garden journal (you can staple it to the back of your layout) so you remember dos and don’ts for the next time. Document what you plant, when you plant it, and how it grows. Include notes on successes and failures.

This record will help you in the future. You may think you will remember, but if you plant a variety of things, it’s likely you won’t.

  • Keep notes about what grew well and what didn’t
  • Note about watering more or less, insects, anything
  • Will help you remember for rotating crops

16. Find a community

Talking about gardening is so helpful to learn what to grow and what not to grow. You will instantly have gardening in common. Look online or people who live in your area. Your local library can also be a great resource for information, meetings, and classes. 

  • Community college classes
  • Agriculture extension programs
  • Local library
  • Local garden clubs: Check with botanical gardens, nurseries, etc.
  • Online communities

FAQs

What should a beginner gardener start with?

In addition to starting with nutrient-dense, well-draining soil, a beginner gardener should start with a few starter plants. Find them at a nursery or home improvement center. Transplant them into a small patch of soil, a raised garden bed, and/or pots and containers.

Start with tomatoes, peppers, and lettuce which are easy to grow. Radishes are easy to grow from seed. Expand from there if you want to keep at it. 

What is the best way to learn gardening?

I think the best way to learn gardening is by knowing your USDA hardiness zone and what grows well in your area. Then it’s not only what grows well but when to plant them. Examples are okra in hot climates and Swiss chard in colder temperatures.

Starting small and keeping notes about what worked and what didn’t will also help you learn. Join online gardening communities in your area. Ask nearby friends and neighbors what they have success growing.

How do I start gardening from scratch?

To start gardening from scratch, you need to find an area that receives a minimum of 6 – 8 hours of direct sunlight each day. Till existing soil. Add new soil (organic soil when possible) and enrich it with compost. You can add peat moss and vermiculate to help with drainage. 

Choose beginner-friendly plants to sow or transplant. Regularly water and watch for pests. 

How to garden for dummies?

For gardening novices, it’s essential to begin with a clear, simple plan. When planning a vegetable garden, choose a location with 6+ hours of direct sunlight daily. Invest in good potting soil or enrich garden soil with compost.

Choose plants that are easy to grow. Learn your climate zone and what grows well (and when to plant it) for your area. 

What is the easiest garden to start?

The easiest garden to start is a container garden. It’s easy because you can control the quality of the soil, reduce issues with weeds, and oftentimes, you can move the containers to benefit from more sunshine, rainfall, etc.

Herbs like basil and mint (good to grow in pots because it can become invasive) or vegetables like tomatoes and peppers are great choices for container gardens.

What is the key to a good garden?

The key to a good garden actually entails several things: Excellent soil. Enough sunlight. Choosing the right things to grow for your climate and the time of year. Proper watering. Pest management.

How do you start a garden from scratch for beginners?

To start a garden from scratch, beginners should access what they have. If you have an existing garden space that gets enough sunlight (at least 6 hours), consider planting there. You can buy a small raised bed or planter to keep the garden contained. Or buy containers to plant in. Keeping it small is ideal for beginners.

Then you have to enrich the soil with compost. Be sure it drains well. Choose beginner friendly, hardy plants. Properly space them when planting. Water weekly.

How do you layout a garden for beginners?

Assess what gardening spots you have. This may include pots, raised beds, containers, etc. Be sure these spaces all will get enough sunshine. Approximate how many planting spots you have.

Then consider the season and what grows well where you live, in that month. Next, consider which of those varieties what you would enjoy harvesting and eating.

Remember to account for companion plants as well as what not to grow together. 

Draw all of this out on a piece of 8.5×11 sheet of paper. Use a pencil so you can modify as needed. 

Have more new gardener questions? Be sure to check out these Beginner gardener FAQs 

Use these Tips for Starting a Garden

These are important tips for first timers learning how to start a vegetable garden. You don’t want to waste time and money. Improve your chances for a successful harvest by following the tips above. 

It’s really important to document what you do each growing season. You may decide watering takes too much work at certain times of the year. Or you may not want to plant vining plants again in your garden bed because they take too much room.

Or you may want to recreate it again. Just be sure to enrich the soil and don’t plant the same thing in the same place two times in a row in.

Learn from your mistakes. Don’t get discouraged if everything doesn’t germinate or produce fruits to harvest. All first time gardeners must remember there is lots to learn. Microclimates and weather also play a large factor. Many successes and “failures” are out of your control. 

Gardening is a learning process. Keep growing and refining your skills. Above all, be patient. Plants take time to grow. Enjoy the process and your new hobby!

If gardening is something you want to keep doing, then you can find additional places to garden and plant a greater variety. 

Featured image credit: Dawn Head