How many times have you thought about setting up your own garden, only to discard the idea because the whole thing just seemed too overwhelming? Or wanted to grow your own feast of fresh fruits and vegetables but had absolutely no idea how to go about it?
If you’re having difficulty getting in gear with your garden-growing potential, fear not because help is here!
The basic key to successful gardening is all about taking things in easily digestible steps: simply start with a written plan of attack and grow from there!
Let’s start at the beginning and discuss your gardening goals, as well as some how-to tips for establishing your planting planner, which will include some great options for your starter garden and cover everything from when to plant what, maintenance and harvesting schedules and troubleshooting along the way.
Before you know it, you’ll reap the fruits and vegetables of your labor, so let’s get growing.
First of all, one of the major reasons people resist planting their own garden is the argument: “it’s just me – I’ll never eat all of this and it will just go to waste.” But the truth is that this position lacks merit because one of the best ways to eliminate the “party of one” scenario is gardening!
Setting up a raised bed garden or outdoor planting station is not only a fantastic way to get out in the sunshine and fresh air, but it’s also a way to connect with others.
Indeed, one of the best parts about growing your own supply of garden goodness is the ability to share it with those around you. After all, what good is something if you keep it to yourself?
And don’t worry about picking items to grow based on what you like to eat personally: even if you don’t prefer something, there’s always someone out there who will love you forever for growing their favorite fruit or vegetable!
At the same time, don’t bite off more than anyone could ever chew! Start small until you figure out what grows best and which items you prefer to cultivate. In other words, limit volume, not variety.
Another initial reason for resisting the gardening game is the belief that you lack the appropriate space to grow stuff. This is simply not true!
Whether you live in a city and all you have is a fire escape or a rooftop patio – or even a community garden space – or you reside on acres galore with a huge backyard, you can use as little or as much space as you have at your disposal.
Sure, some things grow easier than others in different spaces and that’s something to take into consideration when deciding what you want to grow, but spatial restrictions should never keep you from embarking on your own vegetable, fruit or flower garden!
And now that we’ve covered that bit of housekeeping, let’s talk about what you can grow and how to put your planting plan into action.
Keep these guidelines in mind when determining what you want to grow:
- Start cultivating your seeds indoors for plants with a long growing season so that when it’s time to transplant the seeds in the ground, you’re ready to go.
- Before you transfer anything outside, the date of the last spring frost is important to your success.
- Consult an almanac for historical date data when you’re just beginning but be sure to start keeping your own notes – pretty soon, you’ll have your own almanac full of your personal observations and tips that you can take into account year after year.
Your individual climate region will largely dictate what you can grow in an outdoor environment and the specific considerations you need to take into account for various plants and flowers, but in general, here are some overall guidelines for garden growth.
You always hear folks talking about “in season” produce, but do you actually know the different offerings that are best in cooler weather as opposed to warmer? In other words, how do you know when to plant different types of plants and vegetables?
Here’s a basic compilation of different fruits and veggies and their respective planting times.
Vegetables: Indoor Preparation
Although you’ll want to start cultivating peppers indoors about 8-10 weeks before the last spring frost, start these veggies indoors approximately 6-8 weeks before the final frost:
You can wait until you have 4-6 weeks left before the spring frost to start your indoor lettuce supply and until you have 3 weeks left pre-frost before starting cucumbers! Just be sure to wait until 2 weeks after the frost before you plant your cucumbers outside – they are extremely susceptible to frost damage so do not plant them too soon.
*For tomatoes (although we eat the fruit of the tomato plant, it is usually categorized as a “vegetable” based on its common usage in cooking and eating): start seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before the last frost and wait until the earth warms up before transplanting them in the ground.
*Bonus Tip! Never refrigerate fresh tomatoes! This spoils the flavor and texture that contribute to the fresh-off-the-vine taste that we all love so much.
Vegetables: Outdoor Planting
You don’t need to begin these little guys inside before you pop them into the ground before the last spring frost:
- Carrots (4-6 weeks before)
- Peas (4-6 weeks before)
- Potatoes (2-4 weeks before)
- Radishes (4-6 weeks before)
- Spinach (4-6 weeks before)
*Beets can be grown up to 4 weeks before and 4 weeks after!
In terms of veggies that prefer post-frost planting:
- Beans (any time after)
- Corn (2 weeks after)
- Onions (4 weeks after)
- Summer and Winter Squash (1 week after the last spring frost)
Raspberries are naturally inclined to grow in cooler climates; however, there are two types: summer-bearers yield their fruit once a year in the summer and ever-bearers produce two crops, one in summer and one in fall.
Although strawberry plants come in three different types, the best type for beginning gardeners is the “Junebearer” – they produce buds in the fall, flowers and fruits the next spring, and runners during those long summer days. Of course, you will need to wait a full year before being able to pluck this sweet goodness, but when they’re ready, taste them fresh off of the vine!
Watermelons are best in the summertime, and require a 70-90 day maturity period, so plan accordingly after the soil warms up in the spring.
Even citrus trees like lemon and orange trees are not off limits (you don’t have to live in Florida!) and trees can be planted in containers in the spring.
Now that we’ve covered the what, it’s time to consider the how.
Tools, Techniques and Tips
No matter where you plan to plant, you’ll need some basic tools:
- Garden Fork
- Soaking Hose
- Hand Weeder
- Wheelbarrow or bucket
*Tip: It’s worth paying a bit more for quality tools – after all, if you use old items that have seen more than a few seasons and are dented, rusted or splintered, you’re never going to want to use them…and you won’t be excited about gardening. And because gardening is largely about patience, you need some level of excitement and anticipation to carry you through the lengthy waiting periods you may experience during your first few harvests.
In terms of outdoor placement, make sure you:
- Don’t plant too close to trees. They will steal vital nutrients and may be too shady for your garden to receive sufficient sunlight.
- Plant closer to the house rather than farther away. Not only does this discourage wild animals from high-tailing it away with your harvest, but it also makes it easier for you to tend to your garden. If you have to trek across the yard every time you want to check your cherry tomatoes, you may find that you are not venturing out as often as you should.
- Pick a part of the yard that receives plenty of sunshine. Veggies love the sun and require a minimum of 6-8 hours of full exposure daily.
Satisfactory Soil Selections
Proper soil quality/preparation is also a big consideration and may even determine whether you plant directly in the ground or in a raised bed garden. You can obtain free soil test kits from a local nursery to help you assess whether mixing in compost to your soil will be sufficient enrichment (if your soil needs some help).
Alternatively, raised bed gardening in a bed built out of non-pressure-treated wood may be the answer to any soil issues. These can be placed on porches (that are uncovered) and even built into boxes that resemble patio furniture!
*Tip: Raised bed gardening is also a great solution for those with bad backs, arthritis or women who are pregnant!
Organic Pest Control
One of nature’s gifts to gardeners across the globe are the pest-control provisions that are inherent in certain plants and herbs. For example, consider cultivating:
- Marigolds: Not only do these annuals add a pop of bright yellow/orange/gold color to your garden, but when these flower seeds are planted as a natural border for your garden (around the perimeter and strategically planted in between a few rows), they serve as natural repellents for rabbits and other pesky critters and insects.
- Lavender: These beautiful blue-purple blooms are great for flavoring your favorite savory recipes, as well as many baked goods, all the while keeping creatures like mice scurrying in the opposite direction. For a DIY flea and tick repellent, crumble up dried lavender into a powder and dust it around your cat or dog bed!
- Rosemary: A time-honored topping for homemade breads, not only does rosemary serve as a fragrant reminder of your gardening efforts, but it also keeps hungry deer at bay during growing seasons!
Of course, we’ve just barely scratched the surface of the wonderful world of growth you can experience by establishing your own garden, as well as the far-reaching benefits to your community as a whole, but hopefully some ideas are already germinating!
What are you planning on planting in your own garden for the next growing season?
Since 2000, Chris Long has been a store associate at a Home Depot in Illinois. He also contributes to the Home Depot blog, and provides advice on home landscaping topics ranging from flower seeds to lawn care.