There are a few basic steps a beginner gardener should know before planting their first garden. By following these steps, the true beginner gardener can have a successful garden to enjoy for many years.
1) Although many seasoned gardeners suggest drawing a detailed plan of your desired garden (shape and plants to be planted), we feel this is not necessary until you have selected your garden location and learned more about plants that may do well in this location. A garden plan will be necessary later on (step 5). To begin, select a spot in the yard for your garden. This can be along a wall or fence, around a tree (or group of trees), or in the middle of the yard. Use a garden hose to make the outline of the garden. This will allow you to determine the actual size and shape of your new garden.
Keep in mind: plants growing near a tree will compete for water with the tree, therefore, plants suited for dry areas are perfect for around trees.
2) The; area selected for your garden dictates the amount of light and/or shade. Before digging up the dirt and/or weeds, determine the amount of sunlight the selected garden spot will receive versus the type of garden you want…Do you want a full sun garden? A shade garden? Will your selected location receive sun all day? About 6 hours of morning sun? About 4 hours of afternoon sun?… Many plants require a certain amount of sun in order to grow well. If there are specific plants you strongly want in your new garden, do a little research regarding its light requirements before settling on a garden location. When purchasing a plant, the tag that is included with the plant will indicate the amount of sunlight required. Find more info about the sunlight required in: What are the light requirements for my plant?
Keep in mind: the sun is positioned higher in the sky during the summer than in the fall, winter, and spring. Leaves on trees will create shade that may not be present during the winter and spring months. A garden can have different amounts of sunlight. For example, if your new garden is along a wall on the east side of a building, the plants closest to the wall will be shaded by the building before those plants farther away from the building.
3) Your new garden spot can now be “worked”. Basically, this means you can now remove the grass and/or weeds, add soil amendments, and begin planting. This step covers the removal of grass and weeds. To remove grass and weeds, the best bet is to actually dig up the grass and weeds with a shovel or spade – following the hose layout (step 1). You may roto-till the garden area without removing the grass and weeds, but chances are great they will come back. An alternative to digging up the grass and weeds is to use an herbicide (such as Round-Up) and spray the grass and weeds, following the package directions. Once the grass and weeds show obvious signs of death, you can roto-till the garden area.
Keep in mind: if starting a garden near or around trees, tree roots may interfere with the tiller’s tines. A shovel may be inevitable.
4) Once the garden area is clean of grass, weeds and debris, you need to amend the soil. Many plants are sensitive to the wrong type of soil (acid or alkaline levels may be too high or low or the soil lacks nutrients). You may simply add compost, aged manure, peat, or sand to your soil to give it fresh nutrients as well as proper consistency (all of which may be purchased at your local garden center). If you can visibly see that your soil has a high concentration of clay, you will need to add sand, peat, and compost which will give substance to your soil. If your soil is visibly sandy, you will need to add compost to give your soil bulk and valuable nutrients. Amending your soil will also neutralize the acid level – making it suitable for a larger range of flowers. To add these items to your soil, empty the bags directly on top of the existing soil, spread it around, and roto-till them in. If you do not have a roto-tiller, use a shovel to “dig and flip” it into the existing soil (insert the shovel into the ground, pull out a shovel full of dirt, flip the shovel over dump the dirt on top of the compost and repeat these steps throughout the garden area.)
5) Determine the plants you want to plant. Remember to consider the height, flower color and light requirements of each plant. When purchasing plants, there should be a tag or label that describes the plant as well as its preferences for light. It is a good idea to draw your garden on a sheet of paper before planting and decide the location of each plant within the garden. A few points to consider: Taller plants block the view of shorter plants, so plan your garden accordingly (taller plants to the back of the garden if your garden is along a wall or fence, or in the center of the garden if planting a circular or oval garden). Bright colored plants (orange and yellow shades of flowers) tend to make a garden look hot in a full sun garden. They do, however, brighten up shady gardens. Dark-colored plants (red and blue shades of flowers) tend to make a garden look cool in a full sun garden. In a shade garden, dark-colored flowers may appear to be lost in the shade.
6) Watering is very important! The tags and labels that came with the plant upon purchase will indicate the water requirements of each plant. It is a good idea to plant those plants with similar water requirements together. There can be a few water requirement groups of plants within one garden (for example, several different plants that require little water in one area of the garden and several different plants that require more water in another area of the garden). As a general rule, your plants should be watered every day for the first week, about every two days for the second week, and at least once a week thereafter. This will enable your plants to establish strong roots. To read more about watering, click here.
7) Mulching your garden will prove very beneficial in conserving water for the plants as well as controlling weeds. For more information on mulching, click here.