How To Start A Garden

How To Start A Garden

By Mark Wolfe


If you’re thinking about planting a new herb, flower or vegetable garden, don’t get overwhelmed – start small. You will learn a lot on just a few square feet. Expand as you become more confident. Keep reading for a more detailed look at what it takes to start a new garden.


Choose a site that is good for growing plants and convenient for you.

Most plants need partial to full sun. Choose an area that receives at least 8 hours of daily sunlight throughout the growing season. Ultimately the best place to start a new home garden is the place you will enjoy gardening. Some considerations include:

  • Distance to the nearest water source
  • Convenient tool storage location
  • A place to clean vegetables, herbs and flowers before bringing them indoors
  • Easy access for delivering plants and other supplies

Prepare your soil.

Contact your local cooperative extension office about soil testing. They offer services to help you create the optimum conditions for growing plants. You submit a soil sample from your garden for analysis. They provide a detailed report of your soil conditions and detailed instructions for improving it.


To prepare the garden bed and prevent weeds from encroaching, begin by removing the grass. Scrape off the top 1-2 inches of grass, soil and roots. This material is full of weeds and weed seeds that you won’t want in your new garden. Pile up the debris in an out of the way location, and it will eventually decompose into compost.


Organic material improves the drainage of clay soil and the water holding capacity of sandy soil. Compost and manure also add beneficial microbes that help plants take up water and nutrients more efficiently. Add a 3 inch layer of coarse organic matter, like compost, manure, or soil conditioner. Use a spade or rototiller to incorporate the layer of organic matter into the top 3 inches of native soil.


Build raised beds or leave it flat.

At this point you can either leave the garden level or build raised beds. Raised beds provide excellent drainage and warm up more quickly in the spring, but they dry out quickly in hot weather. Level beds demand less work, but stay cool and wet longer.


To build raised beds, first mark out the garden paths. Then shovel the prepared garden soil from the paths onto the planting beds. The beds should be no more than 3 feet wide for ease of use. Add a deep layer of wood chips to the paths to avoid walking in mud.

Choose strong healthy plants.

The hard work is done. Make the most of your effort by buying quality plants. Avoid shopping in the discount section.


Strong, healthy plants fill the pot well without appearing overgrown. Stems should be strong and foliage full from top to bottom.


Flowering plants may have a few open flowers, but mostly unopened flower buds. Fruiting plants, like tomatoes and cucumbers, may have some flowers but should not have fruit on them.


Foliage should have very little damage, if any. Look at the bottom sides of leaves, and along the stems. No insects should be present.


Gently pull some of the plants out of their pots and put them back. The roots should be well developed but not wound tightly around the rootball. Roots should not grow extensively through the pot’s drain holes.


Select quality seeds.

The best indications of quality seeds are the reputation of the seed company, and the seed expiration date. Read reviews about seed brands from trusted sources, and read seed packets before buying them.


Occasionally you may find outdated seeds on the shelf. Don’t buy them. Old seeds do not germinate as easily as fresh seeds. Seedlings from old seeds may not be as robust as those from young seeds.


Plant according to label directions.

Follow the planting instructions on the labels of seeds and plants. Do not attempt to plant too early in the season, as a late cold snap can wreak havoc on tender new growth. Pay close attention to planting depth and plant spacing.

Care for your new garden.

Don’t let weeds invade your garden. Keep them at bay by pulling and hoeing a couple of times each week. Water often enough to keep the soil from drying out completely. Mulch your garden. A 2-3 inch layer of organic mulch smothers weeds, insulates the soil, and reduces evaporation.


Watch for signs of garden pests like holes in the leaves or bugs clinging to the underside of leaves or along stems. Look for damaged, discolored or misshapen leaves that may be the telltale signs of disease. Seek advice from your local extension service or garden center professional.


If you’ve read this far, you have plenty of information to start your new garden. The best way to learn more is by getting your hands dirty. Happy gardening!