Running down stairs on February 14th, Valentine’s Day, my sisters and I saw the red/white, heart filled gifts waiting for us on the dining room table. Every year, my parents would give us gifts to celebrate. On this particular year, my gift was a radiantly magenta African Violet with white ruffled edges delicately wrapped in cellophane scattered with red hearts. To my nine year-old-self, this moment sparked my “green thumb”.
The good news is, you don’t need a “green thumb” to try gardening. Making the time to tend/care for the plants and learn about how to care for them is the secret sauce. Valentines Day at nine years old gave me the opportunity to experiment with the gentle act of caring for plants, but it’s been a continual journey of learning since that day.
How can you get started with your own garden? I’ve put together 6 big take-aways from my experience and research that you need to know before you getting started.
Many plants can be started in late winter. This means that you need all your ducks in a row by the time February rolls around. If you decide to purchase all of your plants partially grown, you’ll buy them a bit later in the season, but you can still start your planning process. You need time to get the soil prepared, your planting locations picked out, and any resources for the project. I’m starting seeds in egg cartons and egg shells. When you go this route, it takes a few weeks (or months) to acquire enough cartons/shells for a whole garden. The resources you need will be slightly different depending the planting method you choose, but the general idea for getting started early is:
- Select the type of plants you want
- Draw a plan (like a floor plan) with your planting area and plant locations
- Prep that area for planting
- Determine when to plant base on the type
Make It Manageable
It can be SO easy to get carried away with planning and end up with too many plants to take care of. If you’re not sure what a manageable amount is, start small. Small may look like one plant for you, or a whole planter full. Consider the manageability of your garden based on the peak time of care. The heat of summer is when you garden will need watered multiple times a day and fertilized often. The larger your garden, the more time it will need. The factors to consider with manageability are:
- Time – will you have the time to water 2-3x per day in the summer?
- Energy – are you in a season with limited energy? Will the garden be rejuvenating or a burden? Where’s the line for you between those two?
- Resources – can you put in sprinklers to help you water automatically? How much money do you want to spend on seeds/plants?
- Food Source – Is it replacing produce you typically purchase, or is your garden in addition to your grocery store trips?
Seeds vs Starts
My first year of gardening, I bought or was given, most of my plants and then I grew a few plants types from seeds I already had. The seeds I had were fast growing and produced a fair amount for the little care they needed. The seeds did take more time and attention. When starting with seeds, there is a germination process that often needs to be started indoors due to the temperature (I’m in the Northwest).
Developed plants are often bought closer to April and have the ability to produce fruit faster since they are father along in their growth. The question of “should I go with seeds or starts?” comes down to time and what you feel you’d like to experiment with. Starts are going to be a little more forgiving since they are mature. Seeds can be hit and miss depending on where you purchase them from.
I’m on my second year of starting seeds and I decided to experiment with additional seeds. A local farm I discovered has seeds that are non-GMO (not genetically modified), organic, and have been acclimated for the climate in my local area. I expect most of these seeds to successfully germinate and to be hardy to withstand the spastic Washington weather.
I like to think of companion planting as the sociology of plants. Certain plants help each other out and work well together; some attract bees, while others give off fragrances that repel predators. It’s a fascinating part of the plant ecosystem! Be aware of plants that stunt the growth of, or kill, other plants if you put them together. For instance, onion is a very strong plant and is not friendly to green beans. There are many graphic charts on Google that can help you find what plants work well together and which ones don’t.
Do your Environment Research
Environmental factors can help your gardening endeavors be successful. Often the plants will have a tag, or text on the seed package, that informs you of the type of growing conditions are needed for the plant to thrive. Pay close attention this! They are making the information accessible so you can be successful. This information includes things like: soil, light, temperature, time to plant, water frequency, fertilizer PH, how far apart the plants need to be, and how far into the ground they should be planted. It may seem like a lot of information, but let’s break it down. Here is how I prioritize my plants and their locations:
- First sort by light needs
- Then by soil / PH needs
- Then by Companion planting
After these factors have been sorted out, you can decide the schedule/time of year they grow best. Once your plants are sorted by the first two factors, they often naturally fall into being companions. There are exceptions, so be sure to double check if they are friend or foe.
Keep It Fun
Enjoy the time researching and learning about how to plant and grow. It’s an opportunity to learn about the food we eat and how your garden can add flavor/texture to your dinner table. Growing plants allows you to experience the process of the food cycle in a new way. The perspective on food is brought back to enjoyment and nutrition; not calories.
The plant that was given to me on Valentines lived for 16 years! It sparked my interested in many other kinds of plants along the way and motivated me learn about disease control, plant care, lighting, fertilizer, and propagation. I was learning these things the analogy way since this was when dialup was still around. Experiment and try out new methods. It’s part of the learning process! There are so many resources available now on the internet, but here’s a few methods that I’ve most helpful:
Neighbors/Friends/Family – Do you have a neighbor, friend, or family member who enjoys growing plants? They may be a wealth of information about tending to your planting adventures.
Local Farms – If you have produce farms that are local, volunteer, dig through their website resources, go there and ask questions!
Local Garden Centers – if you go to a local garden shop, the employees are usually very knowledgable and have experimented with their own plants/gardens.
Books – Check out books from your local library, buy a book from Amazon, or read it through Kindle.
Blogs / Internet – Of course, blogs and the internet. You can a wealth of information through the internet and blogs. It can be challenging to sort through what is actual credible. Take time to find the questions you should be asking through the internet, then go to your local sources and find out more. They are going to know what will grow best in your climate and how to care for it there.
*These links contain affilate links. This means you get great products and I get alittle commission.
Question: What resources or questions do you have about starting a garden? Share in the comments below.