How to start a garden
There are a lot of benefits that you can reap from having plants at home. They 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 them 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 ones indoors, you must know these gardening essentials to learn how to plant seeds and grow them into beautiful decor:
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 the plant can get the proper amount of sun and air but not too exposed to any harsh weather, especially if it is sensitive to water or sunlight. For beginners, it’s easier to carry out both seed-starting and growing them indoors, but some thrive better when placed outdoors.
To pick which room in your home works best for housing them, you need to consider the following: amount and direction of sunlight, air, and temperature.
A great place to situate them would be a room that gets a proper amount of light throughout the day and where air can freely circulate. Most thrive with a steady amount of indirect light and would do well on a shelf, on your kitchen counter, or your central table. However, some need direct 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 the types 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 them 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 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 them, 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 them 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 them if ever you need to shelter them from harsh weather.
- Finding the right seed
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 based on multiple factors.
Hardiness and your location’s hardiness zone
Pick an option that would thrive in your location. If you live in an area in Zone 8a or 8b, then you have to choose one that has a hardiness of 8; meaning, it 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 it 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 options that are scheduled to be planted around the time you’re planning to start a garden. You can check this Calendar by the Old Farmer’s Almanac or use your search engine to determine which ones grow best in the current month in your country.
Indoor or outdoor
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 them germinate in a place where you plan to let them grow.
- Which seeds are better to start indoors?
- Ones that can be easily transplanted or can tolerate having their roots disturbed: broccoli, lettuce, cabbage, eggplant, watermelons, etc.
- Ones that are sensitive to cold temperatures: tomatoes, peppers, etc.
- Ones that are sensitive to hot temperatures: lettuce, cabbage, etc.
- Which are are better to start outdoors?
- Ability to resist transplanting or cannot handle having their roots disturbed: carrots, beets, radishes, etc.
- Ones that need long exposure to sunlight such as poppies
When choosing options to grow indoors, it’s best to pick in terms of light requirement. If your house rarely gets light in, then choose an option 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 something that requires a good amount of light.
- south-facing windows – strongest intensity; get a lot of direct sunlight during the day; best suited for sun-loving options that require direct light exposure during the day
- west-facing windows – strong intensity; get a lot of direct sunlight during the afternoon and evening; best suited for sun-loving options or ones that only require medium light
- east-facing windows – moderate sunlight intensity in the mornings; best suited for options that need moderate light only
- north-facing windows – weakest intensity; best suited for options that can survive with low to medium light
If you’ve decided to grow something outdoors, make sure to take into account the pH and nutrient levels of your soil. A lot of varieties can tolerate a wide range of pH levels, but try to pick something 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 tools
Seeing the long aisles of gardening tools when you visit the home improvement 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 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 yours can cover the whole area of the container.
DIY Self-Watering Seed Starter Pots
Image source: Seattle Sundries
- 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.
- Allows them to grow without root disturbance from neighboring ones.
- 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 should I use?
Seeds must be sown in a sterile seed-starting mix in order to avoid diseases that can come from the usual soil from your lawn. It is also important that your 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 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||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|
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 it 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. 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 it be enough from my window?
Most people confuse the requirement of seeds and seedlings. Some require it 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 ones require it to proceed with optimal germination and development, which is why it 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, they 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. They will reach for the sun and prioritize elongating their stems, resulting in long weak stems with fewer leaves. For sun-loving varieties, short exposure will just end in a disaster.
There are different types, such as LED, fluorescent lights, fluorescent bulbs, and many more. There are other stylish options as well, and these will fit in your home perfectly.
Image source: House Beautiful
If they aren’t developing fast enough or it 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, such as vegetables, fruits, houseplants, trees, etc.
However, some fertilizers are made specifically for a certain type or for a certain stage of growth, such as high-phosphorus fertilizers (a.k.a. “fruit tree fertilizers”) to boost fruit production and a water-soluble fertilizer. So, if you want to utilize fertilizers properly, it will be best to know the changes in the nutrient requirement 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 them, 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 something thorny. 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 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 ones and thicker branches, you might need to purchase loppers, which is a long-handled pruner.
It’s important to have sharp 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 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 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
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
- Start with a clean and proper container. Check if your container has drainage holes and is at least 2-3 inches deep.
- Fill the container with a sterile 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 one. Make sure that the holes are the proper depth.
- Plant them at a proper depth. Sieving a little bit of your starting mix over the holes, and then cover them by gently skimming your hand over the surface.
How deeply do I plant them?
- The packets usually have information about the proper depth; follow it accordingly.
- The general rule of thumb is to sow them at a depth twice or thrice of the seed’s thickness.
- Some strictly require light to germinate, such as lettuce, and it’s best to let them rest on the surface instead—this is why it’s important to read the packet’s instructions.
- Water them properly. Always keep the soil moist, but not soaked through.
- Always use slightly warm or room-temperature water.
- Bottom watering is preferable for ones 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.
- Ones 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 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 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 them. Once you see the first few leaves growing, it’s a sign to start fertilizing.
- When they 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 them with half-strength fertilizers, switch to full-strength ones and limit feeding to every other week.
- Let them breathe. Germinating them 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 them the proper amount of light. Do not get confused: a germinating seed and a seedling are two very different things. Some do not need light to germinate, but all require it.
- Once you see sprouts coming out of the moist soil, you will need to provide proper exposure to aid in development.
- They need roughly 14-16 hours of uninterrupted direct exposure every day, which is why grow lights are essential for optimum growth.
- Keep lights around 6” above the seedlings. Too far and they will chase the source, resulting in tall, thin, and weak growth.
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 them have space. You may have to thin them out if it starts to get overcrowded, especially if you’re using a tray with no pockets.
- To do this, single out the weak-looking ones and snip them off right at the soil line. If there are no weak ones, 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 them to a new environment without acclimatizing them first. They need to get used to the new environment slowly, and this is a process called “hardening-off”.
When do I know if it’s time to transplant?
- When it gets 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 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 them 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 they 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 them three days prior the hardening process. Resume fertilizing only after transplanting or repotting.
Easy plants for beginners
There are ones that are very easy to grow, whether it’s in the comfort of your own home or on your lawn. Those 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.
Ones that are easy to start indoors:
- Marigolds (Tagetes)
- Seeding marigolds is easy since they do not need light to germinate! You can just place your starting tray next to a warm spot and let them germinate for around 2-3 days (keep the soil moist!).
- Once the true leaves grow, you can now repot them 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 them!
- All you need to do is to sow them according to the packet, keep the moisture in by covering the tray with a plastic cover, and let them 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 them 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 they 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 on the seed packet, your tomato will be ready for transplant in about a month!
- It’s best to use soilless potting mix for tomato ones; keep it moist throughout the germination process and make sure to place the tray at a sunny window.
- Just cover the containers with plastic too keep the warmth in the soil throughout the night.
- Once they start to emerge, remove the plastic cover, and let them get enough light.
- Once they 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
Ones 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, 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 them, 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, they can also survive in moderate to low light settings.
- They have rhizomes that store water, so it can tolerate drought, but not as much as snake plants.
- You only need to water this 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 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. They thrive in indoor temperatures and can also survive in moderate to low light (and fluorescent ones!).
- Its tolerance to low light settings is amazing enough that it can survive in rooms with no windows at all.
- When planted, all you need to do is water it whenever you notice it drooping slightly. When grown in water, just make sure the roots are submerged in water, and that the base is kept off water by stones or a divider to avoid rot.
- You only need to fertilize it every six weeks! However, make sure you don’t put it up around dogs or cats.
Image source: proflowers.com
Low maintenance, outdoor:
- Shrubs are probably one of our most favorite varieties 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 them without any fuss! They 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 it 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.
- They 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 one, but it can also survive in moderate light.
- You only need to water new ones or transplants; once the transplants have established, you no longer need to water them!
Image source: Great Garden Plants
If you’ve fallen in love with gardening as a hobby, or you want to pursue it 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, 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 them 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 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.