Here is a simple step by step guide to start a garden for the beginner without any gardening experience. Three simple steps to make your first garden a success. Basically, here’s what I’d do if I was a first time gardener but somehow had the knowledge I have now. Of course that’s impossible but let’s pretend.
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Learning From Mistakes
Over the years I’ve learned a lot from the mistakes I’ve made in gardening. I’m still learning and making mistakes but that’s kind of the fun of having a garden. You just keep learning and improving over the years. If I make it to 80 and am still working in my garden, I’m sure I will have worlds more knowledge than I have now.
Here I’ve tried to create a simple step by step plan to get you started if you have no idea where to begin. Of course these suggestions aren’t the only way of starting a garden either.
Simple Steps To Start A Garden (for the beginner)
Step 1: The Planning Stage
Almost every year I’ve skipped this stage. This year I didn’t. I thought and thought and rethought. The reason for so much thinking is because my garden is 60x90ft! That’s 5400sqft! So much thinking isn’t necessary for a small 4×4 ft or 4×8 ft first year garden… so don’t let that intimidate you. Looking back, I can see how much more I could have gotten from my garden over the years had I taken a little bit of time to plan.
Take a few minutes to answer these questions and it may save you a lot of regrets later.
Where is your garden going to go?
One of the most important things you need to grow a garden is sun. Vegetables need at least 6-8 hours of full sun (no shade). Please don’t start your very first garden in an area that gets less than the recommended hours of sun. It will be so discouraging. And who wants to be discouraged right off the bat?
My first three or four years after I got married, I tried to garden where there wasn’t enough hours of sunlight. Although I could grow some things ok like lettuce and spinach, my sun loving plants just didn’t thrive and I didn’t get much of a harvest. It was so disappointing to put in all the work and not get the kind of harvest I was hoping for.
Take a few sunny days to observe the sun and find the spots in your yard that will work best for your garden bed. Also, take into consideration that you might want to expand your garden in the future and plan your first garden bed accordingly.
What size do you want to make your garden?
I’d recommend starting with a 4×8 ft bed. It’s not too small and not too big. If that is intimidating start even smaller with a 4×4 ft bed. There is a gardening method called square foot gardening that allows you to plant for maximum yield from your small space. I used this method for several years when we lived in town in our little bungalow.
What do you want to grow?
Make a list of things that you think would be fun to grow. Maybe this will change but at least you will have a few ideas to get you going.
I’d recommend not growing something like pumpkins and watermelon unless you have a large garden. Although super fun to grow, they take up a ton of space! Not ideal for a small garden. Pick smaller vegetables and plants. Plant things you like to eat. Plant flowers too! Although many flower varieties are edible, more than that, they are just beautiful! They also bring the pollinators.
Step 2: The Building Stage
Starting with a simple raised bed is probably the easiest way to begin a garden. There are many different types of raised beds but here are the two I’d recommend.
Raised Wood or Cinderblock Garden Bed
Raised bed made from wood boards or cinderblocks filled with quality compost. A raised bed made from wood is personally my favorite look in a garden. Don’t use treated lumber because the chemicals will leach into the soil over time. Although untreated lumber won’t last as long it is relatively inexpensive to replace 5-10 years down the road.
There are a ton of tutorials for how to build a raised bed. I’ll link a few resources down here for you.
Unframed Raised Garden Bed
Raised bed made heaping up quality compost. This type of bed doesn’t have sides but it does work very well and doesn’t require any building. I am trying unframed raised beds in part of my Back to Eden garden this year.
Below is the link for a video tutorial on how to make unframed raised bed. It’s a really informative video for beginners. I’d highly recommend watching this video as its super informative for gardening in general.
Don’t start your first garden this way
I wouldn’t recommend digging up the grass or weeds in your yard to start a garden. So much work and the soil isn’t usually very good. That’s a great way to become discouraged right away. It can take a long time to create your own good garden soil so just fill the garden with the good stuff to begin with and that will make life a lot easier.
My first year and second year gardening after I got married, I hand dug some very weedy soil. It was a lot of work and the weeds were so persistent. A gardener’s nightmare. Here’s some evidence below. Also take note of the shade… not the ideal gardening spot.
I ended up building raised beds three years later because the soil was so bad.
The most important part though isn’t what you build your raised bed out of, it is the dirt in your garden. Get quality compost and then you will avoid a lot of problems that can come from lack of quality growing soil. Yes, quality compost does cost a bit more but it is so much better in the long run and totally worth it.
Several types of garden compost that are great options for filling your raised beds; screened leaf compost, well decomposed manure and mushroom compost.
I’ve used screened leaf compost and mushroom compost ordered in bulk from a local source. You can buy bags of garden compost from your local garden center too if you decide to start with a really small garden. This would probably not be very economical if you have a larger garden though.
Every year it’s a good idea to add a little more organic compost to your garden bed. In the past, I’ve used something called black kow along with my homemade compost. Black kow is dehydrated cow manure. This will ensure your soil doesn’t loose its amazing fertility over time.
Step 3: Plant Your Seedlings or Seeds
People often think of the summer garden when they think of gardening. There are three growing seasons though; spring, summer and fall!
Seeds Versus Seedlings
If you are just starting out, getting some seedlings from your local garden center is probably the easiest way to start. It will give you instant satisfaction. However, there are some plants that are super easy to grow from seed.
The benefit of seeds is that they are very cheap. Seedlings are going to cost more. Do a little research on the specific plants you want to grow and then decide if you want to start them from seed or purchase seedlings.
Planting Times and Spacing
The list below is based on harvest time and not necessarily when to plant seeds or seedlings. Check out this handy guide for exact planting times for your area.
Just like harvest times, plant spacing is something you will need to research depending on what you want to grow. It can vary a great deal. Often plants can be spaced closer together that recommended too. If you want to plant your garden intensively, let me recommend the square foot gardening method again.
Easy Plants to Grow
Below are some ideas of easy plants to grow in each season. This might mean you have to rip out your tomato plants even though it is still producing but then it also means you can have produce longer into the fall.
- snow peas
- sugar snap peas
- spring onions
- tomatoes (purchase as seedlings)
- peppers (purchase as seedlings)
- summer squash
- green onions
- pumpkins (only if you have a large space)
I’ve made this its own category because the harvest times can overlap a bit.
- sweet peas
Simple Steps To Start A Garden (for the beginner) Resources
Clyde’s Garden Planner – handy tool for planting times
Building Unframed Raised Beds – this is a great youtube channel
All New Square Foot Gardening – helpful book for gardening efficiently in small spaces
Simple Steps To Start A Garden (for the beginner) Printable
Other Gardening Post
Planning My Vegetable Garden For this Year – Last year’s garden