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Gardening 101: A Guide for Beginners

Are you interested in learning how to garden but aren’t sure where to start? Or maybe you know how to garden but want to dive a little deeper into design and learn more about specific plants? Become the gardener you’ve always wanted to be with these simple gardening 101 tips, tricks, and inspiration.

In this post we will cover the following topics:

We’ve got a lot of ground to cover! Are you ready?

Your green thumb starts…Now!

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Gardening 101

Before we get started, I want to note that most of my writing is geared towards flowers but you can apply a lot of the same concepts to vegetable gardening too.

It’s not that I don’t do a lot of vegetable gardening because I do, but I haven’t blogged much about it because I lean more towards flowers and houseplants.

Know Your Gardening Zone

Not sure what hardiness zone you are in?

It’s very important to know this before purchasing plants and growing a garden.

CLICK HERE to learn your zone.

I grow flowers, herbs, and vegetables in gardening zone 6a in my New Jersey Garden.

tulip 'sensual touch'

Garden Tools and Supplies for the Beginner

Before we start gardening, we need to stock up on the right supplies!

From pruners to hand trowels, and garden forks to shovels, what do you need to start your best gardening life?

Click here for a beginner’s list of garden tools.

And click here if you want to stock up on my go-to gardening supplies.

gardening tools for the beginner with hand trowel and gloves

Find the Right Location

Depending on what you want to grow, research the light conditions so you know before you plant.

Not all plants are suited for full sun. And not all plants are suited for shade.

But how can you tell what kind of light a certain spot gets?

Watch it for one full sunny day and check it hourly from morning through evening.

If you get 6-8 full hours of sun, you’ve got full sun.

4-6 hours is part sun/part shade.

And anything below 4 hours is considered shade.

So it’s important to read the plant tags before you purchase so you know that it will suit the light conditions of your garden.

3 Easy Ways to Start a Garden

While you may already have some existing gardens you can work with, if you are starting from scratch, there are 3 ways you can start a new garden.

The traditional method of starting a garden is digging out and removing existing sod. It can be very tiring but is the best way if you want to get it done in a short amount of time.

Click here to learn how to start a garden using the traditional method.

Digging out and pitching sod - How to Start a Garden

But if you want to start a new garden the easy way and have some time to spare?

Try this easy method to starting a new garden instead.

But there are other options for gardening than growing plants in the ground.

Raised bed or container gardening might be a great option for you if you lack garden space or want to work in beds that are higher than ground level.

I started using self-watering raised beds for my vegetable garden and the harvest was amazing!

This is how I started my raised garden beds.

gardening 101 raised garden bed ideas

Gardening 101: It Starts With Good Soil

To be a successful gardener, you must have good quality soil.

Soil preparation is one of the most overlooked and most critical steps to growing a healthy garden.

Before planting in the ground, take some soil samples and have them tested so you know what your soil needs to grow happy and healthy plants.

You can purchase kits online, but your local cooperative extension or master gardener helpline can help you as well.

Once you have your soil test, it’s important to amend that soil yearly to keep it nutritious for your plants.

tulips that bloom like peonies

One of the best ways to amend your soil is to make your own compost.

While you can purchase bags of compost from the local garden nursery, it’s very easy to make your own. Not to mention, it’s more budget-friendly to make your own too.

This is how to make your own compost recipe.

And to make your soil even better?

Collect all that leaf debris and make leaf mold with these easy tips.

And be sure to add some sort of mulch to your beds after planting to help suppress weeds. It will also eventually break down and amend the soil too.

As an aside, I’m often asked what I feed my perennials, trees, and shrubs. And the truth of the matter is…I don’t. I just focus on good soil quality.

Spring Flowers like lenten rose, virginia bluebells and bleeding hearts in the Zen Garden
Bearded Iris and Allium in the Cottage Garden

How to Plant

Planting any plant seems a lot harder than it is, but trust me when I tell you, it’s easy!

Supplies Need for Planting

  • Hand Trowel or Garden Shovel
  • Garden Soil (for the ground) or Potting Soil for Containers
  • Plants of your Choice

Now that we have the supplies, let’s plant stuff!

How to Plant in a Garden

  • Gather supplies
  • Dig a hole that is twice the size of the plant’s rootball.
  • Squeeze plant out of nursery container or cell. If plant is rootbound, you may need to cut the roots from the bottom of the pot to get it out.
  • Tease roots with your fingers to encourage them to grow out in the soil once planted. If plant is rootbound, where the roots are tightly wound around the base, slice them to loosen them up and then tease them out.
  • Add some garden soil to the hole then add the plant.
  • Backfill with garden soil and mix in the existing soil.
  • Top with mulch.
  • Water well.

If working with a container, follow these container gardening tips for planting.

planting spring garden flowers to keep mosquitos away. Marigolds are being planted in the backyard garden in front of garden shed.

Watering

When and how much to water is dependent on many different factors that include the rainfall, site, climate, and whether the soil has been properly prepared.

Thus, the more planning you do before planting your garden, the easier it will be to water and care for your plants.

For example, some plants need more water than others, so it’s best to group those plants together in the same area of the garden that is close to a watering source.

Gardening 101 - holding a gorgeous peony

In the alternative, plants that require less water can also be grouped together and planted further away from a water source.

It takes a few years for a plants system to tolerate long dry periods. So even ones marked “drought-tolerant” will only be able to survive drought conditions when their roots are well established.

Topping off garden beds with mulch is a great way to help keep moisture in the soil.

Where houseplants are concerned overwatering can be a detriment to plants. Click here to learn how to tell when it’s time to water.

Watering houseplants - The Secret to Keeping Houseplants Alive

Fertilizing

While supplementary nutrients are needed for some plants, too often gardeners overfertilize their gardens.

As I mentioned before, I do not fertilize perennials, shrubs, or trees. They simply don’t need it if you are focusing on good quality soil.

However, I recommend fertilizing container gardens, houseplants, annuals, and vegetables (with organic fertilizer only like THIS.)

For my flowers, houseplants and other annuals, I use THIS slow release fertilizer because it lasts for a few months and is set and forget.

cut flower garden in my gardening zone 6a backyard border. This is my favorite cottage garden in the landscape in front of the garden shed

Flower Gardening with Perennials and Annuals

If you love flowers like me and want them blooming all season long, there are a few tricks of the trade to learn.

For starters, it’s important to understand the basics of perennials vs annuals.

Because they serve different purposes and what gardening zone you are in will help you determine what is annual and perennial in your locality.

Click here to learn more about annuals vs perennials and what you should plant.

Dahlia 'Jowey Winnie' flowers close up
Dahlia ‘Jowey Winnie’

Gardening 101: How to Prune and Deadhead Flowers

To keep your garden looking healthy and tidy, it’s important to prune plants and deadhead flowers.

When pruning hydrangeas, ornamental shrubs, and other woody plants, you’ll want to follow these tips.

But follow this if you are deadheading flowers from perennials, annuals, and roses?

deadheading flowers

Why and How to Divide Perennials

Dividing perennials is a great way to keep the garden looking good and share the bounty with others.

There are several reasons why we need to divide perennials every few years.

  • Plant health
  • Maintain overall size
  • Avoid overcrowding
  • Budget-friendly method to growing more plants
  • Keep plants in check

Click here to learn how to divide perennials.

Fun Fact: Did you know that hydrangeas can be divided too? Yes!

My cut flower garden in front of the shed in the backyard with a wood picket fence and sedum autumn joy - How to Save Money at the Garden Nursery
Cut Flower Gardening for Beginners

Garden Design Ideas

When I started gardening, I wanted to grow as many flowers as I could fit in my existing garden when we moved to our first home.

What started as a small garden where I learned some basics, expanded to a gorgeous cottage garden that bloomed throughout the season after we added a second story addition.

How to Design an Everblooming, Colorful Garden

To get the most out of what little space we had, I studied garden books, magazines, catalogs, and visited the garden nursery A LOT to see what bloomed throughout the season.

Do you want to grow a colorful flower garden that blooms from early spring through fall? Follow these tips.

My cottage garden flowers in spring - 5 Ways to Grow a Cottage Garden - alliums, roses and salvia and nepeta are blooming

5 Quick Ways to Grow a Cottage Garden

And if you love the look of a cottage garden like I do?

I got you.

From beautiful flowers to pretty garden decor, here are 5 easy ways to grow a cottage garden.

While I am starting a new cottage garden here in my new gardens, I had some beautiful gardens the last few years at my former home.

Tall phlox, balloon flower and other cottage garden flowers in summer that were grown from dividing perennials to grow an everblooming colorful garden with annuals, perennials and bulbs

DIY Garden Decor

I love the look of a birdhouse in the garden.

It adds character and a place for the eye to stop while viewing the gardens, but it also provides shelter for the birds.

While you can buy them almost anywhere, you can also build your own!

Click here to learn how to DIY a birdhouse for your cottage garden.

DIY Birdhouse in fall garden with limelight hydrangea flowers -How to Build a Birdhouse

Design a Garden that Attracts Butterflies and Hummingbirds

Do you want to grow a garden that attracts pollinators like hummingbirds and butterflies?

They are so fun to watch around the gardens throughout the growing season and super easy to attract too.

Luckily, there are several flowers that attract both!

echinacea close up

Butterfly Gardening Tips

Every butterfly garden has bright, bold, and beautiful nectar loving plants that feed both butterflies and caterpillars.

Click here to learn more about how to design a butterfly garden.

Here are 10 of my favorite easy-care and gorgeous flowers that attract butterflies.

Hummingbird Gardening Tips

Gardening for hummingbirds is similar but slightly different. Plant a variety of flowers and shrubs in varying heights to provide shade, shelter, food, and water and you’ll see hummingbirds visit your garden often.

Click here to learn more about how to design a hummingbird garden.

And click here for 9 easy-care blooms that attract hummingbirds.

Monarch butterfly on echinacea flower in Butterfly Garden

Container Gardening 101

If you have a small space to garden or want to start, gardening in containers is a great way to get started.

You can grow anything in them, including vegetables.

Click here for container design tips and general care information.

And if you are not sure what type of container to use? Click here to learn more about how to choose the right container for gardening.

But if you are looking for some design inspiration, check out these posts:

Gardening 101: Container gardening basics for beginners

Gardening 101: How to Protect Your Garden From Pests and Disease

If you are new to gardening, it is SO important to walk your gardens every single day.

You will catch problems early and hopefully salvage anything that is seriously damaging your plants.

And my best advice?

When you see something wrong, address it right away. Don’t wait to deal with it. I’ve done the latter before and regretted it for years after.

This is what I generally do when I walk around and how I troubleshoot pest and disease issues when I see things.

Zen garden with hellebores and bleeding hearts with japanese maple -10 shade loving plants that bloom

How to Keep Deer From Eating Garden Plants

If you live in an area that is prone to deer, you’ll need to protect plants that they enjoy.

While there are plants deer prefer not to eat, they can eat anything.

But there are lots of ways to protect plants from deer browsing and I’ve found that repellents work very well for plants that are more susceptible to damage.

Click here to learn best practices for keeping deer from eating garden plants. This post also includes a list of garden plants rated by deer resistance that I use when I go to the nursery, so be sure to check it out.

I shared my latest deer repellent strategy and found it to be very effective.

Tulips that bloom like peonies -Gardening 101: How to Keep pest and disease problems under control

Beneficial Insects for the Garden

Did you know that certain insects like praying mantis and ladybugs help protect the garden from pests and disease problems?

Yes!

I had a serious scale infestation two summers ago in my gardens and couldn’t get rid of them with organic pest control, so I ordered ladybugs for my garden and it worked!

The ladybugs ate the scale and my problem significantly improved after releasing them.

Wait until you see how ladybugs helped my garden!

Praying Mantis on Sedum Autumn Joy

Japanese Beetles and Grub Control

Japanese beetles can be a real menace in the garden as they defoliate plants in summer.

Sure you can knock them off into buckets of soapy water but that can be a lot of work.

Pheromone traps are not effective and I know many will say that they are but hear me out.

They actually attract MORE to your garden and don’t really solve the problem long term.

This is what you need to do to deal with Japanese beetles. It is not a quick fix but it works very well.

roses in my jersey garden

Gardening 101: All About Hydrangeas

One of the most popular plants that new gardeners enjoy are hydrangeas. And what’s not to love?

They are easy to care for, there are lots of different varieties, and the flowers are beautiful.

Hydrangeas make great cut flowers and dry well for wreaths and other indoor decor.

Everblooming hydrangea in my jersey garden

Everything You Need to Know About Hydrangeas

How to Make a Simple Hydrangea Wreath for Free

Gardening 101: About Roses and Their Care

When I first started gardening, I wanted to grow roses.

They are such beautiful flowers, aren’t they?

But I was a little intimidated because I’ve always heard they are difficult and fussy to grow but let me be the first to tell you, that is not so!

While some need a little more work than others, there are varieties you can grow that are easy to grow and need minimal care.

Do you want to grow roses? Click here to learn what you need to know to enjoy a beautiful rose garden.

Roses climbing up obelisk -The Complete Guide to Roses Care

Cut Flower Gardening Basics for Beginners

If you enjoy a fresh bouquet of flowers indoors, I can’t tell you how rewarding a cut flower garden is.

I used to be the kind of gardener that only wanted to enjoy her flowers outdoors.

But now? I’m hooked on growing flowers to harvest because you can enjoy them both in the garden and inside the home.

Cut flower gardening is a little more work, but it is really fun to do and if you are interested in learning more about it, check out this post.

Cutting zinnias - Cut flower gardening is so fun! Home and Garden Blogger Stacy Ling

Houseplants 101

Are you interested in growing houseplants but think you aren’t good at it?

It’s probably not you, but it is likely the plants you are trying to grow.

Some plants are much easier to work with than others and if you are just starting out? I suggest working with super easy-care plants that are hard to kill.

Do you know that fiddle leaf fig that is all the rage these days with indoor decor?

Yeah, don’t grow that one because they are super fussy and not easy to care for.

If this sounds like your experience with houseplants, give them another try.

Watering Day for Houseplants in my farmhouse kitchen

There are lots of benefits to growing and caring for houseplants.

  • They purify the air.
  • Beautify our living spaces.
  • And are known to improve our mood.

Studies have shown that indoor plants improve concentration and productivity as well as reduce stress levels.

Houseplants are great for all levels of gardeners and nobody has a black thumb. Nope, not true!

Once you have a good understanding of what works best for you and the climate in your home, your inner green thumb will flourish.

When I was a beginner plant mom, I had no clue why my houseplants struggled and oftentimes didn’t survive.

But I’ve learned what works, where plants thrive best in my home, how and when to water.

Houseplants on the south side of the house in winter - How to Care for Plants in Winter

As my experience grew, there are a few things I do that have dramatically improved the health of my houseplants.

A little knowledge can go a long way, this is what you need to know to grow houseplants without killing them.

And click here if you want a good easy-care plant list to start your plant parent journey.

But this is my best tip for keeping those plants alive. And you will be surprised at what it is!

If your plants struggle or otherwise are not looking great, you can save them by doing THIS.

More Houseplant Care Tips and Tricks

Houseplants in my sunroom After the renovation - how to paint over faux finish in the sunroom renovation. Houseplants in the sunroom
Sunroom Before and After

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close up of tulips that bloom like peonies -Gardening 101: Beginner's Guide to Gardening Basics
close up of bearded iris and alliums
close up of hellebores - gardening 101

Thank you so much for following along.

Enjoy a beautiful day! xo

Stacy Ling

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2 Comments

  1. This is seriously great! So much information!!
    I’m filling my hummingbird feeder right now…just waiting for the sugar to dissolve!

    1. Thank you so much! I love watching the hummingbirds stop by – have seen a few here at the new place so far too!