Tips for Beginners
- For fruit and vegetables as well as all potted plants, put your finger into the soil near the plant so that the soil comes up to the second knuckle, if the soil at this level is damp, you don't need to water. If it's dry, then give the plant a good soaking.
- For established perennial plants, check how dry the soil is around 15-30 cm (6-12 inches) below the soil surface. If it's damp, you don't need to water yet but if its dry they give the plant a good soaking.
- Water deeply, less often. This encourages plants to produce deep roots and makes them stronger and better able to withstand drought as well as temperature extreems.
- If possible, try to water in the morning. This means that your plants can use the water for the maximum amount of time (they don't uptake water overnight). Never water during the hotest parts of the day as the sun can burn foliage if it gets wet. You'll also lose more water due to evaporation. (The exception to this is if a plant wilts from lack of water. In which case you need to water it, being very careful not to wet the leaves - a watering can is helpful.) Watering in the evening is the second best option. Be careful though as leaving your plants damp overnight increases the chance that they will contract fungal diseases.
- Mulch. It prevents evaporation and greatly reduces the amount of supplemental water your plants need.
Mulch! Mulching is perhaps the single most beneficial thing you can do for your garden.
- Make plant pots out of newspaper or use used egg cartons and toilet rolls. Be aware though that they will need to be watered more often that plastic pots
- Keep plastic pots from the seedlings and plants you have bought. They can be used to raise plants from seed but make sure you wash them thoroughly to prevent the spread of diseases.
- Use empty egg shells as pots for germinating small seeds. You can put drainage holes in them with a nail.
Growing Plants from Seed
- Even if the seed packet says to plant the seeds directly in their final growing position, if you have never grown the plant before, sow a few seeds in a small pot or punnet so that you will know what the seedling looks like. There's nothing worse than planting seeds in the garden and finding a week or so later that you've got sprouts but that you don't know if they're from the seeds you've planted or if they're weeds.
- Seed raising mix is really useful for germinating seeds both in punnets and the garden. It retains moisture to help with seed germination but it also allows adequate air circulation, which is also needed for germination. Tiny seedlings also produce better roots in seed raising mix because there aren't any big clumps or bits of bark that can prevent them from growing where they want to.
- Large seeds can rot if you water them too much before they germinate.
What to Grow
- This may sound obvious but it is a common mistake: when choose food crops for your garden, grow what you like to eat. There's no point growing hundreds of radishes because they're easy to grow, if you're only ever going to eat a handful.
- Grow plants that suit your climate. Once you have more experience you can experiment with plants from other climate zones (bananas in cool climates for example) but when you are just starting out, you will have far more success if you stick to things that grow well in your climate.
- If your area is subject to water restrictions, don't grow plants that need a lot of water.
Compost is an important part of healthy gardens. In a compost heap, garden and kitchen waste is broken down and recycled by microorganisms into a fantastic garden fertiliser. If you would like to learn how to compost in your garden, have a look at this composting page.
When is Compost Ready to Use?
If compost is completely finished, it should have a fine crumbly texture. It should look a lot like garden soil (but darker because it's so jam packet with organic matter). You can use compost when it hasn't completely decomposed - especially if you're digging it into garden beds before planting things - but the nutrients will be more readily available to plants if the compost is fully decomposed. Also, if it's not fully decomposed and it contains a lot of carbon, it may temporarily remove nitrogen from the soil, causing a temporary nitrogen deficiency.
If you've never gardened before don't worry. The tips on this page will help you get off to a great start and you'll be growing beautiful and delicious plants in no time. More experienced gardeners may find some of the tips here useful too.
Keep a garden diary. That way you'll soon know which plants do best in your area and in each particular area of your garden. You'll also be able to get on top of pests more easily and you'll be able to practice crop rotation and companion planting successfully.
Tips for Maintaining Healthy, Weed-Free Garden Beds
Never allow garden beds to remain empty for long. Whenever you remove plants, replace them with seedlings or sow seeds. This maintains soil structure, helps prevent weeds from moving in and creates continual interest. It also allows you to fit in or edibles or ornamentals and gives you more of an opportunity to rotate plantings with green manures. Always having plants growing in the soil also helps keep moisture in the soil and prevents nutrients from being leached from the top soil.