Tips for Beginner Gardeners
March 12, 2021 — According to a report released by Dalhousie University in Halifax, almost one in five Canadians started to garden last year and a majority were influenced by COVID-19 . The report also shows that the highest number of new gardeners per region was right here, in Atlantic Canada.
Though the pandemic lockdown — and the ensuing extra time on our hands — led to more gardeners, there are other reasons to start gardening. Along with the benefits to your mental and physical health (yes, tending to your garden counts as exercise!), planting a food garden can help you save money and reduce your carbon footprint. Whatever your reason to start a garden at home, here are some tips and tricks to dig into as you get growing!
Tip 1: If you’re a beginner, start small.
It’s better to be pleased by what you can produce in a small garden, than get frustrated by the commitment that a big garden requires. It’s also better to learn the basics of gardening before you invest lots of time and money into a new hobby. Starting small gives you a feel for how much time gardening can take, and to see if you like spending time outside planting, watering, and weeding. You can also learn from your mistakes for next time; maybe the following year, you’ll plant your garden in a different location, or spread it out in small plots around your yard.
Tip 2: When choosing a spot for your garden pay attention to the location’s sun exposure.
You might have a nice level spot in your yard for some garden beds, but make sure you know the sun exposure and shadows your yard gets. Many vegetable crops need at least 6 to 8 hours of sunlight a day . Here is a garden sunlight guide to help you decide what to plant depending on your sun exposure.
Hot tip: Plant your garden from north to south for maximum sun exposure; plants positioned east to west tend to shade each other over the course of the day. Take note of the trees in your yard, too. An area that gets lots of sun in early spring might be in the shade when the trees leaf out.
Tip 3: When deciding what to plant, read through seed catalogs, which have detailed instructions on how to grow each fruit or vegetable.
When you know where to put your garden, you then have to decide what you want to plant and how to grow those plants. If this is your first garden, don’t get too carried away; you may be surprised with the upkeep a garden requires. If you have lots of space to plant and are ready for a bigger garden or more plant varieties, you can utilize different zones with varying sun exposure depending on what the plants require! If you’re renting, or tight on space, you can grow in containers.
Hot tip: If you can’t decide what to grow, make a list of what you like to eat and start there!
Tip 4: Know when to start seedlings and when to transplant them.
It seems obvious, but it bears repeating: different plants are planted at different times. Make sure you know which plants should be started indoors, when to transplant them, and which seeds you can start outdoors (and when it’s safe to do so).
The Old Farmer’s Almanac online is a good resource for fall and spring planting calculators based on your geographic location’s average spring temperatures. You can also take a peek over at this food garden blog for an outline of when to plant certain veggies and herbs. It’s also always good to check other resources and references (relevant to your climate) for certainty. If you know an avid gardener, ask them for advice! Experience is the best teacher.
You can also choose to start your garden from seedlings. You can buy seedlings from a nursery or garden center to transplant into your garden. This method is especially helpful for slow-growing plants like broccoli, celery, or kale. Keep in mind that transplants will mature sooner and give you an earlier harvest than if you start them from seed. Transplants also do a better job of resisting pests during the growing season, because they’re stronger when planted .
Tip 5: Water wisely.
During the first few weeks after seeds germinate and after seedlings are transplanted, the plants need frequent watering. However, once the plants are established, it’s best to give them a long drink every few days rather than a sprinkle of water every day. That way, the water moves deeper into the soil, encouraging deeper root growth important for nutrient access and healthy plants.
Plants also have different watering requirements depending on weather conditions and soil composition. For instance, clay soil dries out more slowly than sandy soil, and sunny and windy conditions dry out soil faster than cool, cloudy weather. If you’re ever unsure, feel the soil 3 to 4 inches down from the garden surface; if it feels dry, it needs watering.
Hot tip: Do the 3-4 inch test even when it rains, as rainwater can run off instead of soaking into the soil.
Tip 6: Know your soil.
For the best harvest, your garden needs the best soil. Luckily, rich, healthy soil is something you can know by feel because it’s easy to dig and it drains well. You can investigate your soil type by examining its texture. Ideally, you want soil that is dark, crumbly, and full of life. Here is a guide to manually test your soil.
Fortunately, no matter what the texture may be, most soil can be improved over time by incorporating organic matter or compost. You can prepare your soil for planting by spreading compost and working it into the soil with a tiller or spade, then raking the surface smooth and watering thoroughly. Let the new bed rest for a few days before you plant so the compost can do its job.
If you don’t think your soil is ideal for gardening, or you don’t want to dig or are unable to dig, you can use raised garden beds. Build the raised beds on the existing lawn by lining the bottom of the frames with several layers of newspaper, then filling them with soil – no digging necessary!
Hot tip: Put your garden to bed in the fall with a leaf litter and straw blanket. The soil ecosystem is very active over winter, creating nutrients for spring planting.
Tip 7: Weed. Weed. Weed.
No matter how much you dislike the task, weeding your garden is a priority. Weeds compete with vegetables for water, nutrients and light. For healthy and productive crops, keep those weeds in check, especially early in the season.
Hot tip: Some plants also need pruning. Tomato plants can get overgrown without producing much fruit; by regularly pruning your tomato plants, you will get higher yields and prevent disease (improved airflow from thinning prevents fungus issues)
Tip 8: Harvest your veggies — it’s what gardening is all about!
Many vegetables can be harvested multiple times as they grow. For example, leaf lettuce and other greens continue to grow and produce after you snip off the young leaves, and cucumber can be harvested when the fruit is a few inches long or larger. As a general rule: if it looks good enough to eat, then it probably is! For many vegetables, the more you pick, the more you can eat, as the plant will continue to produce. Picking off the ripe veggies means the plant can spend more energy and nutrients growing new ones.
Tip 9: For the more experienced gardener: consider planting successive crops for a continuous harvest throughout the spring, summer, and fall.
Planting cool- and warm-weather produce gives you a harvest of vegetables and herbs throughout the spring, summer, and fall. In early spring, you can grow lettuce and greens, peas, radishes, carrots, and broccoli. Once these are harvested, you can plant some of your favourite warm-weather produce: tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and herbs. In the fall, you can harvest local favourites, such as potatoes, cabbage, and kale.
Hot tip: Planting vining crops (e.g. green beans, peas) makes use of vertical space and increases your yield per square foot.
Share your stories with us!
If you have some tips or tricks for gardening that we didn’t include, or gardening stories you want to share, we want to hear from you! Send us your photos on social media, or email us your photos and stories at [email protected].