Gardening is a fantastic activity. It is such a versatile way to experience nature. There are many different things that one can learn and read about to become a better gardener. There will always be ways that we can improve our knowledge, and learn more.
Gardening is a subject where no one is ever really an expert. It is far too vast a subject area. We can only really become experts in the areas we have experience with. To help us gain that experience, here are 21 things you can do to become a better gardener.
1. Don’t judge
Yourself, others, or the plants. Passing judgement comes really easy to a lot of us. It’s hard to stop ourselves in the middle of a negative thought about something or someone, including ourselves.
When we are able to let go of judgements, we’re better able to take chances, and make mistakes. It can also open up possibilities that we may have been closed to before. Like using your front lawn to start a vegetable garden.
It’s okay if others have judgements if we can have compassion about our own. We can’t help what others think, feel or say, but we have control over what we think, and say. If we can’t grow, how can we expect our plants to grow?
2. Be patient
Patience is a big one. Whether you’re new to gardening, or have been doing it for years, growing stuff takes time. The idea of instant results, or having things “social media ready” can mean we miss out on all the things that are happening in the moment.
We might not have a harvest ready to go, but have you seen the flowers that those bees have been pollinating? Take the time to soak in all the things that are happening everyday. Gardening is a true marvel when you stop and think about how big these plants get in such a short time span.
Please weed your gardens! Your plants will thrive if they are not competing for nutrients from weeds. While some varieties of weeds (like purslane) might be helpful in covering the ground and keeping moisture in, most are not. Weeds can choke your plants out, and make for an unhealthy growing environment.
If you have a compost pile, you can put them in there to break down and help build the nutrients back into your soil.
Weeding can also serve to be a meditative activity, which can free up your mind, and help you take a break from electronics.
4. Get comfortable with feeling silly
Gardening is all about embracing new experiences. You might feel silly wearing a pair of rainboots, or an oversized coat that isn’t up with the latest fashions. Or maybe you’ve ventured into front yard vegetable gardening, and are afraid you will look silly out there and attract the attention of your neighbours.
Being able to embrace that silly feeling will help you overcome feeling self-conscious. Wearing rubber boots in the rain or mud is a practical approach to keeping warm and dry. So is wearing an old coat that can get dirty, or torn. Part of becoming a better gardener is letting go of what other people might think, and diving into what works.
Front yard vegetable gardens are great. They definitely might attract questions from your neighbours, but that doesn’t mean they will be negative questions or comments.
People are curious, and being brave enough to show your enthusiasm will attract others who share in your interests. You may even have neighbours who join in with their own front yard gardens, or who take your example and are out in their boots too.
5. Limit devices and technology
Technology is a really helpful tool across all sorts of hobbies and industries. Its okay to use technology for a digital rain gauge, or a cell phone to take a picture of your plants. Try to limit the amount of cell phone and personal devices you use in the garden.
Being a better gardener means being present for what is actively happening in your garden. Spending time observing your plants instead of trying to perfect the right social media post takes away from the things our gardens are trying to share with us.
A garden wants to be your sanctuary away from devices. Dedicate an hour to not looking at a device while out in your garden. Nature will reward you for your efforts.
From a very practical standpoint, your plants need to be watered. Whether you use a garden hose, or have a rain barrel, watering is an important step in caring for your garden.
Watering plants at their roots is best. This will help keep their leaves dry, and limit moisture feeding viruses or bacteria. Watering is best done early in the morning, or late afternoon evening.
Avoiding the height of the sun, especially on clear hot days is better for the plants. They are more likely to absorb the water, and less likely to become sunburnt from sun magnification through water droplets.
7. Keep a Journal
Journalling is a great way to keep track of what’s happening day to day. When it comes to gardening a journal is a great place to keep track of weather, plant growth, and garden milestones. Its also a great place to note any interesting happenings, as well as your own thoughts and emotions as you observe your garden.
The entries do not have to be anything long. Something short and simple. Note the temperature of the day, if it rained, or was sunny. Note if any plants had issues, or if you found a pest lurking among your plants.
You can also record when something interesting or exciting happens. maybe a bird made a nest in a tree, or your cabbage grew 6″ overnight. There is constantly so much change happening in a garden at any given moment. You can keep a quick note on your personal life in there too if it feels notable.
Bullet journals might be a great option for this kind of tracking.
8. Be curious
Curiosity is a wonderful thing. Being curious means asking lots of questions, and being open to wondering without ever finding answers.
Being able to ask questions and get curious can lead you to learn all sorts of new things. It can also help to ask a question instead of pass a judgement. If you are feeling a judgement of yourself for not getting things just perfect. Ask yourself, “why did that happen” instead of “this should have been the result”.
Curiosity leads to wonder, and creativity. If we take the time to be curious, we are helping ourselves learn how to respond when things don’t go as expected. Gardening rarely goes just as expected. Nature has many variables, and we are just one part of that machine. Be curious, and then journal your findings.
9. Be mindful
Mindfulness is a way of purposefully engaging in the present. Mindfulness is often associated with meditation. But it can also be applied to everyday life. Being mindful in how you water your plants, or prune their leaves is an act of intentional care.
This practice is not only great for our wellbeing, but it can also help us exercise patience, and openness. If we are mindful in our gardening, we are open to being curious, and asking questions, which help us learn.
Listening can include multi-sense listening, not just what we hear. Listen to the weather, to the wind, sun, insects, and birds. Listening to nature, and observing your surroundings will help you become more intuitive. If a group of birds suddenly take cover in the trees, what is happening? is there a large animal around, or is a storm about to hit?
These small cues can make a big differences to the choices we make as gardeners. If a storm is about to hit, I don’t need to water, but maybe I should cover, or stake a more vulnerable plant.
11. Manage expectations
Managing expectations can go a long way to improving our experience in the garden. This goes along with not judging. If I expect my tomato plant to produce 20lbs of tomatoes, but I only get 10lbs, I might feel disappointed.
If I expect one thing, and get another, that might lead me to self judge what I did wrong. Making plans is very helpful. Especially for plotting out where you want to plant things, and keeping on a watering schedule.
However, planning for the unexpected is also a valuable skill to include in your toolkit. We won’t always know what to expect, and if we can adapt and change to what is happening; we can better care for our plants and ourselves.
12. Be present
Actively listening, and being mindful both require being present. Taking time to reflect, and use your garden as a refuge from the outside world. Being present is taking the time to appreciate all the small (and big) changes that are happening on a continuous basis. Keep track of the things you want to remember in your journal.
Find a comfortable chair, and sit in the centre of your garden. Enjoy all the sights and sounds and feelings it has to offer.
13. Embrace mistakes
Mistakes are the absolute best way to learn. Its not always possible to use mistakes for learning, but in the garden this is the place to embrace mistakes. By observing, and documenting what has been happening in your garden you will be better equipped to learn from what worked and what didn’t.
Some mistakes will be evident right away. Like accidentally killing a plant by over watering it. Or using the wrong kind of fertilizer, and burning your plants. While it might seem catastrophic in the moment, unless you are farming, or growing for a steady income or personal food supply. These types of mistakes are part of the learning process.
14. Learn from your mistakes
Once you’ve embraced your mistakes, its time to learn from them. If we don’t make mistakes its harder to know what is right, or best for our gardens. We can read books, listen to podcast, or call an expert. But unless we try things out, we’ll never really know what will work best for our own gardens and situations.
Definitely somethings you can learn ahead of time. But the things you discover yourself will be most memorable. Especially if you’ve been keeping a journal. You’ll be able to go back and read what happened, and find out more details for things that took longer to become known.
15. Be generous
Be generous with yourself, your time, and others. If you are new to gardening, this is a time where you will benefit from the time of other more experienced gardeners. Read their experiences, or join a garden group and talk in person.
Once you learn something, pass the knowledge on to someone else who is seeking information. Gardening is a wonderful community building activity. It can be as solitary as you would like it to be. But it has great capacity to connect with others.
If you did jump boots first into that front yard vegetable garden, share your knowledge with your curious neighbours. If people show an interest, perhaps carve out an area you are willing to share with others. You can open it up to allow others to garden alongside you. Or you can offer produce to those passing by.
If you have kids, or neighbourhood kids, get them involved where they show interest. Passing on growing skills to the next generation benefits us all.
16. Set goals
Goal setting is a tricky one. I say this because its not about setting a tangible goal of harvesting 20lbs of tomatoes. But more about setting intangible goals like growing 4 varieties of lettuce. Or trying straw bale gardening for the first time. Growing carrots in containers. These are all goals to help further the things you want to learn and experience.
We can’t control the outcome of much when we garden. So setting goals for the things we want to achieve is more realistic, and achievable.
An achievable goal would be journalling 3 times a week the entire growing season.
17. Celebrate milestones
Gardening is rewarding in many ways. It connects us with nature, and allows us to be present in our actions. When something exciting happens, its worth celebrating. Celebrate the harvest of your first tomato, or the installation of a green living roof.
Garden celebrations will be unique to you, your garden, and the plants you share it with. You could have an end of season harvest celebration with friends and neighbours. This is a way to continue community building, and connect with others.
You are putting in a lot of hard work to keep your garden healthy and growing. That on its own is worth celebrating. So grab a chair, make a cool drink, and enjoy the fruit of your labour.
18. Be thoughtful
Dedicate time to reflect on your personal growth, and the growth of your garden and hard work. Taking the time to reflect and be thoughtful is an exercise in mindfulness.
It can also feel really nice to take a moment to soak in your accomplishments. After spending the day working soil to sow seeds, take a step back and revel in your hard work. After an hour of weeding in the evening after work, take a moment to enjoy the results.
Grab a book, and rest in the sanctuary you have created for yourself, and the wildlife around you.
19. Be consistent
Consistency is really important to keeping a garden healthy and happy. Plants need water, and general maintenance care to thrive in our sometimes crowded spaces.
Consistently watering, weeding, and monitoring for pests and insects will help your plants grow and flourish.
Having a habitual activity is also beneficial for you too. It can give something to look forward to, and provide opportunities to practice mindfulness. This can result in a peaceful sanctuary away from the hustle and bustle of daily life.
On a practical level – compost! Its so good for your plants to receive nutrients from a rich well cared for compost. If you are not able to keep compost in your garden because of racoons or other animals, try and use a local composting program.
Some municipalities offer composting programs that you can give your food scraps to, and they will be recycled back into the city gardens.
Throughout the season, certain plants will benefit from being topped off with a bit of compost. Composting is good for the environment. It keeps food waste out of landfills, and contributes back into the growing cycle.
21. Look to nature for guidance
nature is a powerful guide. We can learn so much just by observing nature. Use it as a tool to guide your decision making. If you see that storm coming on the horizon, pay attention to the animals. They will give you an indication of how severe it will be.
Keep your journal handy, and keep track of the insects you find on your plants. Trust your instincts, and if you get unexpected results, be curious about them. Look to nature for your answers.
Gardening is such a vast subject area, it is impossible for anyone to be an expert. Some people may be more experienced in one area, and not in others, but no one will have all the answers.
The garden is a place to grow, explore, and learn. I hope you find as much joy in the garden as I do.
Please let me know your thoughts about becoming a better gardener in the comments below, or tag me on instagram @veggie_homestead.