Beginners learn the most from their mistakes but it’s nice to have some gardening wisdom for a better season
Here are 10 beginner gardening tips that I’ve gathered from my own gardening experience and all the mistakes that I’ve made over the years. 🙂
Beginners may wish to grow everything in sight and start with a large garden, but one of the best things you can do when you start growing food is to take it slowly. Having a garden you can’t keep up with may lead you to dislike gardening instead of enjoying it. If you do wish to have a large garden just know you’ll need to spend extra time learning and weeding that season!
Know Your Frost dates
Before you dive into your gardening season you should know your first and last frost dates (if you have any where you live!). With these dates you’ll know when it’s safe to grow the warm season crops and the length of your growing season. Your growing season is called your ‘plant hardiness zone’ simply meaning that different locations have varying weather and typical first and last frost dates. This doesn’t mean you won’t get a frost other times of the year, but it’s meant as a general guideline. For the US you can learn you hardiness zone here and for Canada click here.
Do not to put out your warm season crops before your last spring frost!
I’ve seen many beginners think that because it’s been a beautiful sunny week they can put out tomatoes and peppers only to have a frost kills them the week after.
Understand the Importance of Sunlight
All plants require a certain amount of daily sunlight in order to thrive. Although some of the cool season crops can handle less sunlight, most crops need 6-8 hours a day for prolific growth.
A beautiful flat spot doesn’t make a perfect gardening location if there’s not enough sunshine!
Here’s a super handy infographic from Desima.
Get to know your weeds
One of the challenging aspects of gardening is dealing with weeds.
A great deal of your time can be spent weeding, which is why it’s best to start with a small garden if you’re a beginner.
Mulching can greatly help reduce the time spent weeding. Take the time to observe your crops and learn what are weeds and what is your food. I’ve had many beginners send me photos of what are crops and what are weeds! Truth is there are so many that you’ll need to observe them, and sometimes let them grow to a larger size just to know what’s what. Be sure to remove weeds before they go to seed though!
Grow the easy crops
Certain crops need a lot of soil nutrition, other tend to be easier to grow. I wrote an article before on what crops are the easiest or hardest to grow here.
Here are some of the easier crops for beginners to grow and master:
- Zucchini/summer squash
- Green Beans
What your crops need
When you grow food you need to know your soil type, what soil amendments are needed and how to grow each fruit or vegetable. My first year gardening the West Coast Seeds Growing Guide was my amazing (and free!) ultimate ‘how to grow’ resource. They also offer excellent planting charts depending on your region.
As a beginner gardener many will be tempted to just throw seeds in some soil and hope for the best.
And you know what? That’s totally fine!!
Soil and soil amendments can be complicated and confusing, sometimes it’s nice just to try growing crops and observe and see what happens.
Overtime however you’ll need to learn what your crops need to grow because the healthier the soil is the more nutrients available to your crops. This means faster growth and plants that are better able to withstand pests and disease. Creating great soil can take years, however if you have a small garden you have the benefit of being able to afford compost and soil amendments because it’s a smaller growing area.
Putting in your garden in and then realizing you have no water source makes for a challenging time growing food! Be sure to pay attention to where your outside taps are located and know your local water restrictions (if any). Most crops prefer to be watered at the base of instead of overhead, this is especially important during the heat of the day. Peppers, tomatoes and even seedlings can get leaf burn from watering in strong sunshine so it’s best to water in the morning.
Sowing depth & spacing
Beginners tend to do two things: grow their crops too closely together or their grow crops too far apart. It’s important to give your crops enough space otherwise the roots will compete for nutrients. Other times not all your seeds will germinate and you end up with large gaps of wasted space that invites weeds. Take a look at your seed packets and make sure you have the correct spacing. In general it’s better to sow too closely together and then ‘thin out’ the seedlings afterwards (learn how to here). If you sowed your crops too far apart or they didn’t germinate you can sow shallow rooted crops like mesclun greens or radishes to fill in the gaps.
The other mistake is sowing depth. Many beginners just sow seeds without paying attention to how much soil needs to be covering the seeds. This is common with tiny seeds like carrots which need to be barely covered and then never germinate because they are sown too deeply. A general rule of thumb is that the size of the seed is how much soil should cover them, but read your seed packets for sowing depth.
Observe & Take Notes
I truly believe that one of the best things a beginner can do is to observe your garden, the weather patterns, pests and how your crops did. Keeping a garden journal will help you learn more over time and become a better gardener because you’re learning your specific climate and micro climate. Here’s 20 questions for your garden journal, a free PDF that you can print off and make notes on.
I also offer a printable garden planner
Did you know that many flowers can help attract beneficial insects? Other times you need to attract pollinators to your garden or deter pests with smells.
Companion planting can be incredibly helpful at reducing pest damage, increasing yield and adding beauty to your garden. I’ve written about it here.
My name is Isis Loran, creator of the Family Food Garden. I’ve been gardening for over 10 years now and push the limits of our zone 5 climates. I love growing heirlooms & experimenting with hundreds of varieties, season extending, crunchy homesteading and permaculture.