Advice for Newbie Gardeners
Everybody starts somewhere with a new hobby. I remember when I started surfing. For starters, I couldn't see. I'm practically blind without my glasses, and I can't wear contacts. (Eventually I got some prescription glasses just for surfing.) I had no sense of balance on my board, so I was always tipping over in the lineup (waiting for waves). That was embarrassing! I would just squint at the others around me and yell "I'm NEW!" As long as I didn't steal their waves when I didn't have the right of way they didn't mind.
The point is, don't be afraid to start, even if you think you're going to embarrass yourself.
The Number One Piece of Advice for New Gardeners
Start with the soil. If you have poor soil, nothing else you do in the garden matters.
Most gardeners don't have perfect soil, but how do you know if you have poor soil? The best way to tell is to dig up a handful and squeeze it. Does it feel really sticky? Like you could mold a pot from it? Or is it really grainy like sand? is it filled with pieces of gravel? The easiest way to fix poor soil is to add compost. You can add a layer of compost on top of your vegetable garden and plant your veggies into the compost. You can also routinely mulch your vegetables and the rest of your garden with grass clippings, compost, or shredded leaves. The key to good soil is to keep adding organic materials to it. Worm castings are magical! If you can find bagged castings to buy, do it! If you can find the space and time to make your own worm compost, do that. The secret really is in the soil.
The Number Two Piece of Advice for New Gardeners
You will kill plants. Everyone kills plants. In fact, I brought home a new houseplant the other day and my husband said, "Oh, I see you brought home a new plant to kill!" (I'm a little bit bad at taking care of my houseplants.) Don't get discouraged. If you can figure out why the plant died, maybe it won't die next time. Post a photo for us on the Greenland Gardener Facebook page and we'll try to help. You can also take the plant to your County Extension office and let them have a look. Don't get discouraged. Try again! Try new plants! Some plants just don't like living in a particular area. I can't grow hollyhocks in my garden to save my life because something about my garden doesn't agree with them. After three tries, I'm giving up and moving on.
The Number Three Piece of Advice for New Gardeners
Learn about gardening. (Are you saying, "Duh!"?) I went to college to learn about plants, and I realize that not everyone can/will/wants to do that. I also know that experience is one of the best teachers. However, if you're doing something wrong, and you continue to do it wrong, you won't get better! So, find good gardening websites to read (like this one!). Make friends with other gardeners. Join online gardening communities (like the Greenland Gardener Facebook page) where you can ask your questions. And, pick up good gardening books.
If you really want to learn how plants grow, a great book for a crash-course in botany is Botany for Gardeners by Brian Capon. This book is for true plant geeks, but it is small and relatively easy to understand.
My favorite book for perennial care tips is The Well Tended Perennial Garden by Tracy DiSabato-Aust.
I have a new book coming out in February 2012 that is written, illustrated, and photographed specifically for beginning gardeners. It is called the Beginner's Illustrated Guide to Gardening. That book is filled with how-to pictures and step-by-step instructions for common plant care techniques. I'm not just saying it might be helpful because it is my book, but because I wrote it specifically for people like my sister, who said to me, "How do I plant this? Do I just dig a hole?" and for my neighbor, whose photos appear in the book. I arrived at his house and said, "There's plenty of work we can do here for the book!" He got a really crestfallen look on his face and replied, "That is so disappointing because I spend so much time out here!" The problem was that he was spending time doing the wrong things. Getting good information really does make a difference.
The Number Four Piece of Advice for New Gardeners
Get to know the particulars of your specific area. Gardening is a highly regional activity. The timing of when to do certain techniques is critical. A general gardening book can't pinpoint that information for your area. Find a gardening book specifically written by and for gardeners where you live. Cool Springs Press specializes in these types of books. You can check out their offerings here.
Try It! You'll Like It!
The photo with this blog post is my first cauliflower that I grew in February 2011. I'm not sure why I'd never grown cauliflower before. I think I lived in areas that stayed too cold for too long and then got too hot too fast. The day I found this heading up in my garden, I was as excited as a five year old with an ice cream cone. Gardening never loses its magic. Even if you're an experienced gardener, you can still learn something.
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