Getting started in anything can be daunting and gardening is no exception. Seeing as I have been at this for more than a few years I thought it might be helpful to share some of the things I have learned so far. This is my top 10 things I think new gardeners should know. This is be no means an exhaustive list but it’s some of the things I wish someone had told me when I first started putting my hands in the soil.
Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
It is important to remember that you will never know ALL the things about gardening. If you even dare to think you do then Mother Nature will be like “Hold my beer” and put you right back in your place. It’s one of the things I love most about gardening, that there is always something new to learn and improve upon!
1 – You DON’T have a black thumb
You don’t have a black thumb BUT bad things WILL happen and it is your job to learn from them. Failure isn’t a failure unless you give into it and let it be. Typically, the perception of having a “black thumb” stems from missing knowledge. As they say, “You don’t know what you don’t know”. If you’re trying to direct sow tomatoes in March/April in a Zone 5 climate you’re not going to have much luck. It doesn’t mean you have a Black Thumb, it just means maybe you didn’t know that March/April is not the right time to direct seed tomatoes. If you take the time to research or ask another gardener who has been at it a bit longer you would get the missing information you need.
So before you label yourself as having a Black Thumb, think back on one of those moments and challenge yourself to do a bit of research. arm yourself with the needed knowledge and give it another try this year! If you are truly convinced you are cursed in the way of plants, but still want to try growing things. I would highly suggest giving hydroponic gardening a try. You can check out my playlist on growing hydroponically with an AeroGarden here or with a Rise Gardens here. Just don’t stop taking some gardening risks and give it another try, it’s the best way to learn
2 – You need to just start
If you are new to gardening just remember, you don’t need to know everything but you do need to start! Analysis paralysis has kept many people (including myself) away from starting new things. But if you don’t start then you can’t begin learning. You can embolden yourself by reading books but getting hands on knowledge is invaluable. It’s also true that reading about something is NOT the same as doing it. So just get those seeds in the ground and see what happens. You will NEVER or at least you shouldn’t ever stop learning when it comes to gardening. I have bought more than 12 gardening books this year. Below is a list of some of the books I have bought and I am LOVING:
- Atomic Habits by James Clear (this one is NOT specifically gardening related but can be applied to all aspects of your life)
- Skills for Growing by Charles Dowding
- The Vegetable Grower’s Handbook: Unearth Your Garden’s Full Potential by Huw Richards
- The New Organic Grower by Eliot Coleman
- Teaming with Nutrients by Jeff Lowenfels
- DIY Hydroponic Gardens by Tyler Baras
- Growing Under Cover by Niki Jabbour
- Mushroom Cultivation by Richard Bray
- Mini Farming by Brett Markham
- Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine by Andrew Chevallier
- The Regenerative Grower’s Guide to Garden Amendments by Nigel Palmer
3 – Plants don’t care where you live
All plants care about is that their needs are being met. They care that they are getting enough heat, light, water and nutrients. So while people talk an awful lot about Hardiness zones, the plants don’t really care about them. All Hardiness Zones indicate is what your average annual minimum temperature is, that’s it folks. So while it is still good to know what your Hardiness Zone is it doesn’t tell you much more than that. There are a lot of countries that don’t even use hardiness zones.
Often seed packets can note that plants are hardy to a specific zone, such as ‘hardy to Zone 6″. Now that doesn’t mean you can’t grow it in other zones, it just means it won’t be able to survive the winter. There are LOTS of things that we (in North America) grow as annuals that are actually perennials in other warmer climates. Peppers for example can be grown as perennials in warm climates and can grow into small trees! If you DO want to know what your Hardiness Zone is you can just turn to Google and type in “What is the Hardiness Zone for [your city]”.
4 – Plants don’t know if you’re a newbie or a pro
I will keep this point short. Plants don’t know and mores they don’t even CARE if you are putting your hands in the dirt for the very first time or have been doing this for years. They are not going to react differently because this is your first time as long as their needs are met they will thrive. What tends to happen is that newbies don’t KNOW how to Emet all their needs and that where the problems can start. But if you don’t start you’ll never know how best to meet their needs! As a compromise I would suggest starting with some newbie-friendly varieties such as:
5 – Define your WHY and set goals for yourself
Personally, I don’t like doing things without knowing why. So before every gardening season I started to identify my why or mission statement for the upcoming year. This is a personal thing and there is no right or wrong. It can and probably should change or at least get tweaked every year. Then once you know your why, you can use it to help set your goals for the upcoming gardening season. Setting goals is great, but if you don’t know WHY those goals are important then it can sometimes be hard to stick to them. Especially when times get tough or life throws you a curve ball. You can get a copy of my FREE garden goal setting worksheet here and if you want to check out my video where I walk you through setting “SMART” garden goals you can watch that here.
6 – Don’t forget the pollinators
When I originally started my vegetable garden I Bagan by digging up all the flowers in my yard. I mean why did I need flowers when my intent was to grow food and they were taking up the space I needed. As I grew more (both in food and knowledge) I started to realize the importance of feeding the pollinators and attracting them to my yard. As time went on pollinator friendly plants started to make their way back into my garden. Now I try and focus on pollinator friendly plants that are also edible, making it a win-win situation!
7 – Be a present plant parent
There is a difference between being in your garden everyday and really looking at your garden every day. it is so important to watch your plants as it is the best way to notice pests and disease before they have a chance to take hold. On top of that is a great way to learn about the different plants you are growing. As an example, I noticed I was very low on my Chinese string eggplants and I wanted to have enough seeds for the upcoming growing season. I decided to grow some this winter hydroponically and save the seeds.
I put one of the few seeds I had left into my AeroGarden Farm Plus and let it do it’s thing. I helped out a bit with hand pollination to increase the chances of fruit development. it was in one of these hand pollinating sessions that I saw something weird. Chinese string eggplant are purple and all my little wee baby eggplants were pure white! At first I thought maybe I mixed up the seeds, I went back to my stash and I had no white eggplants. So the I REALLY started watching them, like every day. Do you know what I learned? Well ALL of the babies start out white and very slowly, as they grow, they get thin streaks of purple until they completely change colour. So while I have grown this variety before, in my outdoor garden, I obviously was not paying enough attention to it!
8 – Be a plant nerd
I am both a book nerd and a plant nerd, so this is second nature to me. I truly believe that ANY gardener, from total newb to seasoned pro is best served by gathering as much data as they can. So get yourself a notebook and start jotting information down, it can become an invaluable resource over the years. I created a month by month garden planner that helps you track garden information (it’s in my Etsy shop – The Micro Homestead) or you can do it yourself using nothing more than a notebook. If you are going the latter route then some good things to track are:
- When you start and transplant your seedlings
- Any pests you encounter, when and where they showed up and how you dealt with them.
- Any diseases you encounter, when and where they showed up and how you dealt with them.
- A seed inventory, so you can track what you have and if you need more
- A plant inventory, any information about your favourite varieties
- Varieties you definitely want to grow next season
- Varieties you NEVER want to grow again
9 – You don’t need to start big
Sometimes new gardeners are put off by their lack of perceived space. Please trust me when I say ANYONE, anywhere can start grow in food today. It doesn’t matter if it is winter, it doesn’t matter if you don’t have a big garden, it doesn’t even matter if you don’t have a garden at all! Starting on a smaller scale is actually probably a better thing for new gardeners as you can learn as you grow.
If you have no outdoor space at all then micro greens, sprouting or growing hydroponically are a great entry into the world of growing your own food. If you have a balcony then you can also add in container growing or even vertical gardening with things like a GreenStalk. If you have even a little outdoor space and assuming that you are not he right side of any by-laws or HOA rules then go ahead and start planting food. Once you have outdoor space at your disposal you can start an unground or raised bed garden.
10 – You get to decide what is best for YOUR garden
You need to determine what is best for you and YOUR garden. There is so much conflicting information out on the internet. As an example, two other people I trust and watch their YouTube channels were both saying different things about seed starting. It doesn’t mean one is right and one is wrong, they both live in very different climates and have different gardening experiences. It is up to me to decide what I want to do when starting my own seedlings.
Treat differing information as less “right vs wrong” and more about differing opinion, options and experiences. If you are new and frustrated and just want to know the “right” way to do something you will stay frustrated. Just pick one option and try it or go ahead and try both or all the options. See how it/they works out for you and then make your own decision on how YOU want to do said gardening thing. If its works awesome, if it sucks then try another option next time.
Sometimes people get stuck in doing things a certain way because they have always done it that way and had success. While that is all well and good, it doesn’t mean there isn’t another equally good way to do the same thing. Or perhaps even a way that may yield better results, if they were just open to trying it.
So there you have it, my top ten things every new gardener should know. It doesn’t have to be complicated, but it can feel overwhelming at the start. Just start somewhere you can learn as you grow in your garden.