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Apr 4, 2017
Removing fear for first-time gardeners
Denielle Noe  Program Administrator

Okay, I am the first to admit that it took me a very long time to start my own garden. First of all, I need to explain that I had plenty of experience helping my mom tend her garden while growing up. From preparing the soil, to planting the seeds, to the excitement of our first harvest was enough to get me hooked into gardening.

However, when I moved out, all of that excitement seemed to evaporate when it came to planning and maintaining my own garden. Where do I begin? What should I try to grow? Can I keep them alive? Do I even have enough space to grow anything? All of these questions and more prevented me from trying my own hand at gardening for years; especially living in apartments with small patios and balconies.

Eventually I learned by trial and error. I learned to be creative growing plants on a small patio versus my mom’s large garden plot. I learned that over-watering is a bad thing. Mostly, I learned that I really do enjoy gardening on my own. It just takes time and a little patience. Here are some of the tips I learned throughout the years:

1. Start small. One of the most important lessons I learned is that you don’t need a ton of space to start a garden. Gardening in containers is one of the easiest ways to get started. To begin, you just need a small space with plenty of sun with some shady areas for plants that require one or both. Second, pick plants that you actually want to cook with. Not a fan of tomatoes? Try peppers! Lastly, make sure to start small. A couple of home-grown veggies and herbs will definitely give you great results without straining your time or budget.

2. Invest money wisely. Do I really need that big beautiful $60 stone container or can I get away with a plain plastic terra-cotta one for under $10? These are just some of the questions you will come across when you hit the garden center for the first time. One of the best things you can do for yourself before heading out to buy your gardening supplies is to set a budget for each thing on your list. With that said, one thing you don’t want to go cheap on is soil. Trust me, I learned the hard way that you get what you pay for. Get a good potting soil and your plants will thank you for it.

3. Don’t shoot for picture-perfect garden display. We have all looked through those amazing garden magazines or have “pinned” a million and one gorgeous ways to display your plants on Pinterest. In the real world you actually only need an unglorified container that holds good soil for your plants to live and grow over the summer. But please don’t stop searching for creative ways to display your plants. Repurposing non-traditional plant containers is still a trendy thing to do. Look around at what you already have. You can turn a tire into an eye-catching container. Old decking can become your new lawn edging. The possibilities are only limited to your imagination. Now get to dreaming up your next big container idea!

4. Make sure you plant it. As I eluded to you earlier, some things are learned best by trial and error. I am an overachiever and I was easily dissuaded by all of the books and magazines on the subject of gardening; do this but never do that type of instruction. It was enough to make me crazy with all the different advices out there. So don’t get bogged down with all the do's and don’ts for gardening. Instead just follow the directions on your plant tag and try not to get stressed if your plant doesn’t make it this year. Just learn by the mistakes you made and be willing to try again next year.

5. Don't over-do it! Okay so at the time I started my first garden I did not have children or pets. My plants were my babies and frankly I smothered them to death. I did everything you can do wrong for plants, from over-watering them, moving them around to catch the sun’s rays, to replanting them to a different container when they weren’t looking good. I basically stressed them out by everything I was doing until they keeled over in defeat from my over-tending nature. So what did I learn? Well, most plants don’t need that much time and attention. If you give your plants the basics of water and sun they will still grow when left alone – fancy that?

Photo credit: CJS*64 "Man with a camera" via / CC BY-ND

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