15 Apr 10 Spring Tips for New Gardeners
“With any project, a little planning can go a long way. A gardener’s case is no different. This is especially true for beginners.”
–Ryan Albritton, founder of Sprouthood
It’s early spring, and you’re a new gardener. What steps should you be taking to make sure you’re starting off on the right foot? These tips will help you get the results you want when you dig in and plant your vegetable or flower garden.
1. Plan your space.
For a beginner, the best advice for planning your garden is to start small. A small plot makes soil conditioning, weeding, and pest control easier to manage. As this article points out, a well-tended 10×10 garden will perform better than a poorly cared for 25×50 space. Even if a large space is properly cared for, it may yield too much fruit and overwhelm you- as noted here, a 16×20 vegetable garden is large enough for a family of three or four; if your household is smaller, the plot size can be reduced; or container planting might suffice, in which case a deck or balcony could be space enough. However, the remainder of this article is focused on in-ground planting.
Since we are suggesting to start with a small space, intensive cropping is recommended over row cropping. Intensive cropping allows you to design your garden, and maximizes the amount of vegetables grown in a small space. More information on intensive cropping can be found in this article.
2. Get the right amount of sun.
Most vegetables, as well as most perennial flowers and roses, do best in full sun. This means 6 hours of full sunlight daily. Keep this essential fact in mind as you scout the location for your bed.
3. Prep your soil.
It’s imperative to prepare your soil before you plant. Whether your soil is sandy, clay-based, or ideally in between, one important thing to do is enrich it by adding organic matter, such as peat moss, composts, humus, or manure. Organic matter is added by simply digging up the plot, removing weeds, rocks, and other debris, and then working the matter in.
Testing the drainage of the soil is also a good idea. As detailed by this blog, you test drainage simply by soaking the soil with a hose, waiting a day, then grabbing a handful and squeezing hard—if water comes out, more organic matter or compost should be added.
Balancing the pH levels of soil is tricky and intimidating; don’t worry about it too much. Basically, as outlined in this article, if you live somewhere with a lot of rainfall, add lime, about 1 pound per 100 square feet. If you don’t have much rainfall, add some gypsum to control salt content.
4. Pick your plants.
Use common sense- plant things you will actually eat. Starting with easy-to-grow produce is advisable. This blog lays out some good examples: tomatoes, cucumbers, parsley, carrots, zucchini squash, radishes, beets, bell peppers, and beans are all easy to grow for beginners. Buying starter plants over seed packets is more expensive, but easier to manage for the novice gardener as well.
5. Plant them right.
Now you are ready to put your plants in the ground. Good practice is to organize your planting by height, with the tallest plants in the back and decreasing in stature as you move toward the front of the bed. Make sure to put the tall plants on the north-facing side of the bed to prevent shadows being cast on shorter plants. Remember to water gently immediately after planting.
6. Give them the right amount of water.
A good rule of thumb is to water to about an inch of standing water when the soil on top appears to be dry, and to check for this frequently, especially in the summer months. Keep your garden moist during dry spells; as this gardener suggests, a good way to do this is by setting up a lawn sprinkler.
Avoid waterlogging your plants, however. If you see yellowing of green stems or leaves, dial back, as it is a sign of overwatering. Also, as advised here, be sure to water at soil level, as soaking the plants themselves can risk disease or mildew.
7. Feed them.
Fertilizer is the final ingredient in the mix for the growth you want, as many times compost alone does not provide sufficient nutrients. Use slow-release fertilizer to aid in the right distribution, or if you use spray-on, follow the directions exactly to avoid over-fertilization- more does not mean better, as using more than recommended can decrease your yield come harvest time.
8. Control the weeds.
Mulch is a good way to halt weed growth and retain moisture, though it can make it difficult to see when the soil needs watering. If you choose not to mulch, a good tip is to use a hoe or hand fork to gently turn over the top layer of soil, which can help prevent weeds from sprouting. Do not use spray weed killer, pull them out by hand.
9. Control the pests.
Be on the lookout for signs of severe damage, meaning insects eating your plants. At that point, as this blog informs, an organic insecticide can be used. Only do this in the case of emergency, as over-use of insecticide can poison your plants, harming or killing them. Similarly, if you are witnessing wet conditions, slugs may become a major problem, at which point slug pellets can be used as an emergency measure.
This article details tips for dealing with other pests, such as rabbits, deer, and moles.
10. Know how to harvest.
Finally, the fun part! Though it may be difficult, don’t hesitate to harvest for fear of harming your plants, that is what you planted them for. Picking the crops frequently keeps production up from your plants. This article lists harvesting techniques on a plant-by-plant basis for maximum results.
Enjoy your harvest- you’ve earned it!