How To Become A Successful Gardener
In this age of sustainable living and all things organic or home-grown, gardening is no longer a hobby for the retired. It’s a cool thing to do, gets you outside and burns calories to boot. Plus, what’s better than sipping a cold strong beer outside come summer, when your own green patch is in full bloom.
We’ve spoken to the best to find out just what makes a great gardener and here’s a secret, it’s not as difficult as you think. Whether it’s a balcony, a backyard or a full-blown outdoor space, you’ll be amazed just what you can do with a little know-how and a bit of hard work.
After checking out our garden maintenance tips, we challenge you to dig deep. You may just discover you really do have green fingers after all.
1. Use good quality tools
When it comes to the essential tools for a garden, go for quality as you need to know they are up to a tough and dirty job. As a starter, you’ll need a spade, hoe, trowel, pitchfork, and pruning shears, plus a tough pair of gardening work gloves.
Make sure the business end of your tools is made of carbon or stainless steel, so they don’t rust. And for the handles, ash is the way to go as it’s a durable wood that’s comfortable to hold. It also goes without saying that if you look after your tools, they will stay the distance. Knock off the dirt after each use and run under cold water. Wipe clean and then allow to dry before storing.
2. Have a cunning (garden) plan
Before you break any ground with your new spade, be clear what it is you want from your garden or backyard. Do you want to achieve a perfect lawn, a few pots or a nice place to sit out or do you have big ideas for borders, beddings and water features? Or are vegetables and fruit crops all part of your grand plan?
Before you head to the garden center, take a little time to sketch the draft layout, so you have an idea of what can go where, if you need additional plant stands, and what you can realistically achieve in the space you have.
3. Create great soil
Good soil is going to totally get you off the gardening starter block. Quality soil is soil rich in nutrients and it has to be worked at if your plot has not been naturally blessed.
For smaller gardens, the quickest route to good soil is working with raised beds, as they can be easily worked and maintained. But for all gardens, big or small, you will need to keep building your soil each year to ensure it’s up to the job. And the best way is to enrich it with high-quality compost.
4. Make your own compost
Mother Nature doesn’t throw anything away….and when you start making your own compost, neither will you. Dug into your soil, compost improves its structure and adds slow-releasing micronutrients that your plants will thrive on. Buy (or make) yourself a compost bin and feed it all your organic kitchen and garden waste (such as leaves, vegetable peel, shredded paper, even coffee grounds) then work regularly into your soil and your plants will thank you for it.
5. Mulch, then mulch some more
If compost goes deep to enrich your soil, then the marvelously monikered mulch lies on top to create a protective barrier. Together this awesome duo should be the go-to for any gardener.
Mulch is made from organic material such as straw, wood chips or bark and helps your plants in so many ways. It reduces evaporation from the soil, prevents weeds from growing, keeps the ground cool, encourages earthworms and, when it finally decomposes, supports the fertility of the soil. Keep it topped up and you’ve one hardworking gardening assistant who makes cultivating your plants just that little bit easier.
6. Choose plants you love
Now you’ve got your layout and soil sorted, do your plant homework and try to choose the ones that not only will work in your soil and location but really do float your boat.
Cultivating green fingers takes time and patience, so if you’re invested in the plants or crops from the start and understand what they need from you, the actual gardening bit will feel less of a chore. And don’t be afraid to experiment with unusual specimens of your favorite non-edible and edible plants, you can always adjust your gardening plans for the following season if they don’t quite work.
7. Plant what’s in season
If you’re new to the green life, it’s tempting to take the scattergun approach to your planting. But ‘hedging your bets’ to see what comes up is not really a fruitful strategy. The key to gardening success is to plant the right type of plants, in the right conditions at the right time.
The first step is to look for plants that can thrive in the soil and climate where you live, and once you know the choice available to you, work from there. Check the seed or plant’s information then plant at the right time for it to happily thrive.
8. Feed the soil, not the plants
This is a mistake many rookie gardeners make: putting fertilizer onto the plant rather than into the surrounding soil. Plants are hungry for nutrients which, if you’re creating the right bedding environment, they can get from the soil. But they can need an extra shot now and again, which is where fertilizer comes in. Just remember that plants feed on their roots, not their leaves so you need to target any extra plant feed to where it’s needed.
9. Be water wise
Surely there can’t be anything complicated about watering the garden, I hear you ask. Err…no and yes. Your plants do need to be watered regularly but there are certain ways to approach it. Here are our tips for hydrated and happy plants:
- Most garden plants need one to two inches of water per week. If there’s not enough rainfall in that time, top them up.
- Water deeply once a week, rather than a daily sprinkle– frequent, light watering only moisten the topsoil and teases the plant’s roots up instead of growing deeper.
- Group thirsty plants together and try to keep your soil well-drained as the roots also need air, rather than a total soaking.
10. Plant crops in wide beds
If your gardening plans include growing tasty food, then how you plant them will determine how much will end up on your menu.
If you’re hoping for a bumper harvest, plant your crops in tight groups on wide, preferably raised beds to protect them from being trodden on and to allow for easier gardening access and maintenance. Keeping the plants tightly grouped together isn’t to stop them getting lonely but to cut down on space for weeds to grow and to create shade that helps conserve water across the whole bed.
11. Go vertical
If your green space is on the compact and bijou side, you can still cultivate an amazing outdoor haven by making the most of the space you probably didn’t realize you had. To find it, look up!
Vertical planting is the ideal way to make the most of a small space and can make a stunning feature on a balcony or yard wall by using trellises or canes to grow plants upwards. There are other benefits to going vertical – plants are less susceptible to fungal diseases and are easier to maintain.
12. Succession planting
How much can you squeeze out of your garden? Particularly if you have a vegetable plot or herb garden, succession planting can actually get multiple crops out of your green space. It’ll take some planning but if you’re confident you can get the timings right, then you could well reap the rewards.
So how do you do it? The aim is to extend your growing season by planting faster-developing crops (such as lettuce, kale, carrots, and potatoes) as early as you can, then after your first crop, plant a second batch for a second harvest later in the year. Be bold and push it even further by choosing a winter plant or crop and continue into the colder months. Buy or build your own greenhouse and it’s possible to crop all year round.
13. Plant compatible combinations
If you were to be kept in close confines with other people 24/7 you would at least hope to get on with your neighbors…and plants are the same. A good way to make the most of your garden space and increase the health and yield of your plants it to make sure they get on.
Some plants will compete with others for resources such as water and light while others are, well, better team players. When planning what you want to plant, do a little homework on the types of plants that work well with others to ensure harmony in your garden.
14. Weed early and often
As the saying goes, if you want to get on, get ahead. While this may sound more at home in the City than your garden, when it comes to weeds, it’s the rule you need to live by. In short, don’t wait for the weeds to take hold, catch them as soon as you see their first shots, then keep checking back for more. If allowed to take hold, weeds will compete with your plants and crops for nutrients and can also harbor unwanted pests.
15. Don’t be afraid to deadhead
It may sound like something out of a horror flick, but you need to deadhead to keep your plants happy. It’s not decapitation as such, but it’s the floral next best thing. For plants such as annuals and perennials whose job is to flower, shed seeds and die, pinching off the old flowerheads gives the eager-to-please plant the nod to produce even more flowers. Removing old blooms also allows the plant to direct their energies to their leaves and roots, instead of seed production, setting them up nicely for the following year.
16. Know your shade and sun-loving plants
Just like us humans, plants are either sun-worshippers or shade-lovers and it’s important to know which is when choosing where and when to plant. Do you research – eg. tomatoes and peppers that need to ripen adore the sun, while water-based lettuce or watercress will wilt under the first sign of blazing heat – then place your plants where they’ll perform at their best.
17. Save those seeds
Make each gardening season ‘pay it forward’ by saving some of the seeds from your successful crops to plant the following year. Pick seeds from plants that can give you a bumper crop of fruit or veg you know you’ll use, like tomatoes, peppers or pumpkins. You’ll need to clean them well (tomato seeds will need soaking in a little water for several days to shed their protective gel) and then put the seeds aside to fully dry. Then store them in a watertight container in a cool, dry place ready for your next season’s planting.
18. Write it all down
One of the best habits you can develop is keeping a garden journal. Note what you planted and when, as well as any problems you encountered. Keep track of the weather, what things you did that really worked out well and what didn’t so you don’t make the same mistakes next season.
19. Enjoy the fruits of your labor
When you’re knee deep in digging, weeding and pruning, it’s easy to forget your garden or yard is also to be enjoyed. So, don’t get so dug into the graft of gardening you don’t enjoy the results of all that hard work.
Just taking the time to sit in your personal green space and look and absorb what’s around you is not only great for your wellbeing but it’s also a chance to work out what else you want to do….and grow.
20. Don’t give up
Last but not least in our list of 20 habits of successful gardeners is perhaps the wisest of them all – don’t give up if it doesn’t quite go according to plan. Just dust off your gardening gloves and start again.
If you set realistic expectations from the start, you can’t go too wrong. Let us give you some of the best DIY tips: try not to get your head turned by complicated gardening set pieces if you don’t have the time, money or space. Simply create the garden or outdoor space that works for you. And if that’s a couple of container pots, an herb tray, and a hanging basket, then you’re still a gardener dude!