There are so many questions people have when they start gardening. What should I plant? When should I plant it? How should I care for it? My last garden was a disaster, what did I do wrong? The underlying sentiment is always the same: there's just too much I don't know!
Take heart. Even if you've never grown a garden in your life, you can successfully grow your own vegetables, herbs, and flowers. Here's some of the best advice I have for new gardeners, along with quotes from some of my favorite garden writers.
Paying Attention is More Important than Knowing Everything
"Far more gardens fail because the gardener is absent or not paying attention than because he or she lacks erudition. Yes, you need to know your ABCs [the basics], but the more you garden, the more you'll learn what works and what doesn't." -- Barbara Damrosch, The Garden Primer
You don't need to know about every pest or disease that might strike your garden before you plant it. None of us really know about those things until we've gardened in the same place for years, and, even then, the garden has a way of surprising us.
What does matter is that you get out into the garden as often as possible. Look at your plants -- really look at them. A wilted leaf there, a chewed leaf there. Fungus on a stem or a tomato or pepper that is blackening at the base -- these are all the early signs of pest or disease problems. If you catch them early, you have a good chance of getting rid of the problem. This constant checking on your garden also alerts you to when your garden needs water, when it's time to harvest or prune, and when a plant (such as a cool-season vegetable) is reaching the end of its prime and will need to be replaced.
Maybe more importantly, closely observing your garden as often as possible educates you in the growing, caring, and harvesting of plants in a way that nothing else ever can.
You Will Kill Plants. Many, Many Plants.
"I don't really believe in green thumbs and black thumbs. I think that some people have a natural inclination to gardening, but being good at it is really just about observation, commitment, and experience. All gardeners kill plants. All gardeners are always learning and every season is a new opportunity to try again with what you've learned." -- Gayla Trail, You Grow Girl and Grow Great Grub
"If you are not killing plants, you are not really stretching yourself as a gardener." -- J.C. Raulston, horticulturist, founder of the J.C. Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh, N.C.
When I started gardening, every plant I managed to kill felt like a personal failure, a sign that I maybe should stick to hobbies in which I couldn't kill things. But the fact of the matter is that every gardener kills more than a few plants along the way. I've been gardening for over 15 years, and I still manage to kill things regularly. It's part of the gardening life.
What we learn from killing plants is what NOT to do next time around. We learn more about the conditions that each plant prefers; what kind of light and soil it needs; how much water is too much or too little. All of this makes us better gardeners.
Tips for Success
Here are a few additional basic tips to increase your chances at growing a successful garden:
- Right plant in the right place. A pepper plant will not do well under your oak tree. Spinach won't thrive in the South in mid summer. Your chances of growing majestic sunflowers in a garden that gets 2 hours of sun are about zero. Research the type of light and water the plants you're interested in growing will need. While you can sometimes push the envelope, trying to do more with less sunlight, for example, this can often lead to more frustration than it's worth.
- Add compost. Just do it. Add compost wherever you're thinking of growing plants, and you'll end up with happier, healthier plants.
- Start out growing easy vegetables, and vegetables that grow fast.
- Don't over-fertilize. Over-fertilized plants develop weak, spindly growth that is more likely to attract pests and develop diseases. If you've added compost, and maybe a bit of composted manure, chances are good that you won't need much more than that.
One Final Tip
"..Remember: The green side is always up." -- Barbara Damrosch
I hope these tips and quotes encourage you to garden. There aren't "green thumbs" or "black thumbs." Gardeners are just gardeners, each of us learning more lessons about plants along the way. Failures are part of the gardening life. Wear them as badges of honor, because each of them is a lesson learned on the path to becoming a better gardener.