It can easily feel overwhelming when you decide to start gardening. Thoughts like “This is too hard”, “Do I need special soil?” and “I’m not really sure what I’m doing” are not unusual and most people you would consider gardening gurus or green thumbs likely felt the same as you when they started. So don’t be embarrassed or feel like you can’t do it, because everyone can grow once you have a little bit of knowledge. I’ll address some questions people often ask us to help you get started. We will go more in-depth with additional articles in the future.
What do I plant?
This is probably the most frequent question we get. If you are unsure of your skill to grow things, we usually advise to start small and simple with herbs. Most herbs are very easy to grow and, unless you are in an extreme climate, should require little maintenance. You will need to provide water and either full or partial sun depending on the herb. Basil is one of our favorites and it grows so easily that we have had it start growing in our lawn where some seeds accidentally fell.
Once you feel like you can grow herbs, start moving on to some low maintenance vegetables or some potted dwarf fruit trees. These are a bit of a step up from herbs as they take a bit more attention and care than most herbs.
When do I start planting?
Right away! Just be sure whatever you are planting is appropriate for the time of year and climate you live in. For example, in a subtropical climate, you don’t want to start lettuce in the summer because as soon as they start to grow they will ‘bolt’ or go straight to seed. This is bad with lettuce because when it bolts the leaves will go bitter and tougher. Each plant has its ideal growing time and environment and they should be described on your seed packet. If they aren’t you can do an internet search and find plenty of resources for when to grow certain plants.
What soil should I use?
With all the different types of soil in the nurseries and garden departments, it can be really confusing what brand and type of soil to get. To get started, you don’t need anything fancy or specialised for growing normal herbs, vegetables or most potted fruit trees. Any standard potting soil will do, but don’t go for the cheapest bag you can find either. I usually go for something on the cheaper end of the middle range. It will likely have some soil amendments and conditioners in there along with some slow release fertiliser. We also use sugar cane mulch to cover the soil to prevent weeds and help keep the moisture in the soil. It does have the potential to be a habitat for slugs and snails, but we prefer that than weeds with plants that dry out very quickly.
One thing to note about the fertiliser that comes with the potting mix/soil is that it will run out and if your plant is in a pot, you will need to feed it with more fertiliser or amendment (i.e. manure or compost).
Do I need to plant in the ground?
No you don’t. Generally it’s better for the plant (especially if it’s too big for your pot size) to be in the ground. Among the many advantages, it will be connected to the soil ecosystem and you have to worry less about ensuring the plant has enough food and water to grow. Also make sure you dig a hole big enough to add some nice soil around the root ball of the plant to allow the roots to grow easily after planting.
Growing plants in pots, however, is a great way to have a garden when you don’t have access to space or ground to plant it in. It gives you a lot more control of the amount of sun and protection from wind and pests with the ability to move the plant if needed. One of the cons to growing in pots though is that they can dry out much faster, so you will need to keep on eye (or a finger) on the moisture level in your pot(s).
Tips for first time growers:
- Learn from your failures. You will have them, everyone does, but it’s important to learn from them and make changes in the future instead of letting them get you down. Keeping a record either by writing a plant journal and/or taking photos to record what you learned and track your progress season to season.
- Mind the watering. Don’t over-water or under-water, both can have serious and irreversible impacts to your plants. If you are unsure, stick your finger in the soil past your first knuckle to check the moisture. If it feels moist, don’t water. If it’s dry, give it some water (but don’t drown it).
- Be patient, especially if planted from seeds. Sometimes plants take a while to get their roots established and while it may look like nothing is happening visibly, a lot may be happening under the soil.
- Visit your plants/garden daily. It’s easy to forget about your plants when you are just starting out because you haven’t created your daily habits of checking them and watering them. It’s important to check them daily so you can know what is going with your plants. Disease or pests when caught early can be stopped so they don’t impact your plants significantly.
- Connect with your community. One of the most enjoyable things I’ve experienced since getting into gardening is connecting with others who share your interest or are just curious about what you are doing. Visiting each other’s gardens and asking questions is a great way to learn things about growing in your specific area.
I hope that helps to get you started. Check some of our other blog posts (once they’re up) for more information.