Starting a garden is one of the most gratifying experiences a person can have. It’s also no easy task. To get started, you need to get the right tools, prepare the soil and hire a landscaper to remove all of that grass from your backyard if necessary. But beyond the surface stuff, there are fifty things you’ll want to do before planting anything too deep in the ground.
This guide will walk you through each essential step needed to start a garden of your very own—including how much it costs, what you should pay for specific items, and where to source them, so it’s easy on your wallet! You’ll learn how to remove grass, prepare the soil, pick your seeds and ultimately plant them.
First things first: why are you doing this? If it’s because of pest control issues with weeds or grass, then hire a landscaper for that part. If it’s because you want to grow some of your food, then, by all means, keep reading! A backyard garden can provide nutritious treats year round if done correctly! It doesn’t have to be difficult either. With the right tools—like soil cultivation forks—you can have great results on less than twenty bucks!
So let’s get started on this beautiful adventure together. These steps aren’t all time-consuming, but they’re essential nonetheless. Takes patience and planning, after all.
As gardening season fast approaches, it’s time to start prepping for spring. If you’re a novice gardener or need a refresher course in the basics of garden care, these 50 steps are designed to help you get started on the right foot.
1. Plan your garden layout, taking into consideration location and sun exposure. Most vegetables thrive in full sun with six hours of sunlight per day. To keep plants warm in cooler spring weather, protect vegetables sensitive to frost with heavy-duty row covers or hot caps when the soil is still excellent. This will help prevent them from bolting (i.e., going to seed) when nighttime temperatures are still cold. Once the weather warms and soil reaches 60 F, remove row covers and leave ample space between plants for adequate air circulation and pest control measures like traps and barriers.
2. Select a planting site that offers good drainage, shelter from wind, and access to water — because you’ll be watering regularly. The best time to plant is just before a good soaking rain, but if that doesn’t happen, give your plants about an inch of water each week from either a drip system or soaker hose.
3. Work organic compost into your soil at least three weeks before planting because soil needs to be loose and crumbly for healthy root growth. If the ground is still frozen in early spring where you live, wait until it thaws, then dig some soil from around your garden site and let it sit in a heap over the winter, so it’s ready for planting once milder weather arrives. You can also improve poor soil by mixing in two or three inches of organic compost or well-rotted manure before planting.
4. Test your soil to determine the pH level. Soil should be between 6 and 7 for most vegetables, which is slightly acidic. If necessary, add lime or wood ashes to raise or lower your garden’s pH level.
5. Eliminate any weeds and grass from your planting area by using a weeder tool. Push it down in all directions around the perimeter of the bed; pull it back toward you to remove weeds and their roots; repeat until nothing new emerges. Don’t forget to weed inside plant borders throughout the season, so new weeds don’t have space to grow.
6. Amend clay soil by mixing in one-quarter cup gypsum per square foot of garden space on top of the existing clay soil, then work it into the top six inches of soil. Add more for very heavy clay or if drainage is poor.
7. Amend sandy soil by adding three inches of organic compost and one-quarter cup gypsum per square foot, then work it into the top six inches of soil.
8. Spread a thin layer (two to three cubic feet) of peat moss or aged sawdust over your garden area if you’re planting in an area that has been used as a lawn for many years; this will help reduce weeds and grasses from growing up through vegetable seedlings and young plants and give them a head start on their growth cycle before other species catch up with them.
9. If erosion is severe, add straw whenever possible because it will slow the running water speed and stop it from carrying away topsoil.
10. Clear any overhanging tree branches when planting because branches touching soil may encourage the growth of damaging fungi and harmful insects, such as ants and beetles.
11. Decide which vegetables you want to plant, then check your local nursery or garden center for prices and varieties available in your area and what’s best suited for your region — most veggies do better when planted according to USDA Hardiness Zones. When possible, choose heirloom varieties that haven’t been genetically modified, often found at small local farms or farmers’ markets.
12. Take into consideration how much sunlight certain plants need before making your selection. Full sun generally requires at least six hours of direct sunlight each day, while partial shade can be provided by either tall-growing shrubs, structures like arbors and trellises, or spaces between taller plants that allow filtered light to pass through.
13. Avoid planting vegetables in areas where they will compete for water and nutrients with established trees and bushes — the roots won’t get enough nourishment, and fast-maturing veggies may be stunted because you’ll have to wait longer for them to mature after planting.
14. If your soil is acidic instead of alkaline (clay), consider blueberries as a border plant since they love acidic soil. Blueberries also attract birds and butterflies, which adds an element of fun to your garden.
15. If you’re planning on growing root vegetables, such as carrots and beets, bed them down so they don’t stick up through the soil — this will improve their ability to take in water and essential nutrients, and they’ll be easier to harvest since you won’t have to hunt for their tops.
16. When planting tall plants, like peas and corn, consider adding a trellis or teepee element that’s strong enough not only to support the weight of those plants but also any heavy crops that grow on them, such as giant pumpkins. (It can even hold several smaller varieties.) Metal fence posts are stuck into the groundwork as long as you pound the post at least 18 inches into the ground to make it sturdy enough.
17. If you plan on growing climbing plants, such as cucumbers and squash, consider adding a trellis or teepee element to them early in their growth cycle. Hence, they know what direction they will grow — otherwise, they may not be able to support themselves when their fruit sets and falls to the ground.
18. If your garden soil is very heavy (clay) instead of sandy, add at least two inches of well-aged compost to your garden area before planting. This helps increase drainage and aeration by breaking up clay soil into smaller particles that expand and contract with plant growth cycles. It also provides essential nutrients for healthy plant development.
19. When planning a garden with trees or shrubs, make sure they are not too close to the vegetable garden (within 30 feet), creating competition for water and nutrients.
20. Never plant vegetables directly under large oaks because oak tree roots produce a chemical called juglone that inhibits the growth of other plants. If your soil is acidic instead of alkaline (clay), consider blueberries as a border plant since they love acidic soil. Blueberries also attract birds and butterflies, which adds an element of fun to your garden.
21. Plant tall crops at the back of your vegetable garden so you won’t have to look at them every time you walk out the door — but remember, their shade will affect what types of veggies you can plant closest to them.
22. If you plan on planting a berry bush or fruit tree, make sure it’s not too close to your vegetable garden (within 30 feet), which will compete for water and nutrients.
23. Once spring comes around and the chance of a late frost is gone, remove any plastic coverings from your plants. This lets plants breathe and increases air circulation for healthier growth.
24. If starting from seed, soak them overnight before planting them into your soil. It will improve germination rates by nearly 100 percent and may even encourage faster growth once they’re produced in their permanent home.
25. Plant veggies with similar size and growth needs together so they don’t block each other’s sunlight. For example, plant lettuce seeds or starts in a different area than radishes or carrots because lettuce is quick to mature but slow to spread.
26. If growing root vegetables, such as carrots and beets, place them about an inch under the soil so they don’t get too much light at the top, which will make them green instead of orange. This greening often occurs when carrots are exposed to sunlight which can also change their flavor.
27. To increase your chances of successfully growing veggies in areas with shorter summer days (less than 12 hours), consider planting crops that produce fruit early — for example, peas and beans — and then following those plants with second-season veggies like tomatoes and squash so you’ll have something to harvest every few weeks.
28. If you have a small yard, avoid planting veggies that take up too much space by growing leafy greens, herbs, peas, and other self-pollinating plants instead of root vegetables or crops that need pollination to produce fruit/vegetables .
29. To prevent soil erosion, build raised beds for your garden using lumber to keep the topsoil together. If you’re looking for an inexpensive option, try stacking cinder blocks on top of each other.
30. Always water new transplants immediately after planting them in the ground — this helps give them a better chance of survival with their fragile root systems as they adjust to their new home.
31. Use as many local (native) plants as possible if you don’t want pesticides. The more you can rely on native plants, the less chance of pests attacking your crops.
32. If you have a problem with slugs, putting plastic bottle halves cut side up around the base of your planting area will help prevent them from getting to your veggies. Just be careful when working around the garden that you don’t accidentally step on any!
33. To keep squirrels and other rodents away from your garden, spray hot pepper sauce mixed with water onto vulnerable veggies, flower bulbs, and fruit trees before burying them in the soil.
34. For more vital vegetables, consider mixing fertilized soil into weaker topsoil before backfilling new transplants or making raised beds for next season’s garden. This is called double digging.
35. To keep your flowers blooming longer, water them in the morning instead of at night because less moisture on flowers’ petals at night will reduce the chance of mold and mildew growth.
36. Avoid using mulch that contains tree bark or black walnut shells because they can have juglone poisonous to many plants, including veggies!
37. Plant tall veggies at the back of your garden so you won’t have to look at them every time you walk out the door but remember their shade will affect what types of veggies you can plant closest to them .
38. If starting from seed, soak them overnight before planting them into your soil. It will improve germination rates by nearly 100 percent and may even encourage faster growth once they’re produced in their permanent home.
39. If you have a lawn, don’t cut it the weekend before planting your garden because fresh grass clippings act like fertilizer when left on the soil. Plus, the longer grass blades will help shade new seedlings from sun damage.
40. To reduce or prevent weeds, water your garden early in the day, so the soil has less time to dry out between watering cycles, making it harder for weeds to germinate. Also, clear away all plant debris at the season’s end (including leaves) so seeds can’t take root next season.
41. Make your compost from yard waste and kitchen scraps to fertilize your garden next season.
42. Plant at least two different types of veggies together in one hole for pollination purposes and increase the chance of a successful harvest .
43. String trimmer line can be reused as a temporary plant tie if you run out of twine or other ties — make sure it’s not too tight, so plants don’t get damaged!
44. When growing transplants indoors, set the lights on a timer because young seedlings need 16 hours of sunlight per day to grow correctly, even when it’s cloudy outside.
45. Use old pantyhose as makeshift garden row markers by cutting off the feet and tying knots near both ends for loop markers and the waist for end markers.
46. To help your veggies grow strong and healthy, mulch down around them with grass clippings, straw, or other organic matter to keep weeds at bay and moisture in the soil where it belongs.
47. When watering your garden, set up a soaker hose instead of using a sprinkler because you’ll use less water this way — plus they’re great for weeding too!
48. If you plant corn in your garden, try mixing in half-onion sets among the transplants because they naturally repel certain pests that can be attracted to young corn plants .
49. Mix coffee grounds into potting soil when you start seedlings indoors to give them an added boost of nitrogen when they’re planted outside.
50. Plant heat-loving veggies like beans and squash to the north side of trees because the shade will help them grow better.