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Gardening Tips for Beginners

If you’re thinking of starting your very own garden, you’ll need to consider a number of things, including the type of garden, the right tools for the job, which plants to buy for your specific climate and more.

In this guide, we’ll walk you through some of the basics of gardening for beginners, so you’ll have the gardening tips and skills (and newly acquired green thumb) to grow and take care of your plants and vegetables with confidence while you garden at home.

A wheelbarrow and shovel sit in a garden.

Pick the Perfect Spot for Your Garden

Choosing the best spot for your garden is about finding the perfect spot for your plants to get enough of the sunlight they need to survive. Most vegetables and plants need at least six hours of daylight to thrive, so if you're intent on growing a vegetable garden, pick a sunny spot.  

Your garden should also be placed in an area where you can enjoy it. A garden along a front walkway can be enjoyed every day and will add some curb appeal. A backyard garden may be a bit more private though, so whatever you decide, locating your garden in a spot where you'll see it everyday may even keep you motivated to garden more.

A wheelbarrow and shovel sit in a garden.

Plan Your Garden

Once you’ve decided on the perfect location for your garden, the next big step is figuring out how to plan a garden. There are a few overall themes to decide upon when planning your garden.

First, you’ll need to decide if it’s a vegetable garden or a flower or plant garden. Then decide what kind of garden you’d like to have, whether it’d be a container garden or even a fancy raised garden bed. Once you’ve decided that, you’ll need to choose the plants or veggies that you want to grow. It’s always better to think big and start small when it comes to gardening. You can always add as you go!

Another thing to consider is whether you want to plant annual or perennial plants. Annual plants typically last for one growing season, so if you’re looking for longevity, you may want to go with perennial plants. Perennials last for multiple growing seasons as the above ground parts die off during the winter season and then re-bloom in the spring.

If your garden consists of flowers and plants, choose colours that match well with each other and your existing outdoor décor. You could even consider planting a pollinator garden to attract some friendly bees or butterflies!

A pair of hands plant some bulbs in a garden.

Get to Know Your Plants

No matter which types of plants you choose, getting to know them well is key to keeping them healthy and thriving.

When picking your plants, be sure to look at the plant tag to see how much sunlight and food they’ll need, as well as the proper spacing for planting them, as that may influence your decision on the size of your garden. If you’re unsure, speak to a garden centre associate for help.

Some of the key things to take note of when purchasing a plant are:

  • Whether it requires full sun, partial shade or full shade.
  • Whether it requires frequent watering or is drought tolerant.
  • The bloom time.
  • The plant’s height and width when fully grown, so you know where and how far apart to plant your seeds.
  • How cold tolerant the plant is.

Be sure to follow these directions carefully to ensure that your plants stay healthy.

A watering can and spade sit next to a flower garden.

Choose the Right Tools for Gardening

What should you consider when choosing gardening tools? A gardening beginner should start with the basics and then buy tools as you need them. Start with a set of gardening gloves to keep your hands free of dirt and debris. They also offer a layer of protection if you’re dealing with thorny or prickly flowers or shrubs.

For digging and breaking up dirt and clay, a shovel, rake or spading fork is a great choice. Other digging tools with long handles provide more leverage, while short-handled tools offer more control, but may be harder on your back.

A good set of pruning shears is essential for keeping your plants neat and trim. Also be sure to get a watering can, or a nozzle with varying settings for your hose to make sure that you’ve got a way to water your plants without hurting them with water pressure.

Once you’ve got the basics, start gardening and see what kinds of challenges pop up. If you notice a time where you don’t have the proper tool for the job, you can easily add it to your arsenal with a quick trip to a Home Depot store or by shopping online.

See below for our list of must-have tools for every gardening beginner.

A person shakes soil from a bag into a raised garden bed.

Prep Your Soil

Now you’ve got your type, size and plants for your garden. The next step is to start to bring it all together. Remember that the quality of your plants depends on your soil composition.

You’ll need to prep your soil to get it ready for planting, so enrich it by mixing a fertilizer in a half-and-half mixture with your existing garden soil. This will add essential nutrients to your soil, improving the soil quality and helping your plants grow to be strong and healthy.

A person plants flowers into a garden bed.

Plant Your Garden

Whether you’re planting from seeds or transferring flowering plants into your garden, the process is similar. Be sure to place your tall plants towards the back, medium height plants in the middle, and low and/or spreading plants near the front. Consult your plant tags for proper spacing requirements. Plants are arranged this way so they can get the sunlight and exposure they need as well as providing you with a mix of colours and height.

Dig a hole in the soil that’s twice the size of the root ball. Remove seedling from its pot and gently break apart the soil and root ball, then place the seedling in the hole. Be sure to cover the soil around the stem to the height it was in the pot. Pack soil down gently around the plant base.

To reduce the risk of transplant shock and promote strong roots, make sure to apply plant food to your garden and give your plants a thorough watering right after you plant them. This will help the plant absorb nutrients and ensure that your garden gets off to a strong start.

A wheelbarrow full of dirt and a shovel leaning on it next to a garden bed.

Curb Weeds with Mulch

A lot of people ask, “Should I remove weeds from my garden?” The answer is yes! Weeds can easily take over a garden if left un-pulled, so you should constantly monitor your garden for them and take care of them as they sprout.

One of the best ways to minimize having to weed your garden is through mulch. Mulch is any material you can spread over the surface of your soil as a covering, which helps to retain soil moisture and suppress weeds. Organic mulches are particularly effective at improving soil fertility as they decompose.

Examples of organic mulch include:

  • Shredded or chipped bark
  • Compost
  • Composted manure
  • Grass clippings
  • Shredded leaves
  • Straw

Another added benefit of mulch is that when you choose a mulch made from natural forest products, it will naturally degrade over time and add organic material to your soil.

A watering can pours water on some flowers.

Water Your New Garden

Water is the life source of your garden, so be sure to water plants deeply and thoroughly. The best way to know if your plants need water is to dig 2 inches down into the soil with your finger. If the soil is dry, it should be watered.

Various plants require different amounts of water, so be sure to read the plant tag or consult a garden centre associate if you’re unsure about exactly how much water to use.

Be careful not to water container plants too often. Containers should be dry to touch between watering and should not sit in water.

A person adds some fertilizer to their plant.

Feed Your Plants Regularly

Feeding your plants is important because the plants need nourishment in order to grow strong. There are 3 different types of plant foods available: water soluble, granular and spikes.

Water Soluble

Water soluble plant foods come in either granular or liquid forms and feed immediately upon application. These plant foods feed instantly and need to be applied every 7-14 days during the growing season for best results.

Granular Plant Foods and Spikes

Granular plant foods and plant food spikes are slow release plant foods that can feed up to 3 months. They release nutrients throughout the season and only usually require two feedings per season.

A plant is shown with insects on it.

Watch Out for Pests and Insects

Insects can create damage in a matter of days, so be sure to inspect your plants regularly for insects that can prey on your garden.

When looking for insects be sure to inspect both the tops and bottoms of leaves as well as on the ground around the plant. Slugs and snails require moist conditions so they like dense growth such as hostas and ivy. Control slugs and snails with a slug-control product.

Aphids like greenflies and blackflies suck the sap out of plants, can distort or stunt their growth and can also carry many plant diseases. Aphids can be controlled with an insecticidal soap, like Scotts® EcoSense® Bug B Gon® Insecticidal Soap.

Other insects to look out for include earwigs, beetles, weevils, caterpillars and others.

Insecticidal Soap kills insects on contact so be sure to cover all sides of the leaves. Re-apply every 2 weeks, until the problem is gone.

A plant is shown with insects on it.

Watch Out for Pests and Insects

Insects can create damage in a matter of days, so be sure to inspect your plants regularly for insects that can prey on your garden.

When looking for insects be sure to inspect both the tops and bottoms of leaves as well as on the ground around the plant. Slugs and snails require moist conditions so they like dense growth such as hostas and ivy. Control slugs and snails with a slug-control product.

Aphids like greenflies and blackflies suck the sap out of plants, can distort or stunt their growth and can also carry many plant diseases. Aphids can be controlled with an insecticidal soap, like Scotts® EcoSense® Bug B Gon® Insecticidal Soap.

Other insects to look out for include earwigs, beetles, weevils, caterpillars and others.

Insecticidal Soap kills insects on contact so be sure to cover all sides of the leaves. Re-apply every 2 weeks, until the problem is gone.

A person uses shears to prune a plant.

Prune Your Plants

Pruning can be used to shape or manage plant growth, promote flowering, increase yields and maintain health by the removal of any diseased or dead limbs. This stops the spread of the disease or decay, helping to keep the remaining plant healthy.

Generally, when pruning, you should cut away the branch or limb about a quarter of an inch above the bud. Cutting too close to the bud can hurt the plant and cause issues.

As a general rule, prune spring flowering shrubs after they bloom, and for shrubs that bloom later in the year – from July onward – prune in early spring before plants start to actively grow.

Removal of dead, decaying or damaged limbs can be done at any time. Always refer to plant tags or reference guides to determine proper pruning times by species.

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