So You Want to Garden...
But maybe this seems like an impossible task for you. Perhaps you are on a tight budget or you live in an apartment with no yard space to grow things in. You could also be like the many of us who want to interact with nature but think that every plant you touch dies. If that is the case, don't worry! Most of us who began the hobby started out this way. When I was younger I tried to take care of a tree sapling that promptly died weeks later. Before that, some seeds of mine never sprouted and I couldn't figure out why. When it comes to gardening, small mistakes like this can seem discouraging; after all, how hard is it to plop a seed into soil and feed it water from time to time? The idea that only people gifted with the mythical green thumb can garden is a misconception that keeps potentially great gardeners from ever starting this rewarding hobby in the first place. Gardening can be as easy or hard as your skill level demands; it can also be as cheap or expensive as you want it to be too. For now, I will cover the basics of just getting started on a low budget, for any sort of place or setting. For now know that you only need a seed, container, and some other basic supplies to begin.
1. Choosing a Seed
This can be the trickiest part for those just starting a garden for the first time. I once read a statistic stating that only a small percent of people between the ages of 18 and 30 actually commit to gardening as a hobby, while increased interest sparks in young people between 15 to 17 every year. I'm assuming this might be because they see something like an Oak tree they want to grow but after no success in getting the plant to sprout, they give up. This is mainly because some plants are harder to grow than others or they take a lot longer to germinate so the new gardener loses interest. When just starting out, there is nothing more encouraging than seeing the fruits of your love and labor sprout in a short period of time. This is why I would recommend some hardy annual plants (plants that grow and die within one year) like sunflowers and basil or fast growing perennials (plants that live longer than a year) like Aloe and Lavender. The best, most viable seeds (seeds with extremely high growth chance) for people just starting out can be found at most grocery stores and stores like Walmart during the month of May. Make sure you look at the back of the packet to see how much light and water the plant you want to grow needs and how to germinate it (set off the reaction that will let it sprout). A lot of plants will do just fine in a windowsill with minimum sunlight or regular indoor lighting. Within no time, seeds like this will grow and allow you to both test and observe different aspects of gardening. Before you plant a seed however, there is one thing you must do.
2. Choosing a Container
This is one of the first places many beginners think they need to spend a lot of money. With so many options and prices on pots out there, it can become confusing fast. Despite this, starting a potted garden is the easiest way to begin the hobby because you can turn almost anything into a container, allowing you full control of the plant's environment. The best part about a potted plant is that you can chose how much or little you want to spend on the container and they are very portable. Most of my primary containers I have paid nothing for. The general rule of thumb with the container you purchase and use is that it should have some holes on the bottom for drainage, and a capacity to contain soil. A good container for a seedling can be the bottom half of a water bottle with holes poked into the bottom for drainage.
Here is a container I set up one week ago using the bottom half of a water bottle with two basil seeds sprouting in it. The reason it is good to start your seedlings in a small container is so you can test to see if the seeds you have chosen will actually germinate. With this method, I will eventually have to transplant the seeds to a larger container, but most highly viable seeds can start off in something larger. I have used the bottom half of a one-gallon water jug as a large container with no issues whatsoever. The only time you really need to really consider spending money on the type of pot to use is if you are growing a strictly hanging plant or doing Bonsai: both of which are projects best pursued with a more experience.
3. Soil, Watering, and Food.
The last three big things to consider when planting your first seeds is what type of soil to use, how to water the plant, and how to feed them. Thankfully this is a lot easier to figure out today than it was years ago.
When buying a seed, the packet will most likely tell you what soil the plant lives best in. Most store-bought seed packets like Basil, Tomato's, flowers, Lavender, etc. grow wonderfully in basic potting soil. With most annuals, store-brand potting soil will have all the food and nutrients needed to keep your plants alive for the duration of their lives without the need of additional food. Normally a bag of soil will tell you what it is good at growing. Basic potting soil works for most plants, but be sure to check if a different soil is needed. People who get really into gardening create their own soils as well for what they wish to grow. Keep in mind when putting soil into a pot to always leave a few centimeters of space at the top, otherwise you risk overflow and mess.
Some plants will need to be fed every so often. This is a lot easier than it seems and most plant food is water soluble, allowing for you to add it to your watering can or spray bottle. Some plant food varieties can just be stuck inside the soil to be absorbed via the roots. Whichever method you chose, make sure not to use too much food. Plants absorb nutrients via osmosis, which means that if there is too much nutrient solution on the outside, the roots will become damaged. Be sure to also check that the food you are using is compatible with the plant. For most plants this will never be a problem, but some special plants can only absorb specific things properly.
This is what many people have told me is the hardest part about gardening. Often people either give a plant too much water, or too little. There are very easy ways to figure out which of the two you are doing wrong. If a plant is looking droopy and wilted, you most likely need to give it more water. Forget-Me-Not's and Sunflowers are a perfect plant to learn this with because when they need water, they droop all over the place and look like they are sleeping, but a few hours after being watered they will perk right up again. Too much watering can be trickier to figure out. Normally, you want the soil to be dark and moist but you don't want a giant pool of water forming at the top of the pot or coming out of the bottom. Making this mistake once or twice with a plant won’t kill it, but too often and you might cause the roots to rot or the soil nutrients to be drained.
As for what to use for watering, I personally keep a pressurized spray bottle that lets me adjust the nozzle on the end so I can either give my plants a good misting, or a heavy watering if need be. Watering cans are great too but ultimately a pressurized misting bottle with an adjustable nozzle works perfectly for almost every plant. I would suggest you at least have a spray bottle for giving seeds and seedlings a thorough misting, while having a watering can to give more mature plants a thorough watering. Just remember that your plants will need to be watered once a day, twice if they are starting to look dried out during the summer.
This is the final thing one needs to grow healthy and beautiful plants. Unlike many activities, gardening does not provide instant gratification. Instead, you see the product of your labor grow every day. The act of watering your plant or waking up to fresh seedlings will harvest a long term feeling of accomplishment. It is always important to see the lives of your plants through. I will leave off saying that a good way to think of your plants is like a pet cat or dog. As long as you take care of your plant and pay attention to it, it should remain healthy for as long as it was meant to live.