For those who have never gardened, starting the process is a daunting experience. There are many types of plants, seeds, soil amendments and techniques available, which makes it difficult to decide where to start and how to proceed. Some basic horticultural guidance eases the burden of making choices and leads to an enjoyable gardening experience.
Start with the Soil
The soil in a homeowner landscape, if well-draining, provides all the nutrients that most flowers need. Vegetables require more fertile soils and need compost (available in bags at the garden centers) spread to a depth of 3 inches over the garden bed surface before turning the soil. Water the area deeply a few days before digging, then dig and turn the soil. Work the soil with the hands, breaking up any large clods. If compost has been added, this process works the material into the soil so the roots can use it. Rake the area smooth.
Select Annual Flowers and Vegetables
Beginning gardeners should consider annual plants (plants that grow, flower, and die in one season), which avoids the more exact science of getting seeds to germinate. Garden centers offer annuals that grow in your area at the best time of the year for planting them.
Before shopping, note how much sun or shade the garden bed receives at different parts of the day. If a bed gets shade in the morning but full sun in the heat of day, then select plants that prefer full sun. If the reverse is true, then choose plants that like partial shade. Read the plant labels, making initial selections based upon sun/shade exposure. Then choose plants that are appealing for flowers, color, scent or texture.
Arranging the Plants
Follow spacing directions on the plant label to allow for mature growth. Arrange annual flowers in a scattered formation, much like nature does, rather than in straight lines, the preferred method for traditional vegetable beds. Set each of the plants in their containers (cut the packs into sections for placement) into the garden bed where they will be planted. Fill the entire bed in this manner before planting, moving them about until you get the arrangement you want.
Dig the hole just as deep as the root ball and twice as wide. After planting, the soil level should not come up any farther on the stem of the plant than it was before (called deep planting). If you are concerned about deep planting, then select marigolds, tomatoes, and sweet peas for your first gardening efforts, as they are exceptions to this rule and build stronger stems when deep planted.
Water the plants deeply just after planting, directing a slow flow at the base of the plants, rather than on the leaves. When new leaves start to form, allow the soil to dry out a bit more between waterings. Avoid mid-day watering when leaf burn can occur.
Be Patient, Share and Learn
If you lose a few plants, don't be discouraged. It happens to every one, novice and experienced gardener. Share concerns (and triumphs!) with other gardeners and gardening experts. Learn and garden more!