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The Ultimate Gardening Guide: Basic Gardening Tips for Beginners from Pinetree Garden Seeds Customers
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The Ultimate Gardening Guide: Basic Gardening Tips for Beginners from Pinetree Garden Seeds Customers

“What do you wish you had known before you started gardening?”

We asked the thousands of home gardeners in our Facebook group what they wish they had known before they dug into a lifetime of gardening. The result? A bumper crop of tips for beginning gardening from a diverse, experienced, and generous group of folks that want first-time growers to fall in love with growing your own vegetables the way they did.

Location, Location, Location

“It's important to find more about what works for your specific growing zone. I had to learn the hard way that full sun did not mean full sun in Florida—it actually meant partial shade. Zones are extremely important and that's what you should focus on when planning.” —Melyssa Ferenczy-Zumpano

The first of our basic gardening tips is one of the most important: location. Home gardeners should put themselves in the best possible position for a successful harvest right from the start.

Big picture? You need to know your local microclimate, or growing zone, and your frost dates. And then you need to zoom in on the parts of your property that will best support a home garden.

Growing Zone

The seed packets and the seedlings you purchase will often have different planting and tending instructions for different climates. The amount and intensity of sunlight you receive vary by latitude (how far north or south of the equator you live). The amount of rainfall you typically receive is a factor in your microclimate as well. But perhaps the most critical factors in your growing zone are your first and last frost dates.

Frost Dates

The first and last frost dates in your region will determine your growing season. Seed packets will tell you if the seeds within can be sown in place before or after the first frost or should be started indoors and planted out. They will also show you dates to maturity.

If your seed packet says 60 days to maturity, you need to start that seed 60 days before the last frost or your crops will die before they can be harvested. Typically, days to maturity is from time of transplant. If you live in a warmer growing zone with a longer growing season you have a lot more flexibility. If you are located in a microclimate with a shorter growing season, you need to choose your seeds wisely (many common crops have early or quick-growing varieties) or use strategies like starting seeds indoors in late winter or early spring or installing cold frames or row covers around your crops.

When you know your growing zone, you know how and when to start, plant out, tend, and harvest your crops. You can find your gardening zone quickly by entering your zip code into the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map.

Garden Location

One of the best tips for easy gardening for beginners is choosing the right backyard garden site. Selecting a location that receives the maximum amount of sunlight, that is protected from wind by bushes or trees, and is located nearby an easily accessible water source gives you the best chance of healthy crops.

Once you have the best location you need to think about your soil. Pinetree Garden Seeds has an in-depth guide into backyard garden soil that gives great tips on how to test, improve, and tend different soil types.

The Ultimate Gardening Guide: Basic Gardening Tips for Beginners from Pinetree Garden Seeds Customers

Start Small

“I started 3 years ago with 1 4'×8' raised bed. Just kinda threw a bunch of stuff in, worked but didn't suit the needs of different plants. The next year I had 2 4'x8' and 2 2'x8' beds. Was better for suiting the needs of specific plants but found it wasn't as easy for me to reach into the 4' beds. Also found crop rotation to be difficult. Last year I had to break it all down and constructed 10 2'x8' beds. I can easily navigate these beds and because they are all the same crop rotation is less of a concern.” —Jon Koeppel

Our second piece of advice for learning to grow your own vegetables is to start small and expand as you gain experience and confidence. The same way your eyes can be bigger than your stomach at the dessert cart or kitchen table, you can get too greedy flipping through gorgeous garden catalogs or Instagram.

It’s hard to imagine in early spring but the tidy rows you are planting will get unruly quickly. If you plant too many seeds, the seedlings will crowd each other out and compete for sunlight, water, and nutrients and none of them will flourish as they should. If you plant too large of an area than you can manage, you can easily fall behind on weeding or watering. (Both tasks ramp up as the growing season does when spring rains give way to hot summer days.) And if you plant too much of one type of crop, you can tire of eating or preserving it come harvest time.

Be realistic about the time and effort you are willing to put into not just gardening but preparing or preserving the crops you grow. Even a small garden can yield so much sustenance and joy!

Not sure how much space or how many seeds you will need for your new home garden? Download the Pinetree Garden Seeds Garden Planning Guide. We show you how to organize and optimize your garden space! And if you want to maximize the crop yield in a small garden, read our introduction to succession planting and see how you can pack the most plants into your garden over the growing season.

Go With Your Gut!

“Don't waste space on something you won't eat.” —Kathryn Belt

The third secret to vegetable gardening for beginners is to choose crops you actually want to eat. Yes, radishes grow quickly and easily in most growing zones. If you don’t enjoy eating radishes, however, how rewarding will growing them really be?

There is always a point in your growing season when weeding, watering, and fertilizing feel a lot less fun. You will be much more motivated to keep going if you truly can’t wait to eat or share what you are growing!

Seeds to Savor

At Pinetree Garden Seeds, we try to provide flavor profiles on all of the web page descriptions of our seeds. If a particular seed has won any awards for great taste, we’ll tell you! We also let you know if a particular crop tastes best freshly picked or is better suited for cooking or preserving. Check out the user reviews of our seeds as well—our generous community gives honest, helpful feedback on their experiences growing and eating different types of seeds.

Be open to trying a few new things, though. If you are used to store-bought vegetables that have been picked before they are ripe and trucked long distances to your local grocery store, your home garden will be filled with surprises. You may think you don’t like sugar peas or snap peas, but have you tasted one right off the vine on a brilliant summer day? If you think tomatoes are watery or tough, wait until a perfectly ripe one practically falls into your hand, bursting with bright juice.

Growing kid-friendly crops can save you money on your grocery budget, bring your family closer together, and improve your family’s nutrition. You can even grow a baby food garden! Still, need ideas or inspiration? Check out our guide to uncommon vegetables to grow in your garden.

Growing Vegetables That You Enjoy

Have Fun (Even When You Screw Up)

Here’s the #1 thing our experienced home gardeners want eager newbies to know: it’s a hobby, so have fun with it. You are going to make mistakes. Experienced gardeners still make mistakes! Things will not always go your way, or they will take some wild turns before they do. Nature is wonderful but it is unpredictable, and every growing season will present you with unexpected challenges and opportunities.

Crows digging up your seeds or robins descending on your strawberries. Seedlings that perish from too much or too little water. That seedling you pulled because you thought it was a weed. That weed you tended so carefully because you confused it for one of your crops. Aphids, beetles, and other bugs chewing holes in your leaves. Deer or rabbits snacking in your rows. Droughts. Deluges. Mildew and blight. Thunderstorms or hailstorms that damage crops. Late freezes and early frosts.

The Ultimate Gardening Guide: Basic Gardening Tips for Beginners from Pinetree Garden Seeds Customers
Gardeners are full of madcap stories of mayhem. They are also full of stories about enormous harvests, happy accidents, and the everyday joys of being outdoors in all seasons sustaining their bodies and spirits through sunlight, water, and soil.

Gardening isn’t just about the harvest. It’s about navigating and trusting the natural growth process. If you find yourself getting frustrated or dispirited by small failures, read our list of gardening’s many benefits to remind yourself of all you are gaining by growing your first home garden!

Get more great advice for new gardeners in our Facebook group! Our helpful and generous community can’t wait to weigh in on your first-time gardening questions and concerns. To join Rooted, please click here.

20 comments on The Ultimate Gardening Guide: Basic Gardening Tips for Beginners from Pinetree Garden Seeds Customers

  • dennis kimsey
    dennis kimseyMarch 18, 2023

    Suggestion for zone 7 greenhouse growers. Using clear plastic, 4 mil or less, is not the way to go. Use 12 mill to get years out of your green house covers so your not replacing it yearly or biannual. i tried the cheap way and had to replace it almost yearly. Now I have the 12 mill and it’s as good as when I first put it on three years ago. I also use stiffener straps on it so its not bouncing up and down on the supports.

  • Arthur
    ArthurJanuary 25, 2022

    I recently started my garden and this article is pretty helpful to me as a newbie. Thanks for sharing this blog post.

  • Elizabeth Ware
    Elizabeth WareDecember 08, 2020

    Two years ago weI moved from the city to a 17 acre farm in southern Maine. It’s our retirement property and I’ve never worked so hard… raspberries, blueberries, rhubarb, potatoes (I hate those bugs but love Magic Mollys!), a big bumper crop of tomatoes, flowers of many types. I’m just getting used to the shorter season, the deer, finding the right locations for a specific flower or veggies.
    The one thing that I’m working on the most is being able to co-exist with deer. I have read a lot and discovered they have poor eyesight and hate smelling things. So the mint, penny royal, Russian sage, catmint, peonies……….anything stinking goes in the ground and doesn’t need fencing. They didn’t touch my tomatoes ‘cause tomatoes smell funny. This all being stated, they mowed down my peppers, chard and sun flowers, all of which had a low fence around it. More smells, perhaps a higher fence?
    Thankfully we have several Great Horned Owls on the property. They take care of any of the rodents, or woodchucks. who would normally dig into the garden. I’m finding that the property has its own little eco-system, which constantly amazes me.

  • Tara
    TaraAugust 18, 2020

    Organic farming for about 16 years now, and I love sharing with others the nutritive benefits of eating raw foods. The natural enzymes, vitamins and minerals ( as well as the many medicinal factors in each crop) – is our HEALTH ASSURANCE AND INSURANCE (especially in the times that we’re in). You can eat raw beets! by just spiralizing them into spaghetti strands. Add some EVO, avacado and a little fresh squeezed lemon. Mmmm! We sprialized zuchinni and other summer squash and add our favorite basil pesto or past sauce. And make fermented kraut out of cabbage or any other veggie. Mandalin slice your cucumbers and add red onion, EVO, ground flax and some lemon juice. OK now I’m hungry again! God Bless!!

  • Gail Maureen
    Gail MaureenAugust 18, 2020

    At 78, I am still learning. But this year I was handicapped with illnesses and problems with both hands! What a year! I am sill keeping on, however, and planting seeds with less than 45 days to maturity. I live in zone 5B and I am praying that our first frost this year will be about Dec, 1. Who is with me in that?

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