Gardening for the non-gardener

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I think there is a certain element of intimidation in gardening. Or starting anything new really. So lets talk about gardening for the non-gardener.

Maybe you have zero interest in gardening, but you want to grow your own herbs, or small patch of vegetables to help you save money. Or this is your first foray into gardening, and you have no idea where to start.

How to get started

There are lots of ways to get started in gardening these days. There are tonnes of resources online. From blog posts to youtube channels, there is really no shortage of information.

The difficult part can be knowing what information you actually need to know, and how much is just noise.

If you’re a non-gardener, it can definitely seem intimidating. There are all these resources, but no real guide on where to start with them.

The key things you need to know to be successful in starting any new activity are;

  1. What do you want to get from it?
  2. How much time can you devote to it?

Know what you want

Once you narrow down what type of gardening you want to do, it will get easier really fast.

Gardening is such a huge topic to narrow down.

If you think about someone who plays the guitar, you wouldn’t automatically assume they know how to play an obo, or piano. Sure, they’re all musical instruments, but they are also so vastly different that its not practical to know how to play all of them. Unless of course you study, and teach music. And even then, not many people can play every instrument!

The same is true for gardening. Definitely many different areas of gardening share basic principles, just like music shares a common way to read notes. If you are only interested in growing succulents, then there are some great resources devoted to just that.

If you have no idea what you want to grow, but know you want to be able to eat fresh produce, we’ll get into that below.

The key to remember is that gardening is a skill building activity. Like anything that builds skills, it requires practice and experimenting to get comfortable.

The best way for a non-gardeners to start gardening is to START gardening.

It may seem obvious, but I think people fear failure way too often to give things a try. Its okay to fail. That’s how we learn. I remember my mistakes in life way more than I remember my first try successes. I personally don’t think there is any such thing as failure, but thats a whole other tangent.

All we can really do is give it our best shot. Use what works, and try again for things that don’t. Life is learning, and gardening is life, so there you go. Learning cycle complete.

Be realistic

Now that you are bravely going forward, its time to think about what is realistic for you in starting a new activity.

For gardening, you’ll need to know

  1. What type of climate you live in (tropical, temperate, arctic, etc)
  2. Where you can grow things (could be a balcony, patio, yard, etc.)
  3. How much sunlight does your growing spot get (partial sun = 4-6 hours direct sunlight. Full sun = 6-8 hours direct sunlight)

This is also where knowing how much time you can devote to gardening will help you plan out what is realistic for you.

If you have very little time, you’ll want to keep things really simple, and small. 1-2 plants kind of small. If you have more time, you might want to try experimenting with a few more plants. I recommend starting small either way if this is your first time being a plant guardian.

Start Small

It is very easy to get excited and get carried away in the garden centre. I’ve been there, especially during plant sales.

Plan before you go shopping

If you are growing on your balcony, you need to consider how much physical space you have available. If you have a yard, or other gardening spot available to you, consider what type of space you have for plants, and how much sunlight your space gets.

Full Sun = 6-8 hours of direct sunlight
Partial sun = 4-6 hours of direct sunlight

Drawing out your space is a very helpful way to plan for how big the plants will eventually become.

Once you know what space you plan to use, pick 3-4 plant varieties, and stick to them. You can scale up and plant a row of beans, or beets if you have a whole yard. But stick to only a few varieties until you get comfortable and know how to manage their needs and health.

A quick sketch with measurements that you can bring with you to the garden centre will help you select the right plants for your space. You can look at the tags on the plants to see their projected final mature growth size. Each variety is different, so this will be different depending on where you live and what you are growing.

A Tiny Tim tomato plant is very small compared to a Beefsteak tomato plant for example.

Here is a list of some really easy starter plants that are great for learning.

  • Tomatoes
  • Bush beans
  • Lettuce
  • Radishes
  • Beets
  • Ever-bearing Strawberries

There are lots of other types of vegetables that are great entry plants. Take a look at your local garden centre, and see what is available for your growing Zone.

Where you live, and your climate helps determine what plants will thrive and do well with your weather.

Starter plants or seeds?

It depends.

Some plants need to be started by seed, because they don’t transplant easy.

Transplant means the plant was started from seed in a pot, and needs to be moved to either a larger pot, or moved into the ground.

Tomatoes transplant well, but root vegetables like carrots or beets do not. They do better being sown directly into the ground (or container if growing on a balcony).

Peas and beans are very easy to start from seed. They also have a midrange growing season which makes them great for non-gardeners and beginners. The growing season refers to how long it takes for a plant to grow from seed to full maturity where you can harvest the produce.

Radishes are my number one recommendation for every non-gardener, beginner, and kids to grow. They have a very short growing cycle, and will grow from seed to full maturity in 20-25 days. You can very easily grow 4-5 cycles of radishes in one summer. Or more if you live closer to the equator and have a longer summer.

Radishes need to be started by seed because their growth cycle is so short, and they need space to form their bulbs.

Can I just start everything from seed?

You definitely can. For a non-gardener, or a beginner though I wouldn’t recommend it for your first time. You can learn how to start plants by seed here. It is fairly simple to do, but can feel overwhelming if you’ve never grown anything before. I would recommend waiting until next season when you have a better idea of what you liked growing.

If you pick 4-5 different varieties of vegetables to start with this season, you can try picking 2-3 that were pre-started in a greenhouse or garden centre, and try 1 or 2 vegetables from seed.

What plants should a non-gardener start from seed?

For a non-gardener, I recommend starting the following by seed;

Radish
Green or Yellow Bush beans
Beets
Carrots
Peas
Lettuce

For Herbs, I would recommend using pre-started plants for your first season.

I also recommend using tomatoes that have already been started. They will be stronger and larger when you get them, which will jump start the waiting period until you can harvest.

Strawberries can be tricky to start by seed, but if you can get a couple of shoots from a garden centre they will take off and put out a lot of new offshoots over the summer that will come back the following year.

Where to put your plants

As a non-gardener, Its going to be easiest to start your planting in containers, or a raised bed. Starting small with a few containers of herbs, and tomato planters on a patio or balcony is a great first step.

If you are really intent on going for the gusto, you will need to make sure you have good growing soil.

Sunlight is going to be the other large consideration as to where to put your plants. This will be especially key if you are on a balcony. It is most ideal for plants to be south facing. This doesn’t mean that you can’t grow anything if you are north facing. It will impact what type of plants you will have success with growing though.

Observe your balcony, or yard space, and watch where the sun moves. If you live in an apartment building watch out for shadows created by other buildings. If you are not sure what kind fo sun you have, you can use Sun Calc to help you determine where the sun moves. You just input your address and it maps where the sun is for you.

You will need to pay attention at the garden centre to the tags on the plants and read what they need. If the tag says the plant needs full sun, that means 6-8 hours of direct sunlight each day. Partial sun means that the plant needs 4-6 hours of direct sunlight (erring on the 6 hours side).

Some plants don’t like too much sun, so have a look around. Most vegetables will prefer full sun. But you can plant things like carrots, or peas that will do okay with less sunlight.

Non-gardener next steps

Okay, you know what you want to grow, where you’ll grow it, and have your sketched plan for the garden centre. You’re ready to check out gardening basics to get you started to learn more.

I would love to hear how you get on, and what plants you decided to grow for your first season. Please leave a comment below, or tag me on instagram @veggie_homestead with your first plants!

Happy Growing 🙂