Gardening has long been a quintessential British past-time. The popularity of television programmes, such as Ground Force (for those that remember the glory of this show) and Gardener’s World, are a testament to our gardening heritage.
With the rise in popularity of talent shows and minor celebrities ballroom dancing, we started to forget our love of gardening. But there has been a surge of interest and a desire to return to our gardens again in recent years. Regardless of the size of your garden, it can be a daunting task for a gardening beginner due to the commitment and time involved. However, with a little bit of planning, patience and this basic gardening guide for dummies, you will be able to enjoy a flourishing garden of your own creation.
Basic Gardening Tips for Beginners
Choose an idea for your gardening
The first step in starting your journey to gardening godhood is choosing what type of garden you want. Will it be a beautiful sea of colourful flowers, a glorious herb garden for the budding chef, a nutritious vegetable garden, or a mixture of everything? No matter what you choose, a good gardening tip for beginners is to start small and slowly create your garden oasis.
Get basic gardening tools
Once you have a plan, you’ll need some basic gardening tools unless you intend on digging with your hands. Thankfully, gardening only requires a handful of tools. To get started, you will need:
- The must haves. An essential tool for every gardener is a pair of pruning scissors. You will use these to cut back plants and bushes, as well as maintain their health by cutting off dead flower heads and branches. Another useful tool to own, especially if you have larger plants, is a pair of lopping pruners. With their long handles and large blades, you will make short work of larger, well-established plants.
- Tools for digging and raking. In order to start planting, you will need a series of tools for digging and preparing the soil. For this, you should have at least one spade, a trowel, and a garden fork. The spade and trowel will be used to dig the holes for your plants, whereas the garden fork is incredibly useful for breaking up large clumps of soil or for removing the roots of old plants and weeds. You will also need one or two rakes – one with metal prongs and another with softer, plastic prongs. Metal rakes are great for levelling the soil and removing stones in plant beds. Plastic rakes are better suited for basic garden maintenance, such as clearing your lawn of leaves.
- Tools for watering. Although the UK is quite a rainy place, you will still need to water your plants. The best tools for this job are a garden hose and a watering can. Garden hoses are perfect for large tasks, such as watering trees and established plants, but the high pressure is not suitable for smaller plants and seedlings. For these more delicate plants, a watering can with a rose attachment is preferred. Your young plants will thank you for the gentle sprinkling.
- Tools for weeding. Since you are putting so much effort into creating your garden, the last thing you want is to allow weeds to gain a foothold. To tackle the weed menace, you will need a forked trowel and a gardening knife. These two tools will allow you to uproot any invading plants with ease.
Pick the right plants
So, you’ve chosen the type of garden you’d like to grow and bought some tools. Now comes the exciting part – choosing the plants. Before you rush off to the garden centre to buy everything in sight like a complete beginner gardener, take some time to check the soil in your garden as plants can be picky about the type of soil they grow in. There are a few ways to find out what type of soil you have. You can either dig some out yourself to see if it has a sandy or clay-like texture. You could also take a peek at your neighbours’ garden to see what plants are growing well, or you can perform a soil test to find out the levels of nutrients in the soil, as well as its Ph level.
Improve the soil
Plants will always benefit from nutrient-packed soil, even if a test has declared your soil to be perfect. Improving the quality of the soil is not as difficult as you may think. The best advice for beginner gardeners is to work compost into the top 8-12 inches (20-30cm) of soil with a spade or fork. The compost will be broken down over the course of a few months, so the best time to do this is either during winter or in the beginning of spring.
Another method of improving soil quality does not require any digging but it takes longer. If time is not an issue for you and you don’t like the idea of turning a lot of soil in order to mix it with the compost, this is the option for you. First, you should mark out the area of the plant-bed and cover it in five layers of newspaper. Following this, cover the area with 2-3 inches (5-7.5cm) of compost and allow it to sit for at least 4 months. During this time, the newspaper will decompose and the nutrients from the compost will mingle with the soil below.
Plan, label, organise
We are almost ready to start planting! This is the final tip for novice gardeners before getting your hands dirty and it’s quite an important one to follow if you want your garden to be successful.
- Plan. Figure out where each plant will go, paying particular attention to spacing. Plants need their own space (just like moody teenagers). If you place young plants too close together, their growth will be stunted, they will be more prone to diseases, or may simply die out.
- Label. We all have our forgetful moments. To ensure that you always know what is planted where and to be able to tell people which plant is which, take a few minutes to make some small labels and place them alongside your plants.
- Organise. Another great piece of garden advice for beginners is to chart the progress of your garden and keep track of where everything is planted is to start a garden scrapbook. By adding sketches, pictures, labels, and notes you can make future improvements easily as you will have a reference of how each type of plant fared in different areas of your garden.
Taking it a couple of steps further
Plant young plants
It should go without saying that young plants are delicate and easily damaged, so here is another tip for gardening novices – you should be extra careful when removing them from their tiny plant pots. Do not be tempted to grasp them by the stem and pull them out of the pot as this will only damage the plant. Instead:
- Turn the plant upside down.
- Press the underside of the pot until the plant and the soil slide out.
- Once you have freed the plant from its pot, dig a hole in your chosen plant bed deep and wide enough to hold the roots.
- Place the plant in the hole and fill it in with the soil you removed earlier.
- Do this for all of your plants and then water them thoroughly to encourage the roots to spread out.
Water plants correctly
The aim of watering plants is to provide them with enough water to survive but not so much that the soil becomes waterlogged. The best way to achieve this is to water your plants slowly to allow the water to reach deep into the soil. Ideally, the soil should feel moist at about 2-3 inches (5-6.5cm) beneath the surface.
Plants at different stages of development also require different amounts of water. Young plants will need to be watered daily to encourage growth and healthy roots, whereas established plants will generally only need to be watered once every 2-3 days, depending on the weather.
Gotchas and Takeaways
So, there we have it, starting a garden is not as scary as a lot of people think. Even if you are a gardening novice, you will be able to enjoy a thriving garden year after year as long as you plan ahead, choose your plants carefully, and give your soil a nutritious boost.
Did we miss anything? Do you have any tips or advice for beginner gardeners? Let us know in the comments below or give us a shout on social media!
Header photo: Shutterstock / ajlatan