Starting a garden is one of the best hobbies anyone can do.
Gardening has so many benefits, from helping the environment to improving mental health, it’s a hobby that everyone should consider.
My favorite part of gardening is the ability to grow my very own food! I know what was used in the soil and on the plants, so my food is extremely healthy, fresh, and has a minimal impact on the planet!
However, I know how daunting it can be to start something new. Most people have very minimal gardening experience. That’s why I wrote this guide to help take out the overwhelm of starting a garden. Keep reading below for a foolproof way on how to start a garden from scratch!
Starting a Garden for Beginners
Step 1: Find Your Spot
It’s no secret that plants need the sun for food. Therefore, you need a spot that gets sunlight for the majority of the day. You also need an open area that is flat and doesn’t flood. While water is a very important aspect of gardening, too much water and flooding can be a huge problem.
Take a walk in your yard at different times of the day and note where the sun hits. Keep track of where you have large trees and how they affect the sunlight during the day.
My garden is on the South side of my parent’s home and gets about 6+ hours of sunlight but does receive some shade in the afternoon.
Step 2: Figure Out Your Garden Style
You can use wood for your raised bed, or cinder blocks. Alternatively, you don’t have to use a raised bed and can just plant straight into the ground. In South Florida, I prefer raised beds because we have limestone in the ground and we don’t have a deep top soil.
If you’re tight on space or don’t have an area of dirt, you can also use pots. I prefer fabric pots because they’re lightweight and extremely versatile. These are the pots I use because they’re budget friendly but are still great quality. I prefer black pots because any other color will become stained by the soil.
In my garden, I have a mixture of a raised garden bed using one row of cinder blocks, old recycling bins, and fabric pots. I have a tiny area for my bees and garden so the idea of using bins and fabric pots is a great space saver.
Step 3: Prepare Your Soil
Soil is arguably the most important aspect of a healthy and thriving garden.
If there is one step you want to skip for starting a garden, it is definitely not this one.
In South Florida, we have a wide variety of weeds which you will quickly learn are very annoying! However, tips for keeping healthy soil will also help with weeds.
If you have chosen a raised garden bed, first lay out your choice of material (wooden bed or cinder blocks). Once you have laid that out, place flattened cardboard boxes on the ground. Make sure you fill the bed entirely. This will prevent any weeds from growing in your bed for a while and will give your fresh soil a boost of carbon once the cardboard breaks down.
After you have placed the cardboard, it’s time to throw in some soil. You can purchase high-quality soil from any garden center. Some brands I personally like to use are Kellogg, Fox Farm, and Dr. Earth.
You can start with any garden or potting soil and then use your own amendments to make sure your soil is as healthy as can be.
NOTE: Amendments are great but too much of anything isn’t. Balance is key with soil so don’t go too crazy with a specific amendment.
During the summer months, I am preparing the soil in my main garden bed. I also purchase seeds at this time and plan out the layout of my garden. This is a very important step before starting a garden.
Step 4: Buy Seeds or Plants
When I first started gardening, I used to purchase seeds from anywhere. However, I quickly learned that high quality seeds are well worth the investment.
Now, I do my best to purchase organic, non-GMO, and/or heirloom seeds only. I do cave every once in a while when I find a nice flower variety I’ve never seen before. Baker Creek has an amazing variety of seeds.
My favorite place to purchase seeds from is Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. They specialize in varieties well suited for the Southeastern United States.
One of the most important aspects of buying seeds or plants is finding the right variety for your specific climate or growing zone. Figure out your USDA growing zone and find varieties that are well suited for it.
Here in Miami, you are either zone 10A or 10B. I am 10B and over the years I have found some great varieties for this climate which I will share below. Miami-Dade County also has great resources for varieties that grow well in our climate.
Before starting a garden, do some research on vegetables you’d like to grow and find varieties that do well in your climate.
My favorite vegetables and the varieties that do well in South Florida are listed below.
Kale – Vates, Lacinato
Collard Greens – Georgia
Green Bean – Blue Lake Bush
Basil – Bolloso Napoletano, African Blue, Thai varieties
Carrots – Nantes, Danvers
Tomatoes – Cherokee Purple, Everglades Tomato
Hot Pepper – any variety
Cucumber – White Emerald, Marketmore 76
Step 5: Transplant or Direct Seed
Some types of vegetables prefer direct seed while others prefer transplanting. This information can be typically found directly on the seed packet. I recommend following exactly what the seed packet says for each type of plant.
Some plants prefer to be transplanted. I notice that kale and broccoli do much better when they are transplanted vs. direct seed. Doing a little more research may help.
I use this seed tray to start most of my plants. It’s sturdy and holds a lot of plants. I will typically start growing my plants 4-8 weeks before I intend to put them in my garden.
When laying out your garden, make sure you consider companion plants. Some plants do really well together while others don’t. For example, brassicas (kale, collards, broccoli, etc.) don’t do well with nightshades (peppers) right next to them, so make sure they are far apart.
Before planting anything, I typically draw out a layout of my garden.
I also include where I’d like to plant specific vegetables. Then, I double check that they do well with their neighbor plant by doing a quick google search. This saves me a lot of headaches later in the season.
Step 6: Watering Schedule
Just like different people like different drinks, some plants prefer more or less water than others. Create a watering schedule for each section of your garden. A watering schedule will make sure your goal of starting a garden is a complete success.
When planning your garden, consider which plants like a lot of water and which don’t. If they are good companion plants, plant them together so you can water one area and not worry about it.
You can also purchase a water filter for your garden hose like the one above, but I believe this is not necessary. It may help your garden since pure water is always best, but I do not use a filter and I am able to grow amazing produce.
I have made a habit of watering my garden every morning. It’s a great way to prepare myself for the day because I enjoy my coffee out in my peaceful garden. This way I never forget to water and I’m able to check on the garden daily for pests.
Step 7: Harvest!
After planting your garden, you’ll be able to enjoy the fruits (or in this case, vegetables!) of your labor. In a few short weeks, you’ll be able to harvest!
Make sure to learn how to harvest each plant. For example, most varieties of kale are cut and come again, meaning you can harvest the older leaves and in a few days, you’ll be able to harvest again.
Some plants, like lettuce and cabbage, require you to cut the full head. In these cases, if you’d like to continue to harvest you need to plant in successions. A few weeks before you plan on harvesting, begin to start a new set of cabbage in your seed tray. This way you’ll be able to plant more cabbage in the place of the head you just harvested.
BONUS: My Favorite Gardening Products
These are products, tips, and tricks I use in my own garden. I learned a few of these tricks from local farmers and I swear by them.
Azomite + Fish Emulsion Fertilizer
I use these two together as a monthly fertilizer; Azomite and Fish Emulsion. A little goes a long way for both, so I fill the bottom of a mason jar with about an inch of fish emulsion and then dust a handful of azomite over that. Then, I add water and mix well. I apply this liquid directly onto the roots of all my plants and I make sure to water right after. Watering right after applying a liquid fertilizer ensures that it is getting to the roots.
Neem oil is the perfect secret weapon against pests. Mix a little oil with soap and water in a spray bottle. Spray your plants weekly in the early morning or late at night to prevent any pests from taking over. This is a great natural repellent for pests that doesn’t harm pollinators. It’s important to always spray any pesticide, even organic and natural methods, in the early morning or after sunset so you don’t affect pollinators at all.
These hand pruners come in handy while harvesting. They’re sharp and they cut really well which is important when harvesting. You don’t want to damage the plant so clean cuts are important during harvest time.
All Around Beneficial Soap
This soap is good for a variety of insects, mites, and fungi, which are common problems in South Florida. It’s also OMRI Listed so you know it’s safe for organic gardening and farming.
Pests are an unfortunate but common sight in the garden. The sprays and oils I listed above work really great, but you should always add beneficial flowers. Marigolds, Calendula, and Nasturtiums are great flowers that grow well in every climate. I alternate between each type every season but Marigolds are my favorite. I rarely have issues with pests when I have Marigolds in the garden. Nasturtiums grow vigorously and are a favorite of the bees. Calendula have medicinal properties and are great for drying and adding to body lotion or oil.
Have Fun While Starting a Garden
Remember, starting anything new can seem difficult or confusing at first. But you’ll quickly learn that that’s part of the fun! I have made many mistakes while gardening but I learned something new with each one. Don’t be afraid to mess up because it’s a great way to improve and learn.
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