How to start a garden.


So many things can kill your seedlings — frost, sediment, nutrient-depleted soil. Here’s how to start a garden that will actually make it to your table, from gardening experts at Thumbtack

A complete to-do list for your new garden. 

Tip #1: Decide what kind of garden bed is best for your space. 

In most cases, where you plant your vegetable garden is more important than what you plant in it. Sun, water, soil — all of these things will affect your little garden’s chances in the long-run.

When in doubt, start small. A 50 x 100 inch raised garden bed is one of the most popular options for new gardeners. The raised frame protects your garden from pathway weeds, provides drainage and keeps out unwelcome guests like snails. 

Tip #2: Before buying materials, think about what you want to grow. 

What you decide to plant in your garden depends a lot on your priorities. Pretty flowers. Fresh vegetables. Salad greens. Herbs for your pantry. Anything, as long as it won’t immediately wilt and die. But it should also depend on what grows best in your area. The easiest way to figure that out is to ask your neighbors or visit your local gardening center. 

Ask about companion planting — the practice of planting compatible species together to save water and improve your soil. Some popular plant combos include garlic and roses, and cabbage and dill. If you’re coming up short in your search, start simple. Plants like spinach, lettuce, chard, radishes, sugar snaps and bush beans are great for novices. Not saying that you’re a novice. (But really, start with spinach.)

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Tip #3: Invest in good gardening tools and fix your soil.

Most vegetables do best in soil that’s well-drained and rich in organic matter. If the dirt you’re working with is nutrient light, consider mixing it with compost or peat moss — both of which are carbon-rich. If there’s clay or a high level of saturation in the ground you’re gardening, plan to use a raised garden bed or container garden filled with outside soil. 

Not sure what’s in your dirt? Soil testing kits are an easy and inexpensive way to learn what’s in the dirt below your yard. The best time to test your soil is in early spring before you begin planting or in the fall before you see frost. Once you know what’s missing (generally: nitrogen, phosphorus or potassium) you can work on blending those nutrients into the soil with additives from the garden center. Remember: Healthy soil, healthy plants. 

Tip #4: Prep your seeds. 

Most plants need to be prepped before going in the ground. You have two options: Either get prepped seedlings from the garden store or prep the contents of your seed packets at home in the weeks before you plant.

To do the prep work yourself, you’ll want to buy a pot for your young plants or create one yourself (egg crates and grapefruit rinds actually work pretty well). Use soil meant for sprouting seedlings and mix in liquid fertilizer for an added nutrient boost, then water often and make sure they have a ton of light.

Transfer the plants into your outdoor garden in phases — what gardeners call “hardening off.” Move the plants outside for a few hours each day, taking them inside at night. In the days before planting, leave them outside almost permanently to adjust to the climate.

How much does gardening cost? 

A gardener can tell you what to plant and help with the upkeep. From mowing and maintaining your lawn to specialty services like pruning bushes, trees, and plants, gardeners can handle a range of projects for your outdoor space. 

How much you pay for gardening and landscape services depends on your professional’s level of expertise and other factors including where you live and how complicated your gardening work is. Your gardener can also help you decide the best season for your landscaping projects and what kinds of plants will grow best in your yard and when to plant them.

For more on costs, see “How much does a gardener cost?” 

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Who to hire to help you start a garden. 

Depleted soil. Sediment. Root disease. A lot can go wrong when gardening. Hire a pro to help you chip away at the big stuff and give your seedlings a chance at life:

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