How to start a garden
There are a lot of benefits that you can reap from having plants at home. Plants can provide clean and fresh air, like how snake plants (Sansevieria) can remove toxic pollutants in the air; attractive flowers and foliage can add color and brighten up your space; indoor vegetable garden can add fresh produce to your cupboards; and tending to plants can alleviate stress as a refreshing hobby.
indoor vegetable garden
Image source: diyparty99.com
As always, we want your journey to be as seamless as possible, so this article will summarize all the basics in gardening that you need to know! Whether you want your garden at home to be a small patch of land on your lawn or just having a few potted plants indoors, you must know these gardening essentials to learn how to plant seeds and grow them into beautiful plants:
Gardening Essentials – Things you’ll need to start a garden:
- Proper location for your garden
You can’t just start a garden without having the right site for it. You need to have a good location where your plant can get the proper amount of sun and air but not too exposed to any harsh weather, especially if the plant is sensitive to water or sunlight. For beginners, it’s easier to carry out both seed-starting and growing plants indoors, but some plants thrive better when planted outdoors.
To pick which room in your home works best for housing plants, you need to consider the following: amount and direction of sunlight, air, and temperature.
A great place to situate your plants would be a room that gets a proper amount of light throughout the day and where air can freely circulate. Most houseplants thrive with a steady amount of indirect light and would do well at a plant shelf, on your kitchen counter, or your central table. However, some plants need direct light exposure, so place these near a window or right at the windowsill, where light can directly shine on them. For room temperature, it’s best to research about your plant first. Most houseplants require a temperature of around 65-75°F, but some require colder or warmer temperatures.
Starting a garden outdoors requires more planning compared to growing plants indoors. You’ll need to consider the following: grass or weed removal, your lawn’s or garden beds’ soil properties (pH, nutrients, type), pests, and plant shelter.
For an outdoor site, it’s best to choose a spot in your front lawn or backyard where you can easily see and monitor your plants, especially if you’re a beginner. It’s very easy to forget something that’s not familiar to your daily routine. Furthermore, make sure it’s at a convenient place where you can easily transport your plants under a roof or where you can build a shed near it, in case of bad weather.
After picking a spot, you should plan for weed or grass removal in that certain area. You can’t plant in a place overgrown with weeds; these can destroy your plant or garden bed by stealing space and nutrition from your plants. You can remove grass by using different methods such as solarization, sheet mulching, or manual removal.
Next to consider is whether your soil is suitable for plant growth. If not, this can be solved by sheet mulching, too, or composting. Lastly, you have to consider if there are pests around your area and if your plant can withstand the outdoor environment. As a precaution, buy insecticides, build a fence, and make sure you have a place where you can transfer your plants if ever you need to shelter them from harsh weather.
- Proper seed to plant
You can’t just pick whichever seed you want to grow and hope for the best if you want your gardening efforts to succeed. Especially if you’re a beginner who doesn’t know how to troubleshoot yet, you have to choose the right seed to plant based on multiple factors.
Plant hardiness and your location’s hardiness zone
Pick a plant that would thrive in your location. If you live in an area in Zone 8a or 8b, then you have to choose a plant that has a hardiness of 8; meaning, this plant will grow well and can withstand the minimum temperature in your area. So, if your seed packet show that the plant is “hardy to zone 7” but you live in Zone 10, then this plant may not thrive well in your area (unless you create a microclimate for it).
Schedule and frost dates
Scheduling is essential in gardening, especially with crops that need to grow outdoors. Follow the instructions in the seed packet (if any), or look for plants that are scheduled to be planted around the time you’re planning to start a garden. You can check this Planting Calendar by the Old Farmer’s Almanac or use your search engine to determine what plants grow best in the current month in your country.
Indoor or outdoor gardening
Some seeds thrive better when started indoors, while some thrive better if sown directly into soil outdoors. Usually, it’s based on whether the plant can handle having their roots disturbed, so it’s best to let the seeds germinate in a place where you plan to let them grow.
- Which seeds are better to start indoors?
- plants that can be easily transplanted or can tolerate having their roots disturbed: broccoli, lettuce, cabbage, eggplant, watermelons, etc.
- plants that are sensitive to cold temperatures: tomatoes, peppers, etc.
- plants that are sensitive to hot temperatures: lettuce, cabbage, etc.
- Which seeds are better to start outdoors?
- plants that resist transplanting or cannot handle having their roots disturbed: carrots, beets, radishes, etc.
- plants that need long exposure to sunlight such as poppies
When choosing plants to grow indoors, it’s best to pick in terms of light requirement. If your house rarely gets light in, then choose a plant that can survive in low to medium light, such as Sansevieria (snake plant) and golden pothos, among many others. Pay attention to which direction your windows are facing if you plan to grow a plant that requires a good amount of light.
- south-facing windows – strongest light intensity; get a lot of direct sunlight during the day; best suited for sun-loving plants that require direct light exposure during the day
- west-facing windows – strong light intensity; get a lot of direct sunlight during the afternoon and evening; best suited for sun-loving plants or ones that only require medium light
- east-facing windows – moderate sunlight intensity in the mornings; best suited for plants that need moderate light only
- north-facing windows – weakest light intensity; best suited for plants that can survive with low to medium light
If you’ve decided to plant outdoors, make sure to take into account the pH and nutrient levels of your soil. A lot of plants can tolerate a wide range of soil pH levels, but try to pick a plant that has a pH requirement near your soil’s pH for optimal growth. For indoor gardening, this is easy to solve since you can just fill your pot with the most appropriate soil or growing medium. Nutrients in the soil can be easily adjusted through using fertilizers and compost, as discussed before.
- Basic gardening tools
Seeing the long aisles of gardening tools when you visit the home improvement or gardening section in your local store can be overwhelming. And when you’re overwhelmed, it’s easy to over-spend, thinking that you might need every tool that you came across with. So here, we offer you a short list of the essential tools to help you with your to-buy-list:
- Proper container
What type of pot should I use for seed-starting?
Basically, you can use any container to start seeds as long as it has the proper depth and drainage holes. Self-watering seed-starting system kits are the most convenient ones, but here are some containers that you can also use:
- DIY seed-starting containers
- Make sure that it’s at least 2-3″ deep, has drainage holes, and is convenient for you to use.
- Also, if you plan to put it on a windowsill, make sure that it can fit there without overcrowding.
- If you’re planning to use grow lights, make sure to check if your grow lights can cover the whole area of the container.
DIY Self-Watering Seed Starter Pots
Image source: Seattle Sundries
- Seed flats or trays
- Flats or trays do not offer individual pockets. These are single flat containers that can house many seeds.
- Best-suited for small seeds that do not have robust growth, do not have deep or big root systems, and can be easily transplanted.
Image sources: Grow Organic
- Plug trays
- These have individual pockets for each seed; there are different sizes of plugs for different sizes of seeds.
- Allows seeds to grow without root disturbance from neighboring seeds.
- Offers a much easier transplanting process because the seedlings grown can be transferred easily from its pocket to a new pot or garden bed.
self-watering seed starting kit
Image source: Gardener’s Supply Company
- Proper soil or growing media
What type of soil should I use for seed-starting?
Seeds must be sown in a sterile seed-starting mix in order to avoid soil-borne diseases that can come from the usual garden soil from your lawn. It is also important that your seed starting mix is lightweight (drains well) and can retain water.
You can also use potting soil if seed-starting mixes are not available, but the latter usually ensures that more seeds will germinate because some seeds only become viable in a sterile medium.
Although ‘seed starting mixes’ and ‘potting soils’ are used interchangeably, the two actually have different characteristics.
seed-starting mix vs. potting soil
|Seed starter mix/soil||Regular potting soil|
|usually sterilized||not sterilized|
|lightweight: made up of finer particles; drains well||made up of coarser and larger particles; does not drain well|
|nutrient-poor; with just enough nutrients to allow seed germination/seed-starting||nutrient-rich; may contain manure or compost which is not suitable for seeds|
seed starting potting mix
Image source: Miracle-Gro
What is a soilless growing medium?
Most people who carry out their gardening indoors usually prefer soilless seed starting or potting mix. This is because the soil may carry pests or pathogenic bacteria or fungi and does not drain well—these can promote root rot and bring disaster in our homes. Soilless mixes are made up of organic and inorganic materials that are good sources of nutrients for your plants. Some examples are peat moss, perlite, sand, and coconut coir.
sphagnum peat moss
Image sources: Miracle-Gro
- Grow lights
Do seeds need light to germinate? If yes, will light from my window be enough?
Most people confuse the light requirement of seeds and seedlings. For seeds, some require light to germinate (e.g., Begonia, Coleus), some are inhibited by light (e.g., Allium) and most can germinate well with/out light. On the other hand, all seedlings or sprouting seeds require light to proceed with optimal germination and seedling development, which is why light is an essential factor to produce healthy seedlings.
Using grow lights on your developing seedlings instead of relying on just your windowsill is a much better approach. Yes, seeds will sprout if you leave them on the windowsill, but when it’s spring or winter, the light won’t be as intense as the light during summer. Seedlings will reach for the sun and prioritize elongating their stems, resulting in long weak stems with fewer leaves. For sun-loving plants, short light exposure will just end in a disaster.
There are different types of grow lights, such as LED lights, fluorescent lights, fluorescent bulbs, and many more. There are other stylish grow lights as well, and these will fit in your home perfectly.
Image source: House Beautiful
If your seedlings aren’t developing fast enough or your plant is showing discolorations in its foliage, then you might need to ramp up the nutrients in your soil or growing medium. It’s best to buy water-soluble all-purpose fertilizers so you can use it on all types of plants, such as vegetables, fruits, houseplants, trees, etc.
However, some fertilizers are made specifically for a certain type of plant or for a certain stage of plant growth, such as high-phosphorus fertilizers (a.k.a. “fruit tree fertilizers”) to boost a plant’s fruit production and a water-soluble fertilizer for seedlings. So, if you want to utilize fertilizers properly, it will be best to know the changes in the nutrient requirement of a plant based on its stage of growth.
Image sources: Dr. Earth
- Gardening gloves
Gardening gloves may pop up last in your mind, but this is actually one of the most commonly used tools. Whether it’s to check the dampness of the soil or transplant seedlings, it’s best to keep your hands clean and soil-free. Buy gloves according to the type of work you’ll be doing. Buy leather palmed gloves if you’re going to deal with thorny plants. But if you’re only dealing with small houseplants or vegetables, buy lightweight gloves instead.
- Hand trowel or round head shovel
If you’re only gardening indoors, a hand trowel will be sufficient. This tool is essential for transplanting, digging up soil, mixing fertilizers, etc. But if you’re tending to an outdoor garden, you’ll need to buy a round head shovel, too. This tool can double as a spade or garden hoe, allowing you to dig up dirt, dig large holes, and transplant soil.
Image sources: Gardener’s World
- Pruning shears and loppers
This hand-held cutting tool is a must-have for both indoor and outdoor gardening. You can use it to harvest delicate herbs or to trim branches from your overgrown plant. However, if you’re dealing with larger plants and thicker branches, you might need to purchase loppers, which is a long-handled pruner.
It’s important to have sharp gardening tools rather than using usual knives or scissors; dull blades may injure your plant and lead to further damage.
Image sources: Everything Backyard (L)
- Spray bottle, watering can, or garden hose
Seedlings and water-sensitive plants cannot handle too much water, so it’s best to just mist them rather than pouring water into the soil. If you’re dealing with potted mature plants that need frequent watering, then watering cans are the best for you. However, if you’re dealing with shrubs, trees, huge garden beds, then a garden hose should be your top pick.
If you’re gardening indoors, you won’t need these items. But if you have a garden in your front or back lawn, then these rakes are must-haves. You can use a rake to remove leaves, debris, and other unwanted stuff from your garden, or to spread compost and soil.
Image source: Good Housekeeping
Planting Seeds 101: How to grow seeds into plants
Now that you know the essential gardening facts and tools, it’s time to know how to proceed with the actual sowing, from seed-starting up to hardening-off.
Sprouting or germinating seeds (seed-starting)
- Start with a clean and proper container or seed-starting kits. Check if your container has drainage holes and is at least 2-3 inches deep.
- Fill the container with a sterile seed-starting potting mix or soilless seed starter mix. Do not use regular garden soil or potting mix; these two drains poorly and usually have too much nutrients or harbor soil-borne diseases.
- Dig shallow holes with your fingers (wear gloves!) or a pencil to spots where you’ll plant each seed. Make sure that the holes are the proper depth for your seed.
- Plant your seeds at a proper depth. Sieving a little bit of your starting mix over the holes, and then cover the seeds by gently skimming your hand over the surface.
How deeply do I plant seeds?
- Seed packets usually have information about the proper planting depth; follow it accordingly.
- The general rule of thumb is to sow seeds at a depth twice or thrice of the seed’s thickness.
- Some seeds strictly require light to germinate, such as lettuce, and it’s best to let the seed rest on the soil’s surface instead—this is why it’s important to read the seed packet’s instructions.
- Water your seeds properly. Always keep the soil moist, but not soaked through.
- Always use slightly warm or room-temperature water.
- Bottom watering is preferable for seeds that are not sowed at the surface, allowing only the roots to take up the right amount of water, keeping the top layer from getting too drenched.
- Seeds sown on the soil’s layer should only be watered via misting.
- If your seeds need warmth and you want your soil to hold moisture longer, use plastic domes or plastic covers to retain both warmth and moisture.
plug tray with a plastic dome cover
Image source: The Culinary Herb Garden Team
How often do I water seeds/seedlings?
- For self-watering kits or setups, check the reservoir. If the water is almost gone, fill it up again.
- For normal trays, check the soil periodically (around 2-3 times a day if the weather is hot) if it’s still moist. If not, mist over the whole tray until it’s thoroughly soaked. Alternatively, you can also soak the underside of the tray in water, letting the water travel through the drainage holes, and wait for the surface to get moist.
- Keep it at the right temperature.
- If the seed’s optimal germination temperature is on the warm side, use waterproof heating mats designed for seed starting, or place your tray at a place that is constantly warm.
- Alternatively, you can also use grow lights, which can provide both warmth and light.
- Fertilize your seedlings. Once you see the first few leaves of your seedlings growing, it’s a sign to start fertilizing your seedlings.
- When the seedlings are 1-2 inches tall, fertilize them using half-strength water-soluble fertilizers weekly. Spray it gently to avoid disturbance.
- After 3-4 times of weekly feeding the seedlings with half-strength fertilizers, switch to full-strength ones and limit feeding to every other week.
- Let the seedlings breathe. Germinating seeds are respiring so it’s important there is circulating air in the room. Open the windows to allow a gentle breeze in, or turn on a fan nearby to let the air circulate in the room.
- Give the seedlings the proper amount of light. Do not get confused: a germinating seed and a seedling are two very different things. Some seeds do not need light to germinate, but all seedlings require light.
- Once you see sprouts coming out of the moist soil, you will need to provide proper light exposure to aid in seedling development.
- Seedlings need roughly 14-16 hours of uninterrupted direct light every day, which is why grow lights are essential for optimum growth of seedlings.
- Keep grow lights around 6” above the seedlings. Too far and the seedlings will chase the light source, resulting in tall, thin, and weak seedlings.
basil sprouts with their first pair of leaves (L) and a basil seedling with true sets of leaves (R)
Image source: The Culinary Herb Garden Team
- Let the seedlings have space. You may have to thin your seedlings if it starts to get overcrowded, especially if you’re using a tray with no pockets.
- To do this, single out the weak-looking seedlings and snip them off right at the soil line. If there are no weak seedlings, just let the strongest ones stay in the tray and remove the rest.
- Always use sharp cutting tools such as small pruning shears; do not use dull blades since it can make it hard for you to snip seedlings and risk nearby ones to get snipped, too.
- Harden off seedlings before transplanting or repotting outdoors. Never expose your seedlings to a new environment without acclimatizing them first. Seedlings need to get used to the new environment slowly, and this is a process called “hardening-off” seedlings.
When do I know if it’s time to transplant my seedlings?
- When your seedlings get too crowded even after thinning, or when they outgrow their trays or pots, then it’s time to transfer them to a new pot or garden bed.
- To be sure, remove one seedling from its pocket or tray, and check if the roots are taking up all the space underneath it.
overgrown basil with its roots growing out of the drainage hole
Image source: The Culinary Herb Garden Team
How do I harden-off seedlings?
- For 14 days, slowly expose your plant to outdoor conditions by simulating the harsher environment by less watering, less fertilizing, and placing them in a roofed area instead of inside a room.
- Do not put a 3-day interval in between watering if your seedlings are used to being watered every day. Slowly stretch the intervals in between watering schedules (e.g., once a day to every 36 hours, once every other day to once every 3 days, and so on).
- Stop fertilizing your seedlings three days prior the hardening process. Resume fertilizing only after transplanting or repotting.
Easy plants for beginners
There are seeds and plants that are very easy to grow, whether it’s in the comfort of your own home or on your lawn. Plants that are easy to take care of are either fast growers or easy to germinate, drought-resistant, do not require special nutrients, or can withstand cold or hot temperatures.
Seeds that are easy to start indoors:
- Marigolds (Tagetes)
- Seeding marigolds is easy since these seeds do not need light to germinate! You can just place your seed-starting tray next to a warm spot and let the seeds germinate for around 2-3 days (keep the soil moist!).
- Once the true leaves grow, you can now repot the seedlings and let it grow further indoors just until the last frost passes.
- Marigolds can withstand full and direct sunlight and can grow in both dry and moist soil.
- Potted marigolds need daily watering. Transplanted marigolds in your lawn only need to be watered once every week or every two weeks, when the weather has been too dry.
Image source: nurserylive.com
- Among herbs, basil is one of the easiest one to grow indoors. Its seeds sprout quickly, and you can already harvest it as early as 3-4 weeks after starting the seeds!
- All you need to do is to sow the seeds according to the packet, keep the moisture in by covering the seeding tray with a plastic cover, and let the seeds germinate at a warm spot in your home.
- Sprouts will grow after 3-5 days, and this is when the covering of the tray should be removed.
- You only need to water the seedlings around twice a week and place the herb near your window or at the windowsill to get six hours of sunlight (or you can use grow lights).
- When seedlings reach 1-2 inches in height, they are deemed ready to be transferred to a bigger container.
Image source: The Culinary Herb Garden Team
- Tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum L.)
- With just following the instructions at the seed packet, your tomato seedlings will be ready for transplant in about a month!
- It’s best to use soilless seed-starting potting mix for tomato seeds; keep it moist throughout the germination process and make sure to place the tray at a sunny window.
- Just cover the seeding containers with plastic too keep the warmth in the soil throughout the night.
- Once the seedlings start to emerge, remove the plastic cover, and let the seedlings get enough light.
- Once your seedlings reach a height of 1-2 inches, they’re all ready to be transplanted! Fertilizing can start after transplanting and should be kept up twice a month for a bountiful harvest. Start your indoor vegetable garden with these easy steps!
Image source: Balcony Garden Web
Plants that are easy to grow indoors:
- Snake plants are famous indoor plants that are well-known for being drought-resistant and can survive in moderate to low light conditions.
- There are a lot of different varieties and species of snake plants, ranging from ones that have golden foliage arranged in rosettes to ones that have deep green foliage rising like spikes.
- Here, we offer you a guideline on how to care for snake plants, along with a list of the most attractive varieties that you can add in your home.
Image source: @succsandpups on Instagram
- Spider plant (Chlorophytum)
- Like snake plants, spider plants can also survive in moderate to low light settings.
- Spider plants have rhizomes that store water, so it can tolerate drought, but not as much as snake plants.
- You only need to water this plant when the top two inches of the soil gets dry, which can range from every week or every two weeks, depending on the temperature and weather.
- Like peace lilies, some species of spider plants can be grown in water only!
Image source: The Spruce
- Peace lily
- Peace lilies are also famous houseplants because you can grow it in soil or water alone. These plants thrive in indoor temperatures and can also survive in moderate to low light (and fluorescent lights!).
- Its tolerance to low light settings is amazing enough that it can survive in rooms with no windows at all.
- When planted in soil, all you need to do is water it whenever you notice the plant drooping slightly. When grown in water, just make sure the roots are submerged in water, and that the base of the plant is kept off water by stones or a divider to avoid rot.
- You only need to fertilize this plant every six weeks!
Image source: proflowers.com
Low maintenance outdoor plants:
- Shrubs are probably one of our most favorite plants to grow outdoors. It can offer food and shelter to birds, seasonal beauty with their bloom, improved air quality, shade against the scorching sun, and protection against gusts of cold winds during winter.
- Although shrubs require regular watering during summer or droughts, it is hardy and can fend for itself during calm weather.
- Here, we offer you a guideline on how to care for dwarf shrubs, along with a short list of our favorite types of shrubs.
Image source: Crocus
- Air plants (Tillandsia spp.)
- Even without the presence of soil, you can grow plants without any fuss! Air plants can be put in a bowl or vase filled with rocks or sand, and you can also tie them to a hanging décor for a more stylish look!
- All you need to do is to soak the air plant once a week in rainwater or bottled water for a few hours, and then it’s good to go. Put them back in a sunny nook to dry for a few hours, and then hang anywhere as usual.
- Species like T. xerographica can go longer than one week without a soak.
- Add fertilizer only once a month during their weekly soak.
- Air plants can thrive in fluctuating temperatures, so you can put them anywhere and not worry about heaters.
Image source: Beach Paradise Air Plants
- Catmint (Nepeta faassenii)
- This non-culinary mint variety is a must-have perennial. It is heat- and drought-tolerant, repels deer and rabbits, and can give you beautiful purple-blue flowers and gray-green foliage.
- Catmint is a sun-loving plant, but it can also survive in moderate light.
- You only need to water new plants or transplants; once the transplants have established, you no longer need to water them!
Image source: Great Garden Plants
Expanding your garden
If you’ve fallen in love with gardening as a hobby, or you want to pursue gardening as a business (or both), then it might be a good idea to expand your garden. You can do so by building sheds, nurseries, greenhouses, and other buildings that can help you house more plants.
To ensure the success of your expansion efforts, we’re here to suggest these tools that will help you transition seamlessly from a hobbyist to a small-, medium-, or large-scale gardener.
When we think about gardening, four things immediately come into mind: water, soil, wood, and plant. To ensure that your shed, plant bed, or nursery do not easily allow fungus growth, it should be made up of marine grade plywood. This plywood does not delaminate, held together by waterproof glue, and can withstand high temperatures and moist environments. And if you deliver or transport your plants to various locations, you might want to check out these fuel transfer tanks that can be a water reservoir to keep your plants from wilting.
To help you streamline your woodworking and shed-building efforts, you can use these wide belt sanders to provide your sheds or plant beds with top-tier wood materials, and these plasma cutters that can easily cut steel, aluminum, brass, copper, and other conductive materials.
And if you’re already an established gardener with a booming plant business, you might want to check out these MIG welders, which can handle a wide range of type and thickness of metals, and these engine-driven welders, which are portable and can run even without plugging into an external power source.