5 Tips for New Gardeners

New to gardening? We have some simple tips that will help you succeed in your first garden adventure!

Why We Love to Garden

Gardening is one of the most rewarding activities you can do. There’s nothing like planting something into the ground, nurturing it and watching it grow. After all, you get to see all your hard work and dedication flourish right in front of your eyes! It’s even better when you’re able to harvest your plants and use them at your dinner table. Can you say, “YUM!?”

We’re sharing what we’ve learned with you today because want everyone to feel that sense of accomplishment you get when your plants do well. We hope that you find our tips both encouraging and helpful.

Our Tips for New Gardeners

1. You Win Some You Lose Some

This tip is definitely the most important for any new gardener. EVERYONE loses sometimes, no matter how good you are with your plants. Most backyard gardeners are not horticulturists and have learned our methods through trial and error. As with anything, you often learn more from your failures than you do from your successes. So, don’t be discouraged if something you put a lot of effort into growing dies.

We have encountered our fair share of failures in our vegetable and fruit garden. The key is not to allow those failures to define you as “Ye Old Killer of Innocent Plants.” You do not have the black thumb of death, as my husband would say :-). We’ve had plants wilt and die within the first week of planting them, no matter what we do to try and save them. Sometimes, it just happens and you have to try again. For example, we are still trying to figure out the secret to keeping dill and cilantro alive longer than 4 weeks. We’re finally getting there (please…can we be there already? :-D), but it took us 4-5 plants of each just to find the right spot in our yard for them.

2. Don’t Commit Too Soon

If you’re unsure about where to put a certain plant in your yard, leave it in its container for a few days (5 or so) in the spot you want to test. If it does well, then you have your answer. If it starts to look a little wilted or droopy, then move it to more sun. If it looks burnt, then move it to more shade. This is a method that we’ve tried to great success in our garden and when we re-landscaped our front yard.

This is especially helpful for more sensitive plants or locations that don’t have an ideal amount of sun. You’ll know it’s time to replant or re-pot your seedling once the root system starts to grow out of the drainage hole on the bottom of the pot. At that point, it’s time to give them more space to grow and flourish.

3. Sun, Soil, Water

This is your key to an awesome garden! Getting this right can take a little trial and error and we’ve found that the ideal combination is based on the climate where you are located. However, there are a few tried and true rules to follow that can help no matter where you’re located.

Sun

All plants need sun in order to grow, but this varies depending on the plant that you want to grow. Be sure to look at the instructions on the plant’s tag to determine the ideal sun/shade mix for it. Then do what you can to give it that ideal mix. It’s a simple task, but sometimes you have to move your plants around a little to find the best location for them. We pot most of our more sensitive plants, rather than plant them in our raised garden beds for this reason. It allows us to maneuver them around the yard to see where they do best.

Soil

Plants need good drainage and plenty of nutrients from their soil. If you buy a soil that doesn’t have mulch and/or sand in it, then you are going to run into draining issues which leads root rot. One of my favorite soils is Nature’s Care, which I normally get at Home Depot. It’s a good quality, rich, organic soil with plenty of drainage. However, if you have a Costco membership and it’s spring time, then I’d definitely recommend buying the Miracle Grow Organic soil instead. It comes in a bag 2xs the size of regular soil bags and is about the same price as regular soil from any garden center. HUGE money saver, especially if you’re filling garden beds or large pots for the first time.

Water

This is probably the trickiest part for most gardeners because you don’t want to either over or under-do it. How often you water will also depend upon things like heat, humidity and sun exposure. The general rule of thumb is to water every other day and to give them a good drink, but not to drown them. It also helps to make sure, if your plant is in a pot, that there are holes in the bottom for drainage. Most come this way, but some don’t and it can cause moldy soil and root rot if you don’t drill holes into the bottom.

If I’m unsure whether or not a plan needs water, I usually do the poke test. It’s super scientific and rather resembles the poke test to check the done-ness of a good steak (I kid!). All I really do is press my finger into the soil about an inch deep and if moisture comes away on my fingers, I will let it go another day. If it’s dry, then I water it. Plants typically won’t die if you go a few hours longer than you should have without watering. So, don’t worry too much over it. As long as you’re watering at least every other day, you should be in good shape.

4. Prune Baby Prune

Google or Pinterest the pruning instructions for the plants that you are starting with in your garden. We used to be really bad about pruning, but then we discovered what a HUGE difference it makes. I have not met a plant that doesn’t like to be cut back a little or dead-headed. It will help keep your plants looking healthy and bushy, instead of woody and wilted. Pruning allows more sun to get to where it needs to go in plants like tomatoes and cuts away nutrient sucking limbs that don’t produce fruit. It’s definitely worth the time investment and will keep your garden looking beautiful.

5. Get Friendly with Liquid Fertilizer

Nothing makes plants grow better than poop! Kind of gross, but also true. So, grab a liquid fertilizer with chicken poop as a primary ingredient and follow the instructions on the bottle. We apply our liquid fertilizer at the recommended interval in the instructions and it seems like our plants double in size over the span of a few days. It’s amazing to watch!

Final Thoughts

We hope that you enjoyed our tips and found them helpful! If you’re curious about any more gardening tips, please check out our other posts: Growing Plants from Seed, Easiest Garden Beds EVER!, Square Foot Gardening, and Grow Your Own Pineapple Plant.

Square Foot Gardening

There is nothing more satisfying than going out to your garden to harvest food for dinner. Nick and I trim arugula, baby chard, romaine, and bay kale every couple of days for mixed green salads. Maybe it’s just me, but the flavor of the greens is so much better because they’re fresh picked from our garden. When we started growing our own food we learned that many of our friends don’t garden, though they would love to start. We also found that the primary thing holding them back is space.

Thankfully, there is an solution! Square foot gardens are an incredible way to maximize your space and still grow great food in your garden. This method of gardening makes home-grown fresh food possible for anyone, no matter what kind of  space restrictions you may have.

Pick Your Plant Mix

The key to any successful garden is to plant the foods that you enjoy eating most for each season. This ensures that you will not throw away veggies that you are putting effort into growing in your garden. Keep in mind that anything you cannot eat, can always be put to good use and composted.

Right now, Nick and I have three square foot gardens growing in our backyard. Two are lettuce gardens for fall and one is a mixed vegetable/root garden for winter. We planted lettuces because I like to make a salad every night with our dinner. Nick would probably prefer just to replace this with a potato or meat, but growing it in the garden makes him more amenable :-). The mixed vegetable garden is a combination of the veggies we eat most frequently.

In the next section, I’m going to show you guys how to calculate the proper spacing between plants. That way, you can create a garden using whatever combination is best for your palate without following a rigid guide.

Calculate Your Spacing

Take a look at the back of your seed packet or on your seedling’s planting instructions. You will see a section for plant spacing and one for row spacing. All you need to worry about for a square foot garden is the plant spacing.

For example, a beet’s row spacing is 18″ whereas the plant spacing is only 4″, which means that you can plant 9 beets into a single square foot.  As you can see, if you had followed the row spacing, you would loose a lot of valuable space.

Below is a general guide for some common spacing configurations that you would see on seed packets or seedling cards. I’ve also included the basic mathematical formula to calculate plants per square foot, for those of you who are so inclined:

Formula if plant spacing is less than or equal to 12″

  • (12″/Plant Spacing)^2 = plants per square

Formula if plant spacing is greater than 12″

  • (Plant Spacing/12″) = number of squares for each plant

    

Our Square Foot Vegetable Garden

The square foot garden we planted this year consists of the following roots and veggies: Beets, Radishes, Broccoli, Carrots, Cauliflower and Brussel Sprouts. They are all still seedlings, as you can see to the right.

Before we started planting, we created a square foot template for our 4′ X 4′ garden beds using scrap wood, a table saw and small finishing nails. It helps to have a template when you are planting your square foot garden, just to be sure you have the dimensions correct. You can use anything you want to make this template, but this is a simple method.

After we laid out our template, we looked at the plant spacing instructions on the seed packets. We primarily used these guidelines as a precaution against over-planting. For example, we only had 12 carrots to plant, though we could have used as many as 16.

Once we calculated the number of plants per square foot, we arranged them within the square using the plant spacing requirements as our guide. At this point the process goes very quickly, as you’re just planting plants.

We also hit any newly planted seedlings with a good, organic liquid fertilizer and plenty of water. This combination seems to help the plant transition to its new location. We also find that, when used properly, liquid fertilizer increases the growth rate and overall yield of your plants. We are all for anything organic that increases the speed of growth for our plants while keeping them nice and healthy!

Final Thoughts

We hope that you enjoyed reading through this post and that it inspires you to try your own square foot garden! Whether you use it for a small herb garden or for a full veggie and root garden, it’s a great way to get fresh food on your table for you and your family.

Growing your own food is also a great way to get those pickier eaters in your family more interested in greens and healthy food. I find that whenever Nick and I have grown something we are not wild about, we end up finding a way to like it because there is a sense of ownership for it. If we put in the effort to grow it, then we are going to eat it!

As always, if you have any questions please feel free to reach out to us. We are here to help answer anything we can. If you’re interested in reading more about gardening, please check out our post on Growing Plants from Seed.

Grow Your Own Pineapple Plant

This short video shows you exactly how to grow your own pineapple plant using the stem of a store-bought pineapple. Just to set expectations, once you plant your pineapple it will take about 2 years to bear fruit. So be patient! It’s a very pretty plant while you wait, but it will take time before you see edible fruit.

Adult Beverage Anyone?

Once we use our nifty little pineapple cutter, we like to make a cup and cocktail from the pineapple skin. We’ve included our recommendations below and a picture of the our pineapple plant that is currently growing nicely in its pot. Hope you enjoy!

If you’re interested in growing more plants for your garden, please check out our post Growing Plants from Seed.

Easiest Garden Beds EVER!

Want to create garden beds in a matter of seconds with no effort whatsoever? Then keep reading because we found an incredible product that allows you to do just that! We simply cannot say enough good things about this method for creating raised garden beds.

Our Search for Easy DIY Garden Beds

When we decided it was time to expand our garden area and transition from pots to raised beds, we went on a hunt for good quality products. A very helpful employee in the Home Depot garden center pointed us in the direction of a single product that literally changed the way we garden.

The Key to Easy Garden Beds

She led us down an aisle in the garden area and showed us a grooved cinder block. This block has four perfect cutouts in it where you slide wood into place, thus making the world’s easiest garden bed.

The best part about it is that it allows you to easily add onto your current set up and create an attractive network of raised beds. You can select any configuration you want and adjust them to any height you want. The flexibility alone is a huge selling point, not to mention the ease of use.

Finished Product

We chose to create 12″ tall 4′ X 4′ raised garden beds using these blocks. We did this by stacking two of the cinder blocks on top of each other and simply sliding two pieces of wood into each of the grooves. No nails or any other hardware is required to create these garden beds. The grooves simply hold the wood in place and keep the soil inside. Below is an example of how this will look once it’s finished.

When you try this, please let us know if you love it as much as we do! Hope it rocks your world like it did for us :-).

Growing Plants from Seed

Want to get the most from your investment in your garden? Want to control the fertilizer, insecticides, pesticides and all of the other components that go into your plants from day 1? Then growing your plants from seed is definitely the best route for you. It’s doesn’t provide you with the instant gratification that you get from a seedling or large plant. But it does give you a sense of accomplishment when those first little greens begin to sprout.

We acknowledge that starting seeds of your own can be a little intimidating. But don’t worry! We went through a lot of trial and A LOT of error and have created a simple method that works.

Seeds of Disaster – Our First Seedling Experiment

Our first attempt with growing our spring garden from seed ended in complete failure. We followed the instructions on the seed packets and the starter kit we bought but they were simply NOT GOOD. We planted 72 plants, hoping to get about 25% of them to sprout. Not one single plant grew.

We then had to rush out to our local nursery and snatch up whatever was left to ensure that we had something to grow for the season. Needless to say, it was a little discouraging. But my husband is not one to accept defeat easily. He poured through research, came up with a plan and convinced me to start our fall garden from seed. When the time came to plant, we gave ourselves plenty of time for trial and error. Our first batch of fall seed consisted of romaine lettuce, spinach, arugula, rainbow chard and kale. These also failed at a 100% rate. We were beating our heads against the wall trying to figure out what we did wrong when we decided to try something different with our second batch.

Seeding Successfully

With a few small changes, our second fall garden seeds became a completely different story. These slight alterations to our method increased our success rate from 0% to 50%. We now have a lovely crop of lettuces growing in our garden boxes that are delicious.

Though we were extremely pleased with our 50% success rate, we believed that we could do better. So, when we started our winter garden from seed, we made two small adjustments. With those two changes, our success rate sky-rocketed to 92%. This means that 66 of our 72 plants have sprouted for our winter garden. Now it’s time for how we did it!

Our Method

  1. Right Season
  2. Full sun
  3. Use a starter tray
  4. Good quality soil
  5. Liquid fertilizer
  6. Water daily

Right Season

One of the biggest factors to your success will come from reading the back of your seed packets. We would not suggest trying to plant seeds outside of the recommended months. Even if you’re close to the right time, you are still probably not going to have the best success rate. This is one of the best times to exercise patience and just wait for the ideal month to plant that particular seed.

 

Full Sun

This is the MOST critical component to successfully growing your plants from seed. Unfortunately, it does not always appear on the internet, on your starter kit or on your seed packets. We have planted 10 different types of plants using this method and all have sprouted at least a 50% success rate. We even tested it by planting the same plants in partial sun and partial shade. Not a single plant sprouted. The message is loud and clear, while grown plants may need different levels of sun exposure, seeds need the sun all day. The ideal amount of time is about 15 hours. This provides your plants with plenty of food from the sun and time germinate.

Use a Starter Tray

This recommendation comes primarily from mobility in relation to the sun. Starting your seeds in a starter tray gives you a lot more flexibility than putting them into a pot, the ground or a raised garden bed. When you start with a tray, all of your plants can stay in full sun without being locked into their final location. Then once they start to grow and reach about 2-3 inches tall, you can replant them into the proper location based on the plant-specific instructions.

Additionally, you do not want to plant your seeds more than about one fingertip deep. Starter trays make it easier to plant shallow and set you up for success.

Good Quality Soil

We recommend trying a woodier soil that has great drainage to avoid molding. When you use a starter kit, you’re placing the plant in a really small area. This means that you want to make sure water doesn’t just sit in the tray and rot.

The kind of soil that we’ve found works best is called Kellogg Raised Bed & Potting Mix. It has a lot of mulch and bark in it, which is what provides such excellent drainage.

This soil is also a great bang for your buck. You get 2 full cubic feet out of a single bag and the price is usually around $8-$9. That’s only about a dollar more than the other organic raised bed and potting mixes, but they only contain between 1-1.5 cubit feet per bag.

Liquid Fertilizer

Right after we finish planting our seeds, we hit them with a little liquid fertilizer and water combination. You don’t want to overdo the watering, but want to give your plants a decent soaking. If you’ve made the soil really wobbly and lots of bark is floating on top, that’s when you know it’s too much. If this happens, just gently tilt the tray to the side and pour some of the water out.

The combination of fertilizer and water jump starts the germination process and really sets you up for success. The fertilizer we have right now is called “Espoma Organic Grow!” The primary ingredient is chicken poop, which probably the reason it works so well. It’s also really easy to measure and comes with instructions for water proportions.

As an aside, using liquid fertilizer along with changing to a woodier soil is what took our success rate from 50% to 92%. The results really speak for themselves.

Water Daily

This one is simple, but is often the downfall of most backyard gardeners. It can be tough to get the water content right, especially in a starter kit because you do not want to overdo it. The key is to hit it with a splash of water every day. This is critical because it is planted in full sun, which means the water evaporates quickly. But all it takes is a small splash and they are good to go!

We put our extender hose on the lowest possible flow and just hold it over each starter cup for a 2-3 second count. That seems to provide the plant with plenty of water without drowning it and creating a mold issue. If you still have trouble with draining, just poke a couple of small holes in the bottom of your tray. This will let the water flow through and will eliminate the mold issue.

Go Forth & Garden Like a Champion!

We hope that you find these steps helpful in starting your garden from seed. It really is a super rewarding way to grow your plants and provides you with 100% control over what’s in your food. If you have any questions about starting your seeds, just let us know!

Also, if you’d like to learn how to grow a pineapple from its step, please check out our post Grow Your Own Pineapple Plant.