How to start a garden

Tools

Starting a garden can help the environment by creating habitats for pollinators like bees and birds, while also reducing your food waste and your carbon footprint.

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Starting a garden at home

Whether you’re hoping to grow your own fresh food, start a new hobby or add some curb appeal to your home, starting a garden can be a rewarding and educational experience. The process of starting from scratch can be intimidating, but by following a handful of simple steps you can effectively plan, plant and enjoy your garden this spring and summer. Find out more about the necessary tools that will make starting your garden project quick and easy. 

Plan your garden

Choose what you’ll grow 

Many first-time gardeners are eager to get to work outside, but before getting your hands dirty, you’ll want to do a fair amount of research. The first step is to choose your desired type of garden — vegetables or flowers.

Next, learning about the hardiness zone that applies to your specific region is crucial for selecting the correct plants. Warmer climates have a higher hardiness zone number, broadening your options, while those living in colder climates will need to select plants that can survive and flourish in harsher conditions. 

Garden location

The location of your garden is important since it determines the amount of daily sun exposure your plants receive. Certain varieties of plants do well in full or partial shade, but the majority of vegetables require at least six hours of sun a day, if not more. Avoid areas with excessive tree cover or other obstructions. 

Besides proper sunlight, choose a location that has easy access to a water source. Keeping your garden within reach of a hose or sprinkler system can help you keep your plants well watered.

Layout and design

Raised beds are a popular option for both vegetable and flower gardens, as they’re easier to work in, have an appealing style and give you more control over soil consistency and drainage. However, they can be more expensive to install and may lose moisture quicker. 

In-ground gardens are easier to set up since they don’t require any additional materials and are more practical for large gardens, though they tend to require more consistent weeding and provide less protection from pests. For beginner gardeners, we recommend starting small, being sure not to overcrowd your plants.

home soil test

Know your soil

Raised gardens most likely require you to purchase soil to fill the beds. It’s best to choose a soil that contains nutrient-rich organic matter and has a pH level between 6.0 and 7.0. If you plan to cultivate the soil in your yard, it’s a good idea to use a home soil tester. It’s also important to make sure your soil is not overly sandy or rocky, which can lead to growth and drainage issues. 

Tilling and planting

fork

Working your soil

If you plan to build an in-ground garden using existing soil, it will require some work to fully prepare it for planting. This can be done by using a shovel to cut up and turn over the sod, which can then be shaken out to remove excess dirt from the area. Using a garden fork can help loosen tough or compacted soil and break up root clumps. 

A less labor-intensive method would be to invest in a motorized tiller. Though more expensive, the blades on these machines are able to quickly break up and aerate the soil to set depths without the hard work. By adding 1-2 inches of compost to your garden before tilling, you can improve the soil quality.

Once the soil has been tilled, use a bow rake to level it and sift out any stones.

Planting your garden

First-time gardeners can help increase their chances of growing a successful garden by giving their plants a boost and starting them indoors approximately six weeks before the final frost. While certain seeds like root crops, squash and corn grow best when planted directly in the ground, many other vegetables and flowers can easily be transplanted once they have sprouted and the threat of frost is minimal. 

Follow the growing instructions included with your vegetable and flower seeds to find the optimal planting depths and spacing specifications. 

Depending on the variety you choose, you should aim to place plants that have similar water and sunlight requirements in the same general area, that way there won’t be any major discrepancies. Some vegetables like corn and beans grow well when grown together, while others like tomatoes and potatoes should be separated to reduce the risk of spreading diseases. Learning about plant compatibility will take some time but is certain to pay off in the end. 

Before transplanting seedlings, it can be beneficial to let them acclimate to their new environment by progressively exposing them to the outdoors. This process is called hardening. When it comes time to transplant, be careful removing seedlings from their pot and if possible, choose an overcast day, as it reduces the risk of too much initial sun exposure.

Maintain your garden

Watering

Once all your seeds or transplants have been planted and taken root, it’s vital that you keep up with garden maintenance. Providing your new plants with the right amount of water is important for their survival. Too much or too little water can have a negative impact on their overall health. Early morning watering is often best, as it gives your plants time to absorb the moisture before the midday heat.

weeder

Weed removal

Weeding isn’t the most exciting part of gardening, but it is necessary. Unwanted weeds not only look unsightly, but they end up stealing important nutrients, water and sunlight. There are specifically designed weeding tools that help pull weeds up from the roots, preventing them from returning a few days later. 

Pest control

Gardens tend to attract pests — everything from insects to rabbits to deer. If you prefer a pesticide-free solution, you can select pest-resistant seed varieties, grow additional plants that attract the pests’ natural predators, keep your soil healthy and consider rotating your crops each season. For larger pests, putting up a barrier like a fence or netting can be effective. 

Enjoy your garden

After all your hard work, there’s nothing better than enjoying and appreciating your beautiful new garden. Some vegetables can be harvested and utilized throughout the summer, while others are best harvested toward the end of the growing season. As for flower gardens, colors and patterns often vary as different flowers bloom throughout the course of the year. 

Finally, take note of the plants that thrived and the ones didn’t produce quite as well. This can help you plan for the following year. 

Five essential garden tools

What you need to buy for home gardens

Fiskars Long-Handled Digging Shovel

Fiskars Long-Handled Digging Shovel

When first starting a home garden, your shovel is one of your go-to tools. This model has a durable build and is designed for breaking through tough ground. 

Where to buy: Sold by Home Depot and Amazon

Edward Tools Bend-Proof Garden Trowel

Edward Tools Bend-Proof Garden Trowel

Your trowel can be used for everything from digging to transplanting to weeding. Having a sturdy handle and comfortable grip is important for a tool that’s bound to see a ton of use. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Gilmour Flat Weeper Soaker Hose

Gilmour Flat Weeper Soaker Hose 

Standard garden hoses are great for watering your plants, but a soaker hose allows you to reach the soil closest to the roots, providing a gentle seeping flow that won’t damage new growth. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Bully Tools 16-Inch Bow Rake

Bully Tools 16-Inch Bow Rake

A leaf rake might come in handy down the road, but a bow rake allows you to smooth and level the soil prior to planting. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon and Home Depot

Pine Tree Tools Bamboo Working Gloves

Pine Tree Tools Bamboo Working Gloves

When working in the soil, you’re bound to come across sharp sticks, wood chips, rocks and even stinging or biting insects. A good pair of gloves can keep your hands and wrists protected.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

 

Matthew Young is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money.

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