How to Start a Garden: A Beginner's Guide

Apr 3, 2024 3 min read

Are you looking to start growing your own fruits, vegetables and herbs? Gardening has a lot to offer. When you garden, you spend time outside, get some physical activity and — if all goes well — enjoy your delicious harvest.

If you’re wondering how to start a small garden, this beginner’s guide can help you plan your space, choose your plants and start growing. 

Scout Your Location

How much sun does your location get? Most fruits and vegetables need at least five hours of full, direct sunlight each day. Many greens, herbs and root veggies can grow in partial shade. It’s a good idea to avoid high wind areas and places where frost could settle, since they could damage your plants.

You’ll also want to consider how much space you can allot to your garden. There are plenty of plants that will grow in small spaces, but if you want to focus on large vegetables like pumpkins, you’re going to need more space.

Also consider how close by your garden will be for weeding, pruning, tending and harvesting. If it’s far away, you could find yourself ignoring it. Where’s the closest water source for your garden? Can you reach it with a hose, or will you need to haul heavy watering cans when it doesn’t rain?

Before you start your garden, consider wildlife, possible pet damage and children’s play areas as well. If you can’t find a good spot in your yard, you may be able to start a container garden on a patio or get a plot in a local community garden.

Decide What You Want to Grow

You’ll want to center your garden around vegetables, fruit and herbs that you and your family will eat. Keep in mind that you don’t have to eat everything right away. You can grow things that you can make into long-lasting foods. Think cucumbers from pickles and pasta sauce from tomatoes and basil. Plus, some vegetables, like potatoes, carrots and squash, have a long shelf life. And you can store lots of produce in the freezer to use all winter.

Go online or talk to experienced local gardeners to find out what grows best in your area. You might be a fan of bananas, but berries are probably a better choice in your climate.

Plan Your Plot

Once you’ve found your location and chosen what you want to grow, you’ll need to decide on the type and size of the garden beds you’d like. Your seed packets, online research or the staff at your local nursery can tell you how far apart you need to plant. You might be surprised at how much space you need for a full-grown zucchini plant.

Consider planting your garden in blocks or beds instead of rows. The goal is to minimize walkways and maximize growing space to get the most yield from your garden.

Raised beds make it easier to plant your garden and they can be easier to weed and harvest if it’s hard for you to bend down. But they can also dry out more quickly, which means they might need watering more often. 

Get the Basic Garden Tools You Need

When it comes to how to start a garden for beginners, having the right tools can keep gardening a pleasure instead of a chore. While you don’t want to spend a fortune on tools for your new garden, try to avoid buying cheap tools. Having good tools will save time and effort.

These tools can make your work easier:

  • Garden hoe
  • Rake
  • Garden shovel
  • Hand tools
  • Gloves

Prepare Your Soil

You’ll want to test your soil pH and nutrients before planting. Most garden crops will prefer soil with a pH around 7, as balanced nutrient levels are important. If your soil has any deficiencies, you can address them before you start your garden.

Most plants prefer a deep, well-drained, fertile soil that’s rich in organic matter. After you get your garden started, you can compost your plants and other organic matter and your soil will improve year after year. 

Healthy, vibrant soil gives you healthy, vibrant plants. Bugs are attracted to stressed or deficient plants. If your plants are healthy, bugs shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

Start Planting

Most seed packets or transplant containers come with the basic planting instructions you will need, including the best time to start a garden for your climate. If yours don’t include directions, here are some general rules of thumb:

  • Plant seeds roughly three times as deep as the diameter of the seed.
  • Plant most transplants at the same depth they were growing in the pot. The exception is tomatoes, which can be planted deeper or trenched in.
  • For heat-loving plants like tomatoes, peppers or cucumbers, make sure the danger of frost has passed before you plant.

Know How Much Water You Need

Seeds and seedlings need to stay moist, so you’ll want to water them frequently. Once your plants are growing well, they will generally need around an inch of water per week. But remember, overwatering is as bad as underwatering. Always check your soil before watering.

Enjoy Your Harvest

Once your produce is mature, it’s time to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Flavor is typically at a peak in the morning after the dew has cleared, but before the afternoon heat has settled in. You can sample at different times of day and decide what tastes best to you.

Gardening is hard work, and even experienced gardeners have wins and losses every season. Enjoy the process, be patient and give yourself more than one season to get it right.

Get the Coverage You Need for Your Home

While a garden may just be a small part of your property, your home is likely one of your biggest investments. Make sure you’re covered for the unexpected by reviewing your homeowner’s insurance and other policies with your Farm Bureau agent.

Want to learn more?

Contact a local FBFS agent or advisor for answers personalized to you.