Novice gardeners often feel like they face a daunting task when it comes to starting a garden. Words like pH balance, nitrogen levels, peat moss and humus may seem overwhelming, but, fear not, good gardening is all about following some simple guidelines--know your dirt, know your sun and water needs, and know your plants. By following those guidelines, you'll have gorgeous results no matter what type of gardening you choose to do.
Know Your Dirt
Dirt is just dirt to the non-gardener but the gardener knows that it is so much more than that. Gardeners see soil, a mixture of ingredients needed for life. The correct blend of materials will allow for water to flow through, be chock-full of nutrients needed for plant development, and will draw all those little garden helpers like earthworms and ladybugs because of its richness.
You can get to know your soil by using a clean hand trowel and cutting straight down into the earth to pull out a 3-inch sample. Avoid areas with decaying plant matter or mulch, if possible, as these materials can skewer results by giving an inaccurate nitrogen count. Take your sample in a clean container to your local cooperative extension office or full-service garden center for testing. Usually free, the test will tell you the pH level--or acidity--of your soil as well as give you an idea of your drainage potential and any soil needs in the way of your major nutrient needs, nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus. Your cooperative office or garden center can help you balance your soil to the optimal growing conditions needed for the plants you wish to grow by helping you choose the amendments needed. For best results, have your soil tested each growing season and take in multiple samples if you have multiple garden areas.
Some of the improvements you may be advised to make could include adding peat moss or sand to improve drainage and adding nutrients through a fertilizer mix or manure or compost. Plan to add nitrogen through a fertilizer or manure on a regular basis as this nutrient is the most prevalently used of them all.
Know Your Sun and Water Needs
For best results, you have to plant the correct plants for your location's sunlight. Study new beds and note the type of sunlight available for the both early morning sun and afternoon sun. Vegetable gardens need full sun all day or at least a three-fourths of the day's sunlight, but flower gardens can vary from deep shade that never sees sun to full sun, depending on the plant's needs. For showstopping results, match plants with similar sunlight needs to what is available instead of trying to grow things you like in areas they won't thrive.
All gardens need water. Plan to water regularly in times of no rain but also educate yourself on your plants' unique watering needs. For example, tomatoes need about a gallon of water a week and grow better if not watered daily while pepper plants thrive on a daily watering and can stress if the ground grows too dry. Plan your garden by placing like plants together.
Know Your Plants
Knowing your plants' soil, sun and water needs is a great start to great gardening, but it's also important to know their individual needs. Keep plant tags when purchasing seedlings or seeds for their wealth of information. Follow planting instructions when it comes to spacing, sun, water and soil types. Research your individual plant's care requirements to know if it needs pruning, deadheading or other types of care such as supporting with a trellis or other needs. You don't need to be a gardening expert to have a great garden, but you should strive to become knowledgeable in what you chose to grow.