How to Garden: Gardening Basics for Beginners

By iMages - November 12, 2020

To make your plants flourish, gardening is about finding the correct combination of sunshine, fertile soil and water. It's about satisfying your passion as well so choose plants that you love. As a starting point, use the tools here, and you'll have a beautiful garden in no time no matter what degree of gardening experience you have. 

 Starst with: "Select and Plan the Site"

Many people start gardening out of necessity when they find themselves the owners of a plot of land surrounding their house. 

Others just want to garden and find that any bit of ground will do, even planters on a city terrace or pots on a fire escape. 

I gardened extensively—with permission—in the backyards of rented houses and apartments. 

Today I tend a small personal plot and mostly garden vicariously at client properties and by giving advice to students. Whatever your situation is, it’s important to have a basic plan before you start planting.

When planning a garden, you can start with either the plants or the plot. 

I like to start with the site. Assess the sun, the soil, and the topography, and consider what you can grow under those conditions. 

Let’s say, for example, that you want a vegetable garden. Most vegetables thrive in the sun, so if your backyard is filled with large trees and dense shade, either rethink what you will grow or alter conditions by editing the trees. 

But consider carefully. Are some tomatoes and peppers worth the destruction of a hundred-year-old oak tree? 

Maybe a woodland garden makes more sense. Soil, as you will learn later, can be improved, but slopes make a difference. 

Flat spaces are easy to plan and plant, while hillsides present problems but also opportunities for structures, like retaining walls and terraces. 

Low spots will collect water and, depending on the drainage, may offer the right conditions for water-loving plants.

Start by drawing a basic plan in pencil on graph paper. 

Situate the house within the property lines, then draw bubbles to divide the property into areas, or outdoor rooms, for different purposes, such as lawn to play on, edibles to eat, a patio to relax on, and ornamental beds with trees, shrubs, and flowers for visual appeal. 

Think about how you already use your yard, and which doors—back, front, or side—connect which interior rooms of the house to the outside. 

Consider convenience over artistry at this stage and let form follow function. You can tweak your plans for a more refined design later on.

If you choose to start with plants and let what you want to grow inform your planning decisions, be prepared for a bit more work and revisions to the site. It is understandable to have a list of “must have” plants. 

Many new gardeners are born from a passion for plants, and gardening isn’t worth it if they can’t grow what they want. 

My advice is to weigh the costs, for the gardener and the environment, when deciding to forego practical considerations to fulfill a dream.

There’s a lot to think about when you plan a garden, but the basics of sun, soil, and topography will take you a long way. 

Gardening is, by nature, a dynamic process. Not even expert planners get everything right the first time. Experimentation is one of the many joys of gardening. 

Even when plants we wished for fail us, others take their place, and our developing passion to grow things takes root in that very special piece of ground we are working with.

Assemble the Right Tools

Acquiring and learning how to use the tools of the trade can be half the fun, just like for any other new hobby or pastime. I’ve twice set up shop at new garden estates where I was allowed to buy whatever I thought I needed. 

The first time, I was a relatively new gardener and bought several tools that proved unnecessary, such as a dibble. 

Others, described here, became day-to-day mainstays as I learned which tools to carry with me whenever I went out to do some work in the garden.

Hand pruners Either holstered at your hip or tucked into a pocket, these are for those countless clips to roots and shoots as well as opening bags, trimming string, and cutting almost anything.

Sharp knife In lieu of hand pruners, a sharp knife is handy for cutting away packaging or dissecting plant parts.

Nursery trowel An eighteen-inch steel trowel with an elongated handle makes quick work when digging holes in compacted or prepared soil.

Stirrup or loop hoe This long-handled, hinged hoe is the most useful kind you can buy. Its dual-edge blade can be pulled back and forth to fluff mulch and soil while striking down weeds.

Burlap Also called hessian, it can be bought by the square or the roll and used as a mat when you are kneeling on bare dirt, to keep the lawn clean when dumping soil or mulch, to carry a root ball when transplanting, or to protect tender plants from unexpected frosts.

Bucket A five-gallon bucket gives you a place to store smaller tools and accessories, or can serve as a handy depository for weeds and clippings.

In later chapters of this book I describe the tools I have found essential for digging, watering, pruning, and weeding.

Getting tools and materials from place to place in the garden is easier with the right means of conveyance. Here are my recommendations:

Cart The best version is a four-foot-wide, five-foot-long, and three-foot-high open box riding atop an axle with two bicycle wheels and equipped with an aluminum handle.

Wheelbarrow Plastic barrows are lighter and easier to maneuver than metal but strong enough to hold loads of mulch, soil, and stone.

Trug This collapsible plastic bushel basket with handles is great for small loads or to fill with weeds.

Tarp Made of durable nylon, an eight-foot-square or larger tarp is a handy way to haul light materials like brush and leaves across a lawn to the compost pile.

Always buy top quality. You will save money in the long run with tools that last a lifetime instead of just a few seasons. 

Choose tools made from high-quality materials with excellent workmanship. Not only will they last longer, they will also work better. 

Avoid gimmicky tools with claims of making tasks quick and easy. Simple, traditional tools work perfectly well, though opting for lightweight materials is smart if they’re sturdy. 

Over time you will collect an arsenal suited to your gardening needs and skills.

Keep your tools stored and organized so you can find them when you need them. 

A garden shed, a closet, or pegs on a wall work. Keep small hand tools in a bucket you can easily carry out to the garden. 

Hang up long-handled tools to save space or stack them in a wheelbarrow or garden cart. Never store tools outside. 

They will either rust, rot, or become lost. I spray paint a bright orange stripe on all my tool handles to help me find them after I set them down while working, a trick I learned after misplacing several expensive shovels and pairs of shears.

Always clean, sharpen, and oil your tools after each gardening session. 

Knives, pruners, and even spades and hoes work more effectively when they are sharpened after each use. 

Linseed oil is food and soil safe and can be used to lubricate metal tools and prevent them from rusting. After rinsing soil off with water, repeatedly dip spades and shovels into a bucket filled with sand and linseed oil. 

This will clean and coat the metal. 

Use rags to wipe off excess oil and/or sand before putting the tools away. The extra time and effort will keep your tools in top shape and ready at a moment’s notice.




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