Alicia DeVore

Anything can feel overwhelming if you don’t have a starting point. That’s how I think about gardening. When you are new to gardening, you need an action plan to help you know where to start and how to garden with the right help to do it efficiently and effectively.

I mean who wants to waste time or money with guessing what will work in a garden? When you can have a starting point and a plan, then you won’t waste time or money, but instead produce and grow your own food and save money and time.

In this blog post, I am going to be sharing about how to start your backyard garden journey today: 4 easy steps for beginner gardeners. So, if this is your first time in building and growing a garden from scratch, welcome, I have some great tips and resources below.

4 easy steps for beginner gardeners to start a backyard garden with a shovel and garden growing in the background

The Simple Gardening Method: A Four-Step Guide

Gardening can seem overwhelming when you’re just starting out, but the four steps of the Simple Gardening Method can make it a breeze even for new gardeners. This method encourages starting small, allowing you to have more control over the process and manage your resources effectively. As you gain confidence, then you will be more successful and expand your garden.

  1. The Right Location: Looking for a location that gets 6-8 hours of sunlight is crucial for your garden to grow.

  2. Preparing the Soil: Healthy soil is the foundation of any successful garden. Start by testing your soil to understand its type and pH level. Then, improve its fertility and structure by adding organic matter like compost or well-rotted manure.

  3. Providing Enough Water: Watering needs depend on the plant type and weather conditions. As a general rule, it’s better to water deeply and less frequently. This encourages roots to grow deeper into the soil, making your plants more resilient.

  4. Choosing the Right Plants: As a beginner, it’s wise to start with easy-to-grow plants that require minimal care. Tomatoes and herbs like basil and parsley are great options. They not only grow well in most conditions but also provide a rewarding harvest that can boost your confidence.

Gardening is a journey of learning and discovery. Start small, be patient, and enjoy the process. You’ll soon find that the rewards of gardening extend far beyond the harvest.

First STEP: Best Location

Selecting a Vegetable Garden Location

Location is one of the most important parts of starting your garden. Choosing the right location for your vegetable garden can optimize growth and significantly increase how much sun your garden receives.

Most vegetables need a good amount of direct sunlight, at least 6 to 8 hours a day of full sun each day. Choose a spot that isn’t shaded. The more sun plants get, the more produce you’ll have. Observe your yard throughout the day to find the sunniest spot.

Next, consider the proximity to a water source. Regular watering is essential for a thriving garden, so your garden should be within easy reach of a hose or automatic system close to the house.

Planning the size of your vegetable garden

Determining the right size for your garden is one of the first steps to building a garden. The appropriate size depends on several factors:

  • Location and Space Availability: Consider how much space you have available and how much sunlight that area receives. For beginners, a smaller garden, around 10×10 feet, can be manageable and still provide a plentiful harvest.

  • Soil Type: The quality of your soil can affect the size and productivity of your garden. Rich, well-drained soil is ideal. If your soil isn’t optimal, raised garden beds or containers might be a good solution, which could limit your garden size.

  • Budget: Your budget will determine the size and type of garden you can start. Costs can include soil, seeds, tools, fertilizers, and pest control measures.

  • Purpose: Are you gardening for fun, for fresh produce, or self-sufficiency? If you’re gardening as a hobby or for fresh salads, a smaller plot or a few containers will be enough. For larger yields or preserving, a larger piece of land may be required.

Raised Beds or Inground Garden Bed

garden bed with pots in a green field

Let’s take a look at raised garden beds and in-ground garden beds to see which would work best for you.

Raised Beds:

Raised garden beds or container gardening offer several advantages. Adding organic soil to the beds will give your plants a great start as they grow from the nutrients in the soil. They are easier to reach, making tasks like planting, weeding, and harvesting less strenuous. They give you more control over the entire growing process.

However, they also come with some drawbacks. The initial cost can be higher due to expenses for building materials like wood or metal. They may require more frequent watering as they tend to dry out faster than in-ground beds. Also, while you can make them in various sizes, they might not offer as much planting space as in-ground beds. Check out this article on using vertical planters as a space-saving way to garden.

In-Ground Beds:

In-ground beds have their own set of benefits. They can accommodate larger planting areas, potentially leading to higher yields. The initial cost is usually lower as you don’t need to invest in building materials. Plus, if you’re blessed with good quality native soil, in-ground beds let you utilize it to your advantage.

The downsides of in-ground beds include being harder to access. Weed competition can be higher without the physical barrier of a raised bed. Additionally, if your soil is heavy clay, in-ground beds may face drainage and nutrient deficiency issues in the garden soil.

Before you make your decision, take into consideration factors like your budget, available space, soil quality, and personal mobility in how to start a garden. Both raised and in-ground beds can provide a rewarding gardening experience when properly managed. Remember, the best garden bed is the one that makes gardening enjoyable and easy for you.

Second STEP: Garden Soil & Soil Tested

Soil is different than dirt; it’s a complex blend of mineral particles, organic matter, water, and air – all of which contribute to plant health. Dirt is dead with no living nutrients to give back to other plants around. You want soil to be in your garden, not dirt. There are three primary types of soil: sand, silt, and clay.

  1. Sand: This type of soil has large particles and drains quickly, but it can struggle to retain nutrients and moisture.

  2. Silt: Silt has medium-sized particles and holds water better than sandy soil. It’s fertile and drains well but can compact easily.

  3. Clay: Clay soil has the smallest particles, retains water well, but drains poorly. While nutrient-rich, its dense structure can make it challenging for roots to penetrate.

The ideal and good soil for most plants is often called “loamy” soil, which is a balanced mix of sand, silt, and clay, offering good drainage, water retention, high fertility, soil texture, and easy workability.

Nutrient-rich soil is crucial as plants grow and draw their sustenance from it. If your plants look weak or discolored, it might indicate that your soil lacks certain nutrients. In such cases, using a balanced fertilizer can help replenish those nutrients in the soil food web.

Testing your soil quality is a good starting point in your planting area to understand what your soil needs if you are using inground beds. Simple test kits are available online or at your local garden center. The soil test can let you know what to add to your soil to make it more nutrient-rich. Another thing to always add to your soil is organic compost which is made up of decomposed organic material filled with microorganisms in the soil food web.

Third STEP: Watering Schedule

Watering is the lifeblood of any small garden space. It’s crucial to have a consistent watering schedule for the health and success of your plants. Let’s go through the important factors of watering in your first garden.

1. Steady, Consistent Watering: Plants need a steady supply of water for growth and survival. Water carries nutrients from the soil to the plant cells, aids plant roots in photosynthesis, and maintains the structure of the plant. Too little water and your plants will wilt and possibly die. Too much water can lead to root rot and other diseases.

2. Tools and Techniques: There are many tools available for watering your garden at garden centers, from a simple watering can to a sophisticated drip irrigation system. The best tool depends on the size of your garden and your budget. A good rule of thumb is to water the soil, not the leaves. Wet leaves can lead to the growth of mold and other diseases.

3. The Right Time to Water: The best time to water your garden is early in the morning when temperatures are cooler. This allows the water to reach the roots before it can evaporate. Watering in the evening can lead to overnight moisture, which can promote disease.

4. Recognize Signs of Over and Underwatering: Overwatered plants may have yellow leaves that feel soft and mushy. On the other hand, underwatered plants have dry, brown edges and very tall plants may drop their leaves.

5. Weather Conditions: Keep in mind that the weather plays a significant role in watering. You’ll need to water other plants more frequently during hot and dry periods in early spring, and less often during cool, rainy weather.

Maintaining a topsoil moist and consistent watering schedule leads to a healthy and vibrant backyard garden. However, each garden is unique, so don’t be afraid to adjust as needed. Pay attention to your plants and they’ll let you know what they need. Remember, the goal is moist, but not soggy, soil.

soil with seedling

Fourth STEP: Timing of the Seasons

Learn About Gardening Zones

Many people talk about the hardiness zones for gardening. A gardening zone works for understanding what plants will grow in your zone, but they don’t help you to know when to plant out your garden.

For that reason, use your highs and low temperatures to determine what the annual flowers will grow each month of the year in your area. Plants all have a preference for what temperatures they grow best in.

To learn more about when to grow and the right timing for planting depth your area, check out this short course to help you know when to plant.

Select the Right Plants

When starting your gardening journey, it’s essential to grow what you’ll eat. There’s no point in dedicating time and resources to growing vegetables or fruits that you don’t like. Take a moment to consider your dietary preferences and select plants that align with those. Here is a blog post on best veggies to grow in a kitchen garden.

Here is a mini-course on growing tomatoes to help you make it easy and successful.

Equally important is considering your local climate and weather patterns in your growing season. Some plants thrive in cooler temperatures, while others need plenty of sunshine.

Take advantage of local resources, such as agriculture extension services or local gardening clubs. They can provide insights into what grows best in your area for the growing season to help you with how to start a garden. Remember, the success of your garden depends largely on choosing plants that are well-suited to your climate and personal preferences and growing season. If you want to learn more about planting seedlings out, check out this blog post.

two hands with gloves on planting a cucumber seeding

Start a Vegetable Garden Planting Seeds and Young Plants

When planting out your first garden make sure to pick a planting time that is not close to a last frost date. You can go to a garden center to fill a small garden with raised bed potting soil. Buy plants that are ready for the season you are going into. To start vegetable gardening, plant seeds from seed packets, flowering plants, and vegetable plants in your garden spot.

To get a list of amazing products to use in a small garden, check out this blog post.

Tips for How to Start a Garden:

Here are a few tips on how to start a garden for success.

marigolds with veggies in raised bed

Pair Companion Plants

Growing flowers in your vegetable garden, also known as companion planting, can be highly beneficial. Here’s why:

  1. Attracting Beneficial Insects: Many flowers, especially those from the Asteraceae family like marigolds and sunflowers, attract beneficial insects. These insects can help control pests that harm your vegetables.

  2. Pollination Boost: Flowers can attract bees and other pollinators to your garden, which can help increase your vegetable yields.

  3. Natural Beauty: Besides the practical benefits, flowers can add color, fragrance, and beauty to your vegetable garden, making it a more enjoyable place to spend time.

  4. Trap Cropping: Some flowers, like nasturtiums, act as ‘trap crops’, luring pests away from your precious veggies.

  5. Improving Soil Health: Certain flowers, like clovers and nasturtiums, can improve soil health by fixing nitrogen.

Remember, it’s important to choose flowers that are compatible with your specific vegetables. For instance, marigolds are known to deter nematodes and other pests, making them good companions for tomatoes sweet corn and peppers.

vertical supports in a small raised garden

Vertical Gardening

Vertical gardening is an innovative, space-saving solution that involves growing plants upwards on a wall or trellis, rather than spreading them out in a traditional garden bed. This method is helpful for gardeners who may be short on space but still want to enjoy the benefits of homegrown produce or beautiful flowers. Check out this blog post on how to grow vertically with a trellis.

Vertical gardening comes with a host of benefits. Not only does it make efficient use of your available space, but it also makes caring for your plants easier as they are within easy reach for watering, pruning, and harvesting.

soil with shovel and glove

Mulching

Mulching is the practice of covering the soil with organic or inorganic materials. This simple step offers multiple benefits: it retains soil moisture, keeps weeds at bay, maintains soil temperature, and adds nutrients to the soil as organic mulch breaks down.

Mulch can be especially beneficial in vegetable gardens. It can help prevent soil erosion and compaction, keep your veggies clean, and provide a habitat for beneficial insects while keeping soil moist.

FAQ’s of More Help Starting a Garden

How to keep grass out of your vegetable garden?

Grass infestation in your vegetable garden is a common issue faced by many gardeners. The primary reasons for this are the proliferation of grass seeds carried by wind, animals, or even your own gardening tools, and the favorable conditions that a well-tended garden provides for weed seeds.

To keep your garden free from grass, consider these effective preventive measures:

  • Sheet Mulching: This method involves layering cardboard or newspapers over the garden bed and covering it with compost or mulch. It smothers existing grass and prevents new growth, while enriching your soil.

  • Raised Beds: By creating raised beds, you can control the soil and environment where your vegetables grow, making it harder for grass and other weeds to establish.

Regular maintenance is key to a successful harvest. Monitor your garden regularly for any signs of grass or weed growth and remove them promptly.

Removing grass by hand or with a shovel will be your best strategy to get rid of the grass without hurting your garden. Other ways to remove grass include pesticide sprays that will hurt the good insects and plants that are healthy for your garden.

4 easy steps for beginner gardeners to start your backyard garden with watering a garden in the background

Do I need a fence?

The answer largely depends on your garden’s location and what you’re looking to achieve. If you live in an area with wildlife such as deer or rabbits, a fence can help protect your plants from these hungry visitors. Fences can also provide privacy, define your garden’s boundaries, and add aesthetic appeal.

When it comes to adding a garden fence, there are several factors to consider. First, choose the right style of fence that complements your garden and home. Fences come in various materials like wood, vinyl, metal, and even bamboo. Each material has its own set of pros and cons regarding durability, maintenance, and cost.

Once you’ve chosen your fence style, the next step is attaching the fence. This process will vary based on the type of fence you’ve selected.


Do I need to turn over the soil in the whole garden?

Turning over soil, also known as tilling, is a traditional gardening practice used to prepare gardens for new plantings.

However, it can sometimes be counterproductive as it disrupts beneficial organisms and the natural structure of the soil, potentially leading to soil degradation and erosion. If your soil is healthy and loose, it’s often unnecessary to till your entire garden.

Instead, adding organic matter like compost can naturally improve soil structure, increasing its ability to retain water and nutrients to start a vegetable garden. If your soil is heavily compacted or clay-like, initial tilling might be beneficial. However, after this, a “no-till” or “low-till” approach is generally best for maintaining soil health. The decision to till should depend on the current condition of your soil, keeping in mind that soil health is a long-term investment.

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About the Author

Alicia has been teaching her whole life from elementary teacher to workshops for beginning gardeners.  Go HERE to read Alicia's story into gardening from plant killer to pro grower and garden coach.  If you want to send Alicia a quick message, then use her contact page HERE.

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