Occasionally a new homeowner decides to try their hand at gardening.  Anyone who has never had a garden might feel overwhelmed at all the information that new gardeners need to know, so my very first tip is to just chill out, relax, and take your time.  The landscaping process is not one that happens quickly and do not expect it to happen with no errors.  Soil, landscaping, and choice of plants are all vital the a great gardening experience.

One of the primary requirements of a good garden is the soil.  All new gardens should begin with a soil test so you have some idea of just what type of soil you are dealing with.  This test will tell you what type of soil that you have (clay soil, sandy soil, or loam soil), what nutrients your soil is lacking, and any other problems with the soil itself.

Loam soil is the best, which means, that few gardeners will have this type.  You can improve clay and sandy soil by incorporating organic material.  Organics that you can use to improve the soil include compost, shredded leaves, and grass clippings.  You cannot over amend with organic material.  If you somehow manage to do so, just wait a year and the organic material, will break down and disappear.  Clay soil often has drainage issues.  Adding organic material to the soil can help break up the clay and improve drainage.  Sandy soil is nutrient poor and drains very fast.  It has very little capacity to retain moisture.  Adding organic matter can help with water retention.

Poor drainage is another concern with many gardens.  A good way to combat poor drainage is to use raised beds.  The soil in raised beds will dry out faster than non-raised garden beds.  This means you can grow some things that would drown in poorly draining soil, such as Hosta, Iris, and Heuchera plants.

The zone that you are in will be one of the biggest factors in helping you to determine just what plants you can grow.  A gardener in zone 3 will not be able to grow zone 7 or warmer plants without a greenhouse or some other way to protect the plants.  You should always check the zone requirements on any plants that you purchase. 

Sun versus shade is another consideration when choosing plants to grow.  Some plants like a lot of sun while others prefer shady conditions.  You will not get the best showing from a sunny plant if you plant it in a wooded lot.  Some shade-loving plants include Astilbe, Azalea, and Ferns.

Fertilizer can be a complicated thing for a newcomer to gardening.  There are three main fertilizing agents and their initials are N-P-K.  Fertilizers always have these numbers on the bag and they mean nitrogen (written first), phosphorus (written second), and potassium (written third).  Each of these fertilizing agents does something different for a plant.  Nitrogen helps a plant gain enough energy to grow fast and large.  Nitrogen is important for foliage plants.  Phosphorus helps in the use and storing of energy.  Phosphorous also helps with blooming and root growth.  If you have a plant that does not flower as it should it may be getting either too much nitrogen or to little phosphorous.  Potassium helps with the plant immune system.  Gardeners sometimes bury banana peels beneath a plant to give it some extra potassium.

There are a few ways that you can prepare the garden for planting.  You can cultivate the soil by digging or tilling or you can try the no-dig method of gardening.  Tilling loosens the soil and you can incorporate organic material deep into the soil.  This makes it easy for plant roots to spread out and find water and nutrients.  No-till gardening or sheet composting is layering organic matter on top of the soil and letting it decay for a year prior to planting.  This is handy for people who do not like to dig or are physically incapable of digging.

It is better to plan your garden out before you get all excited and start buying plants.  Try to figure out where you want your paths and garden beds.  Once you know where those are going to go you can get the “bones” of the garden put into place.  Then you can start buying your plants.

Now that you know all about soil and zones, you can think about buying plants.  There are a few different types of plants.  Annuals are those flashy plants that stores often sell in six-packs.  They will grow fast, bloom for a season, and finally die off and not return next year.  These plants are great for a quick burst of color.  Perennials are plants that return year after year.  Perennials do not always have as long a bloom time as annuals but they have their uses.  Shrubs or bushes are woody plants that come back year after year.  Shrubs have a multi-trunk as opposed to trees, which have a single trunk.

Most plants have the same basic planting instructions.  You simply dig a hole (in a prepared bed), plunk the plant into the hole, cover, and water.  Make sure you do not plant the plant deeper than its pot was … or less deep.  Follow the planting and spacing instructions that come with your plant.  After your garden bed planted, you want to add some mulch.

Mulching is a great way to lessen the frequency of watering.  Mulch shades and keeps the soil cool. Soil that is not exposed to the drying effects of sun and wind do not need to be watered as often.  If you add mulch in the winter, it can protect plants that are on the edge of your zone.  As gardeners become more experienced they sometimes try to “push the envelope” when it comes to their planting zone.

I am sure there are many more tips that I could add in here, but I have to stop sometime and now is that time.  I wish you good luck with your garden and I hope your plants flourish.