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Tips From Master Gardeners

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on August 31, 2021

If you want to start a garden of your own, you have to know what plants grow best in your location and during each season. You have to understand how to care for different plants. Learning how to maintain a garden can feel overwhelming, but with these tips from master gardeners, you can garden like a pro.

Planning Your Garden

The most important part of growing a successful garden is planning ahead. Identify a location in your yard that has at least six hours of direct sunlight each day.

Rain and drainage. After you identify an area, check it after a heavy rain. Good drainage is important for growing a garden. If the water stands, your plants may get too much water. You also want to ensure that there aren’t other trees or plants too close to your gardening area.

Larger plants and trees may take water away from your garden, leaving your plants dehydrated. If you have large plants and trees in your yard, plan to check your garden often for water needs. You may need to water your garden more than what would be considered normal. 

Sketch your garden. Measure your gardening area and draw a sketch of how you want it to look. Plan where to place different fruits and vegetables based on their individual needs. Plan a layout that makes it easy to reach all of your plants for watering, pruning, and picking.

Keep it simple. As a beginning gardener, you may want to go all-in. You want to have a successful garden full of delicious fruits and vegetables for your family. But it’s easy to get in over your head, leaving your garden to suffer. Instead, choose a few things you know you can do well and grow your garden over time. A 100-square-foot area is a reasonable size for your first garden.

Purchase your seeds. You can buy fruit and vegetable seeds from your local grocery or gardening stores, but master gardeners usually order from seed catalogs to ensure they get high-quality seeds. You can supplement with local seeds after you purchase everything you want from a catalog.

Planting Your Garden

Prepare your soil. Before planting your seeds, you want to prepare your gardening area. You can take a sample of your soil and test it using a kit purchased at a gardening or hardware store. The results tell you the pH of your soil and what type of fertilizer you need for the best results. 

Next, gather the tools you'll need, including:

  • Hoe
  • Rake
  • Spade
  • Water hose or sprinkler‌
  • Stakes and string to create dividers

Make sure your soil is dry before tilling it. If soil is too moist, it won’t yield the best results. Soil should crumble in your hand when you scoop it from the ground. When the soil is dry enough, till it 6 inches into the ground and rake the area, so all of the soil is even.

Follow the instructions. Each seed you order comes with instructions for how deep to plant your seeds and how far to space them apart when planting. You may need to plant the seeds in cups or trays first to establish root growth before transferring them outside to your garden.

Caring for Your Garden

Day-to-day care. It’s important to check on your garden regularly. Pull weeds before they get out of control and monitor for signs of insect infestation. If you find that one particular bug is interfering with your garden, determine a solution for preventing them. This may include cultural control measures or chemicals.

Knowing when to water. You may be tempted to water all of your plants the same. Instead, keep notes about the individual watering needs of each fruit and vegetable in your garden. Look for signs that the plants are dehydrated or the soil is dry every morning and evening. This is especially important if you plant in the hot summer months when water evaporates from your garden faster.

Keep a journal. If you enjoy gardening as much as you expect to, you may want to continue planting year after year. Make notes each gardening season about the seeds you plant and the methods you use. Write down when the plants sprout and include notes about how much you water, insect problems you have, and how many fruits or vegetables your plants yield.

Keeping track of what works and what doesn't will help you improve your technique in future gardening seasons. You'll be able to anticipate insects ahead of time and prepare for them. You can tweak your technique to see if you get a better yield by making changes.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

Purdue University: “Gardening Tips for Beginners.”

University of Illinois: “Vegetable Gardening Basics.”

Utah State University: “Watering the Garden.”

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