The best gardening tools and plants for beginners, from a horticulturist

With more time at home and the arrival of spring, now might be the perfect time to start growing your own garden. There are a few essentials, whether you’re starting a mini-farm or just want to set up a few planters.

Starting a garden for the first time can seem like a lot of work, but horticulturists have some recommendations on how to get started. It’s time to get your hands dirty.

The best gardening tools

The specific tools you need to start your garden will depend on your level of ambition, as well as the space you have available.

Drinkers — No matter where you live, you will need to water your garden frequently. The exact amount will vary depending on three factors: the type of plants, the amount of sunlight, and whether the plants are in the ground or in pots.

If you’re only growing a few plants in pots outdoors, like on an apartment balcony, you can probably get away with a decent sized watering can. This one holds two gallons of water:

If you’re planting a backyard garden, dragging out a watering can be tedious. Make sure you have a good hose with an adjustable nozzle so you can vary the amount of water.

How to choose the right planting soil

The soil you use – and whether or not you should treat it with chemicals for better growth – can vary depending on where you live. pH is an important factor because it affects the nutrients your plants can absorb. Whether you need to raise or lower soil pH may depend on your location.

George Boyhan, professor of horticulture at the University of Georgia, tells Reverse this land east of the Mississippi River is on the acid side, so growers might need to add Lyme.

On the west coast, however, soils tend to be more alkaline – so the goal is often to lower the pH. Treatments may involve the addition of peat moss or certain micronutrients.

Since this is very location specific, it’s a good idea to know what your soil needs, and maybe even do a soil test. You can contact your local extension office – there is an online tool to find the contact in your area.

How to choose the right potting soil

On the other hand, if you are growing plants in containers, you will probably be working with potting soil. Most of these options are pretty consistent, Boyhan says, and already have a built-in fertilizer:

However, you may need to add fertilizer at some point. Potted plants can take in all the nutrients, and since they probably aren’t getting extra organic matter from other nearby plants, you may need to help them out.

For conventional fertilizers, Boyhan says a popular blend is a “10-10-10,” meaning a blend of 10 percent nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.

If you want to keep things organic, you can use an all-natural fertilizer, sometimes called “soil conditioner.” These fertilizers are made from natural materials, including dead plants and animal manure.

The Best Home Garden Digging Tools

When it comes to digging tools, especially on a small scale, your most basic tool is a hand trowel. You can buy one individually, but they also come in sets with other useful tools, like a transplanting trowel (with a sharper edge and a ruler to see how far you dig) and a hand rake.

If you have to dig into the ground, your tools may depend on what was already there. If you are revitalizing a pre-existing garden, a garden fork can be useful for turning over the soil:

If you are starting fresh on a patch of land that needs more attention, it may require some tillage.

And of course, if it’s just for fun, feel free to grab a pair of gardening gloves:

Choose the Right Container Size for Potted Plans

If you plant in pots, you have the opportunity to get creative with your containers. Varied sizes and shapes that complement each other will maximize even the smallest outdoor space with a collection of potted greenery.

Use the largest container possible so the roots can grow as much as possible, and make sure it has drainage holes, says Brooke Edmunds, professor of horticulture at Oregon State University. Reverse.

You can also have fun recycling old containers and turning them into planters. Edmunds says “it can be as simple as recycling a large pot of yogurt to grow a single basil plant or a five-gallon bucket from the hardware store to hold a tomato plant.”

Beginners should buy starter plants instead of seeds

You can either start plants from seed or buy a small plant that has already been started for you. While it’s certainly satisfying to see a small seed sprout, Boyhan and Edmunds say beginners should consider transplanting seedlings when first starting out. The wrong side? This method is more expensive than buying a packet of seeds.

Start with a leafy plant

Edmunds recommends starting with leafy greens (lettuce, kale, chard), radishes, and herbs (basil, parsley, cilantro).

Mint is easy to grow, but it spreads a ton, so keep it in a container, Edmunds says. If you have space, she also suggests green beans, bush beans, and zucchini.

Once you’re ready to get a little ambitious, “try fruiting plants like tomatoes, eggplant, or peppers,” Edmunds says. “Carrots and beets can be a little more temperamental. Try perennial herbs like rosemary, thyme, oregano, etc.

Plants like tomatoes and green beans will also need a trellis or cage to keep them upright, Edmunds notes.

For Boyhan, a particular favorite to grow is kohlrabi – and he thinks it’s underrated.

“It’s a misunderstood vegetable – it’s one people really should be growing,” he says. “You can roast it, you can rice, have it instead of mashed potatoes.”

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