70 Fun and Practical Gardening Tips for Beginners
Gardening can be complicated, but you’re not alone! I’ve got a whole collection of great tips for you, from general guidelines, to easy plants you should try, to book recommendations for great advice, and more!
General rules for gardening
- Be nice to yourself. If something dies or doesn’t work out, that’s ok, better luck next time.
- Make friends with other gardeners! They can give you seeds, clippings and extra plants. They can help you with all the things! They will want to see your pictures.
- Limit the area of your garden. Don’t try to do your entire space all in one go. An overwhelmed gardener will give up.
- Plant perennials. It’s like letting nature do your work for you. I recommend having rosemary, blueberry or a flowering bush be your first plant. Pick plants that work well for your area and have the look you are going for.
- Plant native species. Native plants will require very little maintenance as well as being the favorite food and shelter for local butterflies and birds.
- Start a compost area when you get a chance. You will need someplace to put plants when they die and crops that don’t get eaten. That way you don’t feel sad about something not being used the way you intended since it’s going to be recycled back in next season. And, free compost!
- Keep a journal, spreadsheet or map. You will probably want to keep up with what you planted, when and where.
- Take pictures. You will want to show people all the awesome work you have done.
- Make time for maintenance. 5 minutes of weeding a day will save you hours of weeding weeks from now when the weeds have had time to get established.
- Remove as much grass around your garden as you possibly can. Dig up all the grass and get rid of it. Grass is not your friend, it weakens your soil and is the most invasive weed in my opinion.
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Instant Gardening Gratification
- Planting established plants is a great idea for a new gardener. Yes, it’s not as “sustainable” and it’s more expensive, but you can go from not having a garden to having one instantly.
- Plant seeds that germinate fast. My favorite for this is radishes. They germinate in a few days, and you can eat them in about a month or two.
- Ask your gardener friends if they have anything to donate. They probably do and you could have free clipping and established plants.
- Invite someone or several someones over to help you put in your new garden, like an old fashioned barn raising. Snacks and lemonade are a must for a garden building party.
- Plant outward from a fixed point like a tree if you are doing a shade garden or decorative flowers. It will look fancy faster than a garden sitting off by itself.
- Use decorations to keep things visually pleasing until the plants come in, like statues, pretty glass balls or fairy houses.
- Get a few gardening items that don’t live in the garden. Like some cute gloves, a little fancy looking apron or bucket for your tools. That makes me feel like I’ve done something even if I haven’t.
- Pintrest. Look at pictures of what your plants are going to look like, research plants you want next, find recipes you can’t wait to try when your harvest comes in. Building boards about gardening is fun and feel productive.
- Order a few seed packets. Just a few. I mean it. Don’t order 6 types of lettuce, 8 types of tomato, and 10 exotic vegetables you have never heard of. Order 3 or 4 things you know you will use and no more than 2 new and interesting things at a time.
- A container garden is a garden. Don’t hesitate to buy an already put together herb garden, or potted flowers. This is your garden, you do what you want.
Easy plants to try
- Tomatoes are the easiest plant to find at your local nursery, in so many varieties.
- Marigolds have beautiful color and look way more impressive than they are, and they help keep away some harmful bugs.
- Radishes can even be purchased as seeds in strips to get perfect rows.
- Herbs like oregano, marjoram, mint, basil, and thyme are almost impossible to fuck up.
- Peas grow quickly and take up very little space in your garden, plus the flowers are beautiful.
- Green beans take up almost no real estate because they grow up on to a structure if you get “pole” varieties.
- Bee balm flowers are lovely and it smells nice. As you can imagine, bees and butterflies love it.
- Lettuce also comes in strips for straight rows. Planting different colors can be visually delightful.
- Sunflowers have so many sizes, shapes, and colors to pick from and are easy to grow and become food if you are patient.
- Nasturtium has lots of colors and keeps away harmful bugs.
Books for a beginning gardener
- The Sustainable Vegetable Garden by John Jeavons and Carol Cox
This is the book I used when I first started my own garden. I think I got this book in 2000? Maybe before then. My copy is short, only about 100 pages. It has lots of charts and pictures, with detailed instructions and lists of everything you need. There is a lot of math in the charts, but I’m going to be honest, I didn’t try hard on all that stuff, I just skimmed over a lot of the math, but if you are a math person and like precision, you will enjoy that. This book is a great intro to the biointensive method.
- How to Grow More Vegetables, Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains, and Other Crops Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land with Less Water Than You Can Imagine by John Jeavons and Alice Waters
It goes by “How to Grow More Vegetables” now, but I think the original title is funny. This is pretty much exactly the same as “The Sustainable Vegetable Garden” but more. It’s a much more detailed explanation of the biointensive method.
- Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew
This is a great, classic gardening book. Perfect for beginners. It’s laid out in a step by step manner, with specific instructions. This book is good if you like structure and order. This method creates adorable, sort of fussy little gardens.
- Southeast Home Landscaping by Roger Holmes
I know, this is a landscaping book, not exactly what you would think of a “homestead” gardening, but I find it useful. For one it has lots of native plants in it, which require very little care and are homes to native butterflies. The designs are easy and gorgeous. If you have a big yard you might not want ever area filled up with food crops. If that’s the case this is the best book in my opinion for creating pretty landscapes. (There are also books in this same series for Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, Southern Coastal, Northwest, etc. Pick the one that fits your region).
- Small & Container Gardening by Peter McHoy and Stephanie Donaldson
This book has everything you need to know about doing a container garden. I mean that, everything. It’s 500 pages. With tons of pictures and diagrams. It tells you about putting plants in pots of course, but it also has sections on building a patio and putting in water gardens. I think it’s out of print, but I was able to find it on Amazon.
- The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live it by John Seymour
This book has so much info about gardening, with lots of beautiful botanical drawings, information on pests and diseases with tips on how to treat them. It also has all the basic homesteading info, from building structures to raising livestock. If you could only have one book on homesteading this should be it.
- Let It Rot!: The Gardener’s Guide to Composting by Stu Campbell
This book is easy to read and funny. I love the writing style. It’s also full of great info on the science of composting and composting methods. When you are ready to start composting this is probably the best book to get started.
- Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture by Toby Hemenway
This is maybe the definitive guide to permaculture, which is working with nature, not against it, to garden. It’s gardening with the idea of doing as little damage to the ecosystem as possible, while still getting good crops to harvest. Once established a permaculture garden requires less upkeep. I did a lot of permaculture in my last garden, but haven’t gotten much done here yet.
- MiniFarming, Self-Sufficiency on 1/4 acre by Brett Markham
This is a great book that covers every topic that you might have on a minifarm, including gardening, composting, livestock, planning and even canning. If you are just planning to have a small garden this book might have too much info you don’t need, but if your dream is to be a homesteader then this is a great overall book to start with. Lots of photos, illustrations, and detailed techniques.
- Newspaper, Pennies, Cardboard, and Eggs–For Growing a Better Garden: More than 400 New, Fun, and Ingenious Ideas to Keep Your Garden Growing Great All Season Long by Roger Yepsen
This is an odd one to have on here, but I love this book. It has so many weird tips and ideas.
Make it pretty!
- Plant flowers. If you are the practical type they can be beneficial plants, like marigolds or bee balm. Having something you find pretty makes it feel more like a garden to me.
- Hardscape. Borders are not only pretty, but they limit the space you have to pay attention to and make gardening less overwhelming. Look at Number One Tip for being a successful Gardener for an example and explanation of a simple raised bed garden.
- Decorations! Yes, they take up a little space that could be used for food crops, but they are worth it. They turn the practical into the whimsical.
- Add a seating area. This is pretty but it’s also a place to rest. It can become a place you hang out to drink coffee and journal. It’s good for your self-esteem to spend time with your beautiful work. You don’t need any fancy, expensive patio furniture, just a single outdoor chair works.
- Lights are nice. They are pretty and useful if you have to go out at night. I recommend either solar lights or ones you can turn on only when you need them. You don’t want artificial light on your plants every night, that isn’t good for them, and it wastes energy.
- Create pathways. They can be mulch, pavers, gravel anything that works for you, but you need paths. They give the garden a pleasing shape and give you someplace to stand while you harvest and weed.
- Pick plants with color in mind. Your garden doesn’t need to be just shades of green. You can have red green beans, purple cabbage, golden zucchini. Pick a color palette you will find pleasing.
- Little plant markers. These are adorable and helpful, you can paint rocks, use premade ones or little rustic stakes.
- Plant with the mature height of the plant in mind. Having plants that grow up on fences beside short plants that like a little shade gives your garden dimensions. Put tall plants like sunflowers along one side, but not both.
- Bring some of the beauty inside. Flowers, herbs and even veggies can be beautiful in flower arrangements and centerpieces.
Learn From My Mistakes
- Don’t plant things you aren’t going to eat. My ex insisted I plant onions and okra every year. He would swear he would use them, but he didn’t. It was wasted space and effort.
- Don’t plant things because you “should”. Every year I planted several types of lettuce. I don’t like lettuce, so about 80% of those plants ended up as chicken food or in the compost. More wasted space and effort.
- Don’t overdo it. Don’t overwater, overfertilize or helicopter parent your garden. Everything that lives strives to live. You don’t need to baby your plants, especially native ones or plants that like your climate. Leave them alone as much as possible.
- Don’t do your seed or plant shopping before actually making a list of what you really want and taking into account your space. If you just go out and buy whatever looks good you will end up with a box of seeds.
- Don’t expect perfection. This is a learning process.
- Don’t become attached to any specific thing. Gardens are impermanence. Seasons change, bugs happen, plants die, there could be a drought or a bad storm. You might move.
- Don’t plant mint directly in the ground unless you know you will love it forever. It’s a commit”mint”, hahaha.
- Likewise, be very careful about planting bamboo. It’s nearly impossible to get rid of if you change your mind.
- Don’t plant anything you know is invasive. Ask your gardener friends or check the internet, search “invasive plants in …” to get plenty of resources.
- Don’t blame yourself if life intrudes and you mess up. These are plants, not pets or kids. Cry over it and then try again next season. No harm done – most plants were going to die anyway!
Gardening on a budget
- Once you have the hang of things try growing more plants from seed, especially seeds you have saved yourself from the garden last year.
- Go to seed swaps or check with your local library, sometimes seed savers donate seeds to the library. You can check social media for seed-saving and preservation groups in your area.
- Don’t buy lots of fancy tools, you only need the basics to get started. A shovel, hoe and a spade should be enough to get going. You might even be able to get this stuff used from garage sales.
- Look to nature for solutions before buying something. A nice stick in your back yard is free, a plastic support pole from the store isn’t.
- Get cutting from your friends or take cuttings from plants you see as you are walking down the street.
- Check sale websites where people list things they are getting rid of for free or cheap. Craig’s list and Facebook marketplace are great for free hardscaping material. Often people will be giving away bricks, pavers, railroad timbers, or rocks. You just have to go get them.
- Be creative with old junk. I made a pea structure out of bicycle rims and a metal pole I found. I’ve planted strawberries in old tires.
- Find out if anyplace near you gives out free compost or mulch. Tree companies often do, some municipalities do. However be careful, there could be plant killer or other chemicals in there, so I would recommend testing it on a container plant first, or letting it cook in your compost a while if you plan to put it on your food crops.
- Don’t overextend. I said that above, but I’m repeating it here. If you plan out and buy supplies for 200 square feet of garden, and it turns out you only utilized 100 sq. feet, then that’s wasted money and effort.
Kitty Sarkozy is a speculative fiction writer, actor and blogger. She is Associate Editor for Pseudopod, a Parsec award-winning and British Fantasy award nominated horror podcast. She gardens and engages in a plethora of hobbies at her home in Marietta, GA. You can watch her makeup reviews, blind box openings, beauty and fashion tips on youtube.