5 Things I Learned From Starting My First Garden

Full garden shot!

MY FIRST GARDEN

Starting a garden has been something I have wanted to do for years. This year – I finally pulled the trigger! Funnily enough, a ton of other people hopped on the gardening train too in the last few months. Thank you COVID! 🤪Learning to grow my own food has been SO fun, and such a good skill to have!

Before this garden, I hadn’t successfully kept many plants alive. If you’re a newbie at plants and gardening too – don’t worry! It is definitely something that can be learned and honed with time. There is a ton of great resources and information out there that has really helped me have success this time around.

I’ll link some of my favorite channels and resources that I’ve learned from down below, but here are 5 of my own tips! These are things I’ve learned through trial and error that may help if you’re wanting to get into gardening yourself.

WHERE WILL YOUR GARDEN BE?

This is super important in more ways than one. The first thing you want to take into account is where will your garden physically be? For example, I live in Texas so the plants that grow and thrive well here are a lot different than what my parents may be able to grow well in California. Most seed packets or plants state on the label which “zone” of the country they thrive in, which can help you out when you’re deciding what to plant. You can calculate which zone you live in here – https://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/PHZMWeb/.

Another thing to consider is where will the garden be in location to your home or property? You’ll want to figure out which way your property faces, and consider how much light your plants will get. The sun rises from the East and sets in the West every day, so if you plant the crops where they’re facing south, they should get the most sunlight. Most plants are going to need either partial or full sunlight in order to grow to their full potential, and if you have any structures nearby you’ll want to ensure they’re not shading the garden too much. I have a cucumber plant that is placed in a non-ideal location, and it’s significantly smaller than the rest of them due to lack of sunlight.

SOIL

There are many opinions on what makes up a good soil, but regardless of the mixture you use, it’s true that the plants and crops thrive off of the nutrients and PH levels that are in the soil. That’s why people do things like dump their coffee grounds in the garden, or have compost bins. All of the micro organisms make the soil full of nutrients so that the plants can grow their best. A fun thing about this, is coffee ground can actually make certain plants change colors as it changes their PH levels! My hydrangeas change easily from white to pink when I do this, and it’s fun to watch!

There are other additives you can do such as vermiculite, which is almost like a very thin gravel mixture. Adding this to your beds will help aerate the soil and help it to retain water better. I spoke to a worker at Home Depot at length about this, he highly recommends using this!

Personally, I purchased two truck loads of “garden bed soil” from a local landscaping supply store where it came premixed for us. This was the most affordable option I found, and it has worked great so far.

SQUARE FOOT GARDENING/ COMPANION PLANTING

Now that you have figured out where your beds are going to go, and what kind of soil you’re going to put in them, now you have to figure out what to plant! When we first started I was completely unaware that there was a rhyme or reason to the way plants were arranged.

If you choose to do a raised bed garden, I would recommend using the square foot gardening method vs. planting in rows. This allows you to maximize the most out of your space, and have as many plants as possible. I used this handy calculator to help me figure out how I was going to arrange my plants, it was super helpful! You just drag and drop the plants you’re growing, and it will tell you how many per square foot you’ll be able to fit. Definitely listen to it too! Some things, like tomatoes, get HUGE! https://www.gardeners.com/on/demandware.store/Sites-Gardeners-Site/default/KGP-Design?SC=XNET0279

Companion planting is something that I’ve *kind of* taken into consideration, but haven’t been as strict with. Companion planting is the act of planting certain crops next to each other in order to help them grow better. Certain plants thrive off of each other and help attract bees, or repel pests. There is so much information on companion planting on Pinterest! That has been my best resource when it comes to this.

Companion planting garden tips
Image Credit – Pinterest

PESTS

Dealing with pests has been a HUGE learning curve for me! I had no idea how quickly little insects could rip apart perfectly good plants, and how you deal with them can really affect the outcome of their livelihood as well.

About a month ago, I came out to find my broccoli, tomatoes, and some cucumbers absolutely shredded by pests. They were covered in little tiny holes, and turning yellow! Personally, I want to keep my garden as organic as possible and that is definitely something I’ve considered when approaching pesticides. You can watch with your own eyes flowers change color when you add substances to the soil, so it’s very apparent that the plants are internally changed. Knowing this fact, and that I’ll be actually ingesting the plants, I just don’t feel right about putting anything not natural in my garden. We just don’t know what the long term affects of such things will be. After another good conversation with my Home Depot friends in the garden department, I chose this as my pesticide option. https://www.homedepot.com/p/Organocide-32-oz-Bee-Safe-Insect-Killer-Concentrate-100532027/303879884

Organic garden pesticides

This is safe for people and pets, and can be applied to plants, and then eaten the same day! It has ingredients like fish oil, sesame oil, and other natural things.

If you choose to use this – FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS! I just poured some in a spray bottle and went to town – which didn’t neccessarily hurt the plants, but caused a bunch of the leaves to yellow and wilt. It’s from concentrate, so you only need a tiny bit for it to be effective!

HARVESTING

This is something that I have had to learn through trial and error as well. On the seed packet, where it will tell you information about the seeds like what zone it grows best in, how much space to plant it needs, etc. it will also say how many days until harvest. You really want to know this information, and harvest the plants when they’re most ripe. If you let them go too long, you can end up with bitter or rotten crops.

My husband Drew and I tried to taste test some cucumbers we grew from seed over on my insta-stories, (Follow me over there at – www.instagram.com/mrsmaddiemac!) I had let these get way too big, and they were disgusting! 😂

BEST RESOURCES

There is SO much good information to be learned out there when it comes to gardening! Two of my favorite resources that I’ve found so far are

Laura from Garden Answer is the QUEEN of gardening! There is literally nothing you can’t learn on her channel. Her property is this luscious, green, magical place and is the stuff dreams are made of! She has tons of tips and helpful videos.

I started following Wendy after one of her collabs with her daughter Natalie. I started following Natalie when her boys were tiny babies, and they’re now almost six! She has the BEST YouTube edits I think I’ve ever seen. Wendy posts amazing gardening tips, and I have learned so much from following her! I was having an issue with squirrels eating my flowers, and at her recommendation I got rubber snakes to scare them away. Something I never would have known!

This app is so cool! It can identify any plant and tell you what kind it is, and it can also diagnose issues or illnesses with any plant that you may have. You just snap a photo with your phone, and it will tell you instantly! So cool if you really like the look of a particular flower or tree out in public, and want to know what kind it is.


I hope you guys learned something from these tips, and it may have inspired you to start your own garden! I am no pro, by any means but I have had so much fun with it. Even if you start with a couple small potted plants, and go from there – you can do it! Anyone can become a gardener. 🙂

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