Top Gardening Tips for Beginners – Start a garden from Scratch

Everyone enters the world of gardening through different paths. With over 90 years of providing gardening advice, Mosser Lee has developed useful guidance to all who consider themselves gardeners whether the garden encompasses a large plot or simply a few pots on the back porch.

When you become a gardener, you become a scientist, an inventor and creator. If you find that you are not getting the results you expected, it’s important to investigate and make changes. 

Gardeners are always experimenting with new techniques and plants. The following tips are general guidelines when planning a new garden. Mosser Lee’s website “How To” section is full of great resources for gardeners and fantastic project ideas. 

Gardening Tips for Beginners

Experienced gardeners are good teachers. Listening to their successes, failures and product recommendations is very worthwhile for beginning gardeners. Experienced gardeners are more than happy to give suggestions, especially to those new to planting. Here are some favorite gardening tips for beginners.

Planning your Garden Location 

Choose a location that gives your plants the best chance to thrive. Gardens should have maximum daily sunlight and be close to a water source, like a well or outside faucet. Carrying heavy water buckets will eventually challenge a good gardening experience. The quality of the soil in your chosen plot is also very important, although soil quality can be improved with soil amendments, fertilizers, and compost. More about soil testing later.

There are so many options and innovative ways to maximize the space available and bring interest to your landscape. You can find additional useful location ideas on these Pinterest pages and visit our boards on Landscape Design, Garden Planning Tools, Gardening for Beginners, and Container Gardening.

if you are looking for more or better-quality gardening space, check out gardening opportunities in your community. You may find resources community allotments, a beautification community or urban gardening spaces. Your University Extension office is a great resource for local community gardens.

Know the Soil in your Garden

All plants have specific soil preferences. Planting is the wrong type of soil is certain to yield poor results. We highly recommend that you test your garden soil to make sure you have the right quality for your chosen plants.  Soil quality affects root growth, nutrient absorption, moisture control, and growth. 

Types of Garden Soil

Clay soil is comprised of fine sticky minerals. Clay soil tends to hold water longer, warm slower, and be more compact hindering root growth for some plants. Clay soil is excellent for many trees and shrubs, but you’ll find that most bulbs, vegetables, and flowering plants aren’t happy in clay soils. You can identify clay soil easily by the way it clumps. You’ll notice that because it is fine and sticky that when wet, it turns into a goopy solid mess that sticks to everything. Luckily Clay soil is easy to amend with sand and other organic matter. It’s best to amend entire clay areas at a time instead of working section by section.

Sandy soil is comprised of large coarse particles, lacking necessary nutrients. Sandy soil drains well but can erode quickly. Plants have a hard time absorbing any added nutrients in sandy soil. 

Silty soil has smaller grains than sand and larger than clay. Silty soil is made up of rock and other mineral particles. The smooth and fine quality of the soil holds water better than sand. Silty soil is often found near watersheds and tends to be rich in nutrients.

Chalky soil is often rocky and compact and identified by its alkaline properties. Chalky soils are fertile, but due to their alkalinity, plants often find difficulty absorbing the needed minerals. Chalky soils drain well, but plants often have difficulty retaining water. Chalky soils often look like soft rocks that break apart easily and are often light in color. 

Peaty soils are highly complex organic materials sought for their ability to hold water and nutrients. Peat soils make good gardens, but we highly recommend that you do not add peat to your garden soil. Peat contains an estimated 40% of the world’s soil carbon which is released during the harvesting process. Peat bogs can store large amounts of greenhouse gasses, filtering our air and storing carbon. Peat cannot be sustainably harvested. We recommend other types of compost to enrich your soil.

Loamy soil is often considered to be the perfect soil. Loamy soil is 40% sand, 40% silt and 20% clay. This soil drains well, is easy to work with, and rich in organic material.

Understanding Soil Nutrients for Beginner Gardeners

We know that different soils affect the plants absorption of nutrients but how do you determine if our garden soil is right for your plants? Garden soil must be tested. Mosser Lee’s Soil Test kit  is an easy do-it-yourself tool to quickly measure soil nutrients and determine how to amend your soil to obtain optimal growing conditions.

Most fertilizers are formulated to feed your plants with Nitrogen (N), Phosphorous (P), and Potassium (K). They are displayed on fertilizers as the NPK Number. This shows the proportions of each element with each other. For example, if you were looking to feed your plants for large healthy blooms, you may use a fertilizer high in Potassium; it may look like 15-30-10. Keep in mind that different plants will have their unique feeding schedule to obtain the best results. When it comes to soil nutrients, Don’t Guess, Test!

You may be inclined to take the “more is better” approach when fertilizing; unfortunately over-fertilize your plants may experience decreased growth and make them more vulnerable to diseases. Fertilizer applied incorrectly can burn and kill your plants. Excess fertilizer doesn’t always lay in the soil. It often makes its way into water sources and in other unwanted ways. Always test before you apply fertilizer. Mosser Lee has made soil testing easy and convenient.

Natural soil amendments through your own composting are usually the best choice, because they utilize excess food and green waste matter. Composting takes more time, sometimes over a year for the matter to completely break down and while it provides a good source of nitrogen, it might not change the pH or add any phosphorus or the correct amount of potassium to fit your plants.

Map the Sun Light in your Garden

A commonly overlooked element in garden planning is allocating for sunlight. Check out these Pinterest ideas on Shade Gardens, Partial Shade Gardens, and Full Sun Gardens

Sun Requirements for planting

Full Shade refers to an area in your garden that regularly receives less than 4 hours of direct sunlight in a day. Full Shade areas often receive filtered light from other plants and trees. Full Shade areas can be productive and useful garden areas by strategically placing Sun Loving Plants in locations that will allow light to filter. Hosta’s love to be planted under trees and next to buildings.

Partial Shade or Partial Sun refers to an area in your garden that regularly receives 3-6 hours of Direct Sunlight a day. This area is where most plants like to hang out. There are several plants that are recommended for morning or evening sun. The morning sun tends to be less intense and scorching. If you find the leaves or blooms are being scorched but your Direct Sunlight period is within the recommended time, you may want to move your plant or experiment with increased shade. Consider using small umbrellas or temporary shade guards, if needed.

Full Sun refers to an area in your garden that receives at least 6 hours of sun a day. In peak summer, many gardens receive sun for approximately 15 hours a day. This may make affect Full Sun plant growth. The best way to determine what works best in your yard, and your planting zone is to talk to other gardeners in your neighborhood. Take a walk in your neighborhood and observe what plants are successful. 

Take a few days to observe what part of your garden gets each type of natural light. It’s best to observe during different times of the day. This allows you to see shady areas clearly. Shady areas will change as the days move later in the year, but it can be a good indicator as to what to expect during your full growing season.

Know your Grow Zone

If you are new to gardening, you may not be familiar with growing zones. Certain perennial plants are not hardy enough to survive during the off growing season in some areas of the country. The USDA Plant Hardiness Map is the standard by which gardeners and growers determine which plants are most likely to thrive at a location. The hardiness map is based on the average annual minimum winter temperature, divided into 10-degree Fahrenheit zones. This map is very interactive. Add your address and find your specific zone.

When you are shopping for plants or seeds, particularly for perennials, choose plants that will survive in your growing zone. It may be a waste of time and money to buy perennials that won’t survive in your growing zone. This will help guide you in planning your garden. Consider a garden that includes a combination of both perennials and annuals. Occasionally you can skirt across the edge of grow zones with extra support during winter months, by planting close to dwellings or where extra protection may be available.

Watering your Garden

Plants require a lot of water to produce high yield. In some cases, especially in full sun gardens, the soil will quickly dry out through evaporation, leaving the plants without sufficient water. To combat this, consider laying down black plastic and sow your seeds and plants in cut out holes in the plastic. The black plastic helps retain moisture in the soil and creates condensation which continues to moisten the soil. This technique is employed in many commercial operations.

Another recommended technique that increases the available water for the plants is to place a handful of wet long-fibered sphagnum moss in the hole before placing in your bedding plants. It will help your plants acclimated to their new location and will reduce the amount of watering. The moss will rehydrate with good future waterings.

Mosser Lee’s Organic Long-Fibered Sphagnum Moss is the live plant that decomposes into sphagnum peat. Sphagnum peat is not renewable and does not possess the high-quality properties of Mosser Lee’s Long-Fibered Sphagnum Moss. Mosser Lee sustainably harvests this renewable live plant in the Wisconsin marshes and makes it available to professional nurseries, the USDA and home gardeners. This unique plant assists gardeners by absorbing and retaining 20 times its weight in water. It is spongy and useful for all types of gardening. Mosser Lee’s Long-Fibered Sphagnum Moss is organic and has antiseptic properties, reducing the presence of harmful bacteria.