First things first. You’ll need to want to garden to be a successful plant grower. Whether it’s vegetables, fruits, trees, succulents, weeds–all living things need care and attention. Checking up on your plants or projects once or twice a month isn’t going to cut it, but that’s okay! It’s good to admit this to yourself now in order to avoid heartbreak and tragedy down the road. To get started, all you need is a will and a way will follow..
What Should I Plant?
It’s best to start to familiarize yourself with your geographical location under the lens of growing conditions. This will provide information to determine which plants will grow best in your area, what are the general weather patterns, and this will help you create a planting/sowing/harvesting schedule for yourself. The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map will determine your ‘growing zone’ and provide general weather and planting trends. Once you obtain your hardiness zone, Google it and check out it’s characteristics
Hint: Take a walk around your neighborhood and check out what other people are growing. Chances are if it’s surviving you their yard, it’ll thrive in yours.
Knowing your geographical climate will give you insight as to which plants grow best in your area. If you’re planning on growing vegetables, head on over to Cornell University’s Vegetable Growing Guide to choose the right vegetables for your location and conditions. If indoor decorative plants are more your thing, most share similar soil, light, and water requirements. Check out this graphic showing NASA’s guide to air-purifying (and low maintenance) indoor plants
Tip #1: Keep it simple
Farmville or Stardew Valley makes it easy to care for a 200-acre farm, but it’s a bit more challenging in reality. Start off small with something convenient or easy, like radishes or a peace lily. Build up that confidence and strengthen that green thumb before starting an orange grove.
Where Should I Plant?
Location can have a lot to do with the health and success of your plants. On average, plants need 6-8 hours of sunlight in order to survive and thrive. Certain plants can get away with less, others need more. Finding a spot either inside your house, apartment, yard, or garden that receives at least 4 hours of direct sunlight will improve the quality and success rate. Technically speaking, an area facing a southwest direction without any shade obstruction will be your best bet location wise. If planting in rows, make sure they run north-south to optimize the amount of sunlight they will receive
Hint: Morning direct sunlight is ideal as afternoon sunlight can be stronger and cause plants to overheat. A location which capitalizes on morning light and receives indirect or partial sunlight in the afternoon would be a great combination.
If you have a yard to plant either directly into the ground or in a raised bed, that’s awesome. If you have a patio or a deck to put out some pots, right on. Only have a windowsill or a 2”x2” area on your desk? That’s okay! All that matters when starting out is that you are supporting and caring for life. That act alone is admirable and isn’t measured by size. Pots, containers, raised bed, egg cartons, mason jars, and backyards all can bear the same success rate and bring you the same amount satisfaction
Tip #2 Attention to detail
Observe the characteristics of plants and how you care for them. The leading cause of plant death among beginning gardeners is watering habits. Soil too soggy? Leaves are wilted? Stem looking a little leggy? Pay attention to all of these, this is how your plants communicate with you.
When Should I Plant?
When gardening, there are seasons within seasons. A few degrees difference or a week or two later can mean the difference between a beautiful pepper or a stunted plant. Doing a bit more research on your hardiness zone, historical weather patterns in your area (especially frost), and tracking the current weather and time of year will help translate your knowledge of your climate into determining when you should plant certain vegetables and plants. This Vegetable Planting Guide is a handy chart to determine when ideal planting times are here in Southern California. Many regional areas have similar guides just by googling them.
Hint: If transplanting seedlings, it’s important to do so either in the early morning or after the sun sets to avoid transplant shock. The calmer the weather, the easier the transition. Cloudy days are best!
Tip #3 Everything in moderation
Water, food, even the amount of plants you grow should be practiced in moderation when starting out. Too much or too little of a variable can have large effects on the end result. When it comes to general care, a little research on specific plants can expand your knowledge on care and maintenance across the board.
What do my plants need for success?
Whether it’s flowers, shrubs, vegetables, or fruit, all plants have basic necessities for survival and happiness: water, sunlight, oxygen, soil, food, and love. Just like humans, plants need a combination of all of these to survive, thrive, and grow to make you proud
Sunlight– See above ☼
Water– The amount of water plants need differs from plant to plant. Typically younger seedlings and plants need more water or moist soil compared to the mature ones. The soil surrounding the plant roots should never appear to be waterlogged. Good draining soil is key to wet the roots, but not suffocate them which will result in rotting and aerobic soil. Sticking your finger in the first couple inches of soil will give you a good sense if you need to water your plants or not. Dry? Give it a douse. Wet? Maybe tomorrow.
Oxygen– Gently tilling or cultivating the soil around the stem and roots will help loosen the soil to deliver oxygen to its roots. This will also improve the draining quality of the soil and help deliver water to the roots. If you’re growing multiple plants next to each other, making sure there is air flow around the plants will protect it from disease and pests as well.
Soil– Soil in my opinion is the most underrated variable in the equation of growing plants. Healthy Soil=Healthy Plant. There are many ways we can improve soil quality and life which will be addressed in other blog posts, but making sure soil contains micronutrients, moisture, and biology (for example earth worms) will bode well for plant health. Ideal soil will be composed of equal parts loam, clay, and sand. If growing in containers or pots, make sure you choose a good quality organic potting soil and amend it with organic compost from time to time.
Food– Plants need food with certain micro and macro properties to grow and remain healthy. Certain plants are ‘heavy feeders’ which require a higher amount of these nutrients while others are okay without anything added. In general, compost is the ‘be-all’ with both plant food as well as all the other factors we’ve discussed above. Compost improves soil quality, retains moisture, improves drainage, improves biology, as well as contains and helps deliver both micro and macro nutrients to plants. No matter what type of plant you are planting, compost can benefit all.
Tip #4 Plant what you love
Being a gardener takes time and energy. It’s a beautiful yet sometimes trying process of patience and determination. To appreciate the fruits of your labor make sure you grow what you love to look at, enjoy eating, or find exciting.
Okay I want to get started, let’s do this! Anything else I need?
Gardening should be an enjoyable hobby or job that should have a low overhead cost and low barrier to entry. However, there are a couple of tools and items I would recommend to make your experience more enjoyable and easier
Dramm Watering Wand I find evenly distributes water flow and is gentle enough for the most delicate plants
Fiskars Pruning Shears will make any cutting, harvesting, or pruning job a whole lot simpler. Cleaning them with alcohol swabs or storing them in a sand/oil mixture will promote their shelf life.
Garden Hand Tools such as these are a great starter kit for most projects you’ll work on. If you are tilling soil, building beds, or planting rows in the ground then you’ll want a good shovel, hoe, and garden spade.
Black Gold Organic Compost is my go-to. Most organic composts used are good and will do just fine, but I’ve used this one for a while and am happy with the results
Tip #5 Trial and error is good
Starting out, you might kill a plant, or two, or a lot. Keep at it. Just because you failed with one plant doesn’t mean you’re not capable of growing another. To improve your successes in the future, it’s important to strategize and brainstorm the reasons why it died, you didn’t yield any vegetables or why growing a plant didn’t go the way you were hoping
The most important part of all of this is to remember to enjoy the process. Develop a deeper connection to the earth, it’s cycles, and life forms that need you just as much as you need them. Don’t get discouraged if your first time around doesn’t go according to plan or if things die on your watch. It takes time, Rome wasn’t build in a day. Nature is forgiving and flexible. What a great lesson for us to observe and learn