Starting work on your first gardening project can be a scary prospect but with a few gardening tips for beginners, once you get stuck in it’ll be an incredibly therapeutic endeavour. The result should be a calm and beautiful haven for you to spend time relaxing, whether alone or with friends and family.
To ensure that your garden blooms the way you want it to, it’s good to be aware of some basic pointers and some of the most common rookie mistakes before you start.
Gardening Tips for Beginners:
1. Spring Clean
The best way to get your garden in order is to stay on top of it in the first place by keeping it clean and tidy – it will save you time and work in the long run. As you prepare the garden for the growing season remember to clear borders, lawns, ponds of dead leaves and debris that may harbour disease and bacteria that will harm your plants. Also, trim back the dead growth of herbaceous perennials and deciduous grasses.
Include patios, trellises, and decking in your clear-up, remembering to protect your plants from any harmful products. Before the arrival of Spring prepare your greenhouse for seedlings and cuttings by giving it a good clean inside and out with garden disinfectant. This way you can reduce the risk of pests and disease taking hold. Include all the pots and trays and remember to ventilate the greenhouse for a couple of days afterwards.
And finally, don’t overlook your garden tools. By keeping them sharp and clean, you’ll improve performance. Plus save yourself money by prolonging their lives, as well as prevent the introduction of bacteria and fungi while pruning. Getting these jobs out of the way early will save you precious gardening time later in the season.
2. Know Your Soil
There are lots of gardening tips for beginners but the most important is to know your soil; this is because plants thrive in different types of soil, so you need to ensure that your plants and soil match. Soil types include sandy, silty, clay, saline and loam. The last of these, which contains a combination of sand, silt, and clays, is the gardening favourite.
A way to test your soil type is to let a soil sample settle overnight in a jam jar. Remembering to give it a good shake first, and the next day take a look at the soil layers that have formed. Sand will go to the bottom, silt in the middle and clay will stay on top. The ratios of each should give you an indication of the type of soil you are using.
Check out some of the gardens on your street to see what is thriving in the local soil, if you are still not sure about what will work in your garden.
If your garden soil is workable you should dig in a layer of well-rotted manure, compost or green waste into your borders.
Spring is also the time to rake and feed your lawn. By removing debris, you allow it to breathe and prevent water logging. You should also take this opportunity to make level any uneven areas and sow new grass seed where needed to give your lawn a boost.
3. Plan Your Dig and Dig Your Plan
As with most home and gardening projects, it’s always best to have an overall plan in mind before you even pick up a spade. One way to approach this is to make a scale drawing of your garden on some graph paper. Ensuring that you include all the main features and then decide what will stay and what will go. Then you can plan what new plants or features you are going to add to your garden. If this is going to be a major project, break your plan down into manageable tasks or areas and that way it will seem less daunting.
It also helps to label your seeds and bulbs as they go in as it is very easy for beginners and old hands alike to forget what’s where. Most plants have a label for just that purpose.
4. Give New Plants Some TLC
New plants can be fragile and need careful handling. If you want to keep them from getting damaged in the car on the way home from the garden centre a good tip is to put down a plastic sheet or tarp and then add a small step ladder to create sections to secure your new plants for the journey. It has the added benefit of preventing messy spillages in the boot.
It’s all too easy to break or bruise them in our post-garden centre excitement and rush to get them planted. The best way to remove them from their pots is to gently squeeze the sides of the pot, turn it upside-down and let the plant slide out into your other hand.
Some plants that you buy may, unfortunately, be root bound in their pot. You will recognise this if the pot is mainly full of roots and what soil there is very dry. If you do discover that the plant you have bought has become root bound give it a good soaking before de-potting. Then gently massage the root ball with your hands. It will loosen things little before replanting. In extreme cases, when you can’t work your fingers into the tightly packed roots at all, take a sharp knife and make three to five vertical cuts into the root ball. It will cause some damage of course. But it will also allow for new root growth and give the plant a chance to spread once in the soil.
Don’t be afraid to check plants at the gardening centre before you buy by easing them out of their pots slightly to assess their condition.
5. Give your Plants some Space
Young plants don’t like to be crowded, so don’t attempt to plant too many in a bed. Check the label on the plant for recommendations on spacing in the bed. If you do crowd them, some plants may not survive and those that do will need lots of water and fertilizer and will be more susceptible to disease.
The same goes for your shrubs. Don’t plant them too near to a wall or a fence so that they have plenty of room to grow out, as well as up.
6. A Word on Watering
Always be sure to soak the root ball thoroughly when planting new plants, before they go into the soil. Make sure that the hole you dig is bigger than the roots, to ensure that the roots have enough room to spread and get the best from the soil.
Plants that live in beds will draw the water that they need naturally from the earth. These do not require irrigation. Stick your finger into the soil and check it for moisture, if you want to check to see if a plant is particularly thirsty and needs watering. On the other hand, plants that live in containers will need regular watering as they are living in a finite amount of soil and cannot draw water from the ground.
7. Don’t Go Easy on the Weeds
Weeds are public enemy number one when gardening, and you might as well get to grips with them from the start. Little and often is a good way to go with the weeding. To help you stay on top of it and do be sure to get the whole root out every time. Remember not to let any weeds that have seeded find their way into the compost. As you will find that when you spread the stuff, you will also be re-seeding the dreaded weeds all over the garden. Rookie error.
Salt and vinegar are two natural weed killers which you’ll find in your kitchen and are gentler on the ecosystem. You can make home-made weed-killer by mixing the washing-up liquid with vinegar or make a salt water solution to spray onto the weeds. Please be aware that you should not use salt in any areas where you are trying to grow other plants. As it sterilises the soil and is, therefore, best used only on paths, patios, and driveways.
8. Deal with Pests
Save yourself trouble in late spring and summer by seeking out and dealing with pests that are still in winter hibernation. Look for slugs, snails and aphid colonies and take care to remove white vine weevil larvae from your compost.
9. Don’t over Fertilise
It’s quite common for novice gardeners to turn to fertiliser when plants appear to be underperforming. Unfortunately, it is quite easy to over fertilise. Causing what is known as fertiliser burn and this is no good for your plants. It is especially true for those that are potted and occupy a small space where the salts in the fertiliser can accumulate.
The symptoms of fertiliser burn include slow growth or no growth at all, death in seedlings, wilting and yellowing of lower leaves, browning of tips and leaf margins, leaf drop, and brown, black or rotting roots. You should also look out for a white crusty surface appearing on the soil.
If you notice these symptoms and suspect over fertilisation, you can save your plants if you act quickly. Especially by flushing the soil with water to reduce the plant’s intake of the residual salts. It takes time and care, so prevention is better than cure in this instance.
Early to mid-spring is a good time to prune unruly evergreen shrubs and hedging. A bit of hard pruning and some mulching and feeding will promote spring growth. Other plants may also need a little bit of love in preparation for spring with a little bit of trimming to stimulate new growth. Be aware that some plants like roses and Buddleia should not be pruned until the frosts have passed.
When pruning, start by removing dead or damaged stems as they attract insects and disease can develop. You should also look for and remove branches that are crossing. Even any lurking water sprouts or suckers that you find.
11. Make Compost
After winter the bottom layer of your compost heap will be high-quality stuff ready for spreading in your beds. If you have a surfeit of the good stuff, you can always offer some to the neighbours.
If you aren’t already composting, then now is a good time to start. A compost heap offers the double benefit of a place gets rid of your garden waste as well a rich end product that goes back into the garden. A good compost should be a combination of green kitchen waste, grass clippings, paper and woody pruning. To keep it aerated turn the mixture over every few weeks with a garden fork.
You can buy a ready-made compost bin or construct one yourself quite simply using any spare bits of wood that you might have lying around.
12. Grow Your Own
If you are planning a kitchen garden this year, then get your seeds ordered in advance. If you have a greenhouse, you can start getting your containers ready for propagating, making sure that any pots you use are thoroughly clean before you start. You can even go DIY with your containers using yoghurt pots, egg boxes, newspaper or similar items.
For the best results remember to give your veg the sunniest spot you can offer in your garden with shelter and shade for those occupants that need it.
Always follow the advice on seed packets and never plant earlier than recommended. It is better to sow your seeds in the middle or towards to the end of the planting window if you want your veg to do well.
Get your garden in order by planting bulbs such as Lilies and Gladiolus in the early spring for a beautiful summer flower display. For plants that have a longer growing season, like Geraniums, Begonias, Aubergines, and Peppers you should start propagating the seeds in January or February.
Early spring is a good time to plant out your roses. They work best in a good heavy soil mixed with a generous amount of quality compost. For the best display find a nice open space with plenty of sun. Go for lots of colours in the garden. Remember to organise your beds with the taller plants at the back.
If you want to move any badly placed deciduous shrubs, it is best to do this early when they are still dormant. Remember to dig out in a wide circle to keep as much of the root ball intact as possible and replant them in the same depth of soil to help them get established.
14. Enjoy Yourself
There’s a lot of gardening tips for beginners that people overlook, but remember, you’re doing this because you WANT to.
Some jobs in the garden will seem like a bit of a chore. However, once you get going, you will see the results and feel the benefits. Gardening is a very physical activity and a great form of exercise. Let yourself have some fun with your gardening and try experimenting with colour, height, and texture. Remember that you can always change things if you’re not happy with the results.