Tips for the Beginner Gardener

Are you starting a garden for the first time? Vegetable or floral garden?  If you're a beginning gardener, it's important to learn as much as you can before you begin. First-time gardeners can make mistakes in selecting plants, garden location and day-to-day care. These choices can result in poor yield and may even cause plants to die before the summer. Below are a few basic tips to help the beginning gardener get started. 


Gardening Zone

To start, you need to know what gardening zone you are in. These zones determine what type of plants are native to your region and when is the best time to begin planting. If you are planting seeds, be sure to check the back of the seed packet for instructions on the recommended planting depth and spacing.

Frost Dates

Other important factors are the frost dates for your area. Go online or consult your local gardening store to find the average day of the final spring frost. If you plant before the last frosts of the season, you may accidently kill your plants by putting them outside too soon. If you are transplanting indoor plants to the outdoors, be aware that plants can experience 'transplant shock' because they may struggle when adjusting to different environments. To avoid this, slowly transition plants to their new outdoor environment by exposing them to the outdoors in increments. Once the weather reaches consistent plant-appropriate weather, place your plants outside in partial sunlight for one hour a day. Gradually add an hour a day until they are outside for a full day of sunlight. When you are ready to plant, slide the plant out of the container instead of pulling on the stem. Avoid touching the roots because pulling or accidentally breaking the roots can slow growth or kill the plant. You can use a knife to slice the side of the container open to allow for easier transitioning.Click here for more tips on transplanting. 

Plant Choice

Beginner gardeners should focus on hardy plants that are easy to care for. Start small and learn the process before you try a larger garden and more challenging plants. Easy-to-grow annuals are: cosmos, marigolds, impatiens, geraniums, sunflowers and zinnias. For perennials, consider: Russian sage, lamb's ear, black-eyed Susans, pansies and daylilies. If you're planning a vegetable garden, start with: lettuce, peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers. Nurseries can provide starter or transfer plants, so you can start with strong growing plants and not have to worry about the risky work of nurturing seedlings.  


As in real estate, with gardening, it's location, location, location. Most gardens will need plenty of sunlight. Keep in mind vegetables need more sunlight than any other plants and will require at least 6 hours of sunlight per day. Ideally, your garden rows should be planted north to south so that all your plants will receive an equal amount of sun. Consult your seed packets or local nursery to discover if your plants are sun-loving or if they need some shade. Examples of shade-loving plants are: primrose, lady's mantle, foxglove and lungwort. A few sun-loving plants are: midsummer montbretia, pheasant's tail grass, violet blue aster and sunny hibiscus. Your plant choice will depend on how many hours a day your garden is in the shade without sunlight. A spot is considered in 'full shade' if it receives less than 3 hours of sunlight daily. If the area receives 3 to 6 hours of sunlight it is considered 'partial shade.' Monitor your garden location to determine if you need to select plants that grow in shade. Your local garden store can help you narrow your plant choices depending on the level of shade in your garden. 

Organic Choices

Make organic choices when it comes to fertilizer, soil and pest control. Plants that are heavily treated with chemicals can become weak and disease prone. If your soil needs to be amended, compost is the best option for most types of soil to correct pH levels and refresh nutrients. Row covers, lightweight sheets of translucent plastic or insecticidal soap sprays are the best selections for organically controlling garden insects; deer, rabbits and other garden pests can be deterred by garden fences. Bear in mind that fences need to reach 8 feet high to prevent deer from jumping over and 6 inches below ground to stop rabbits from digging underneath.


Don't forget the water. Before planting, make sure your plants are in reach of a watering source. It will be a rough day if you plant your garden only to realize your hose doesn't quite reach. Seedlings should be watered daily until their roots become established. Watering routines depend on your soil type and the climate of your area. A good gauge of your watering routine is the appearance of your plants. If they wilt during the heat of the day, they need more water. If the leaves start to turn yellow, cut back on watering. The general rule is to give plants one inch of water per week. Try to water in the morning to avoid evaporation caused by the midday heat. Check your plants' specific requirements to determine how much water is needed.