How to Start Your First Garden: A Beginner's Guide

How to Start Your First Garden: A Beginner's Guide

May 14th 2024

With 71.5 million households now engaged in gardening, it's clear that many Americans are investing in their well-being and the environment around them. Beyond aesthetic benefits, this trend mirrors a shift towards healthier, more sustainable living, helping us connect with the natural world. Gardening has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety levels in individuals, leading to a better quality of life.

However, the question remains for many beginners: How do you start your first garden? The idea might feel overwhelming, with factors like choosing the right spot, picking suitable flowers, and learning the ground rules of soil management. Yet, setting up your lush, green space doesn't have to be complicated. Read on for a 7-step checklist to help you hop on your gardening journey!

1. Choose What to Plant

Before you bring in your gardening supplies, take the time to decide what you'd like to grow. Is it a vegetable garden with fresh produce? Will it be a garden bed for seasonal flowers (annuals) or perennials that bloom every spring? This will determine the right type of soil for your garden and how much sunlight your plants require.

If you're inclined towards a vegetable garden, tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, and spinach are the easiest veggies to start with. Similarly, if you want to grow a herb garden, start with basil, cilantro, and mint. Are you interested in flower gardens for their aesthetic and beauty benefits? Go with marigolds, sunflowers, and zinnias.

However, before deciding what to plant, check out the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map for guidance on growing plants suitable for your region and its temperatures.

2. Pick the Right Garden Spot

After you select your plants, picking the best garden spot for them will be much easier. Most flowering plants and vegetables require 6 hours of direct sunlight each day in the growing season, so you must find areas in your yard that receive full sun and partial shade. Plus, look for a spot that is relatively flat and doesn't form a puddle after rainstorms because if it does, your plant's roots may face waterlogging issues later on.

Aim to avoid high wind areas since these may dry out your plants and damage the soil, as well as hinder pollination. Moreover, if this is your first garden, it's best to start small to stay manageable and interesting. Generally, a 6x6 feet garden is optimum for beginners, with space for up to 5 vegetables and a few flowers.

3. Run a Soil Test

Thinking about how to start your first garden? Remember, the most essential element in the success of your vegetable garden is the soil because it can make or break the success of your garden. Thus, it's crucial to have a soil test done before sowing your seeds.

For this purpose, collect soil samples from different spots in your garden from a depth of around 6-8 inches. Then, send it to a local extension service or a professional soil-testing laboratory to learn more about what your soil has, what it doesn't, and how to amend it.

Here are the qualities of the best soil for plant growth:

  • It should have a pH level between 0 and 7.5, as most plants prefer this range, and it is when most nutrients become available for uptake.
  • It should contain essential nutrients like phosphorus, nitrogen, and potassium, crucial for plant growth and development.
  • It should be rich in microorganisms and earthworms since they help fertilize the soil and promote better drainage.

4. Amend and Enrich Your Soil

After your soil testing results, it's time to amend your soil so it's suitable for the growth of your desired plants. If you live in a residential unit, chances are your soil won't be perfect, lacking in nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen. It might also be compacted or have poor drainage, resulting in waterlogged soil, which lacks ample oxygen for your plants.

In this case, it's best to enrich your soil with a 2-inch layer of compost, which adds nutrients and organic matter to your soil in an easily consumable form. Likewise, if your test results indicate acidic soil with low pH levels, add lime to raise the pH levels and improve nutrient availability for your plants. But what if you have alkaline soil with a high pH? Well, then use sulfur or peat moss to get the pH levels in the optimum range.

5. Prepare the Garden Beds

The next step is to prepare your garden beds to support your plants' healthy growth. Two methods exist to do this: digging by hand or tilling with a mechanical device, like a rototiller. The second one (tilling) is an excellent option if you need to break up and turn over large soil segments, but it's easy to go overboard with it, which may damage the soil structure.

On the other hand, digging is a more practical option if you have a small 6x6 bed. Raised beds are recommended for most backyard gardens because they provide good drainage and are easier to maintain. Beds should be about 3 to 4 feet wide (so you can reach the center from either side) and as long as you like.

6. Set up a Weed Strategy

Are you confused about how to start your first garden without weed invasions eating up half of your yields? Well, the solution is to think of a weed strategy beforehand. As a preventative measure, you can use landscape fabric, which prevents light and water from reaching the weeds, suppressing their growth. However, this barrier material must be installed before planting the seeds.

Alternatively, you can use mulch or groundcover plants to block sunlight from reaching weeds and inhibit their growth.

Here are a few organic mulches you may use:

  • Use natural options like bark, straw, leaf compost, or wood chips. These materials break down over time, improving soil fertility.
  • For larger gardens and vegetable beds, use sheet mulching. You can do this by laying cardboard or multiple layers of newspaper over the soil before adding organic mulch.

7. Watering Your Plants

It's crucial to design a suitable watering system for your garden to be successful. All garden types and sizes require adequate watering, and a drip irrigation system makes it easy to provide water. Starting with a pre-designed kit that fits your garden is simple and effective for a successful season. Additionally, you can add an irrigation timer to complete your drip irrigation system. A timer will turn the water system on and off, ensuring that your garden gets watered consistently.


Starting your first garden is exciting, from selecting the best plants to picking the right garden spot and preparing your beds. As you become more comfortable with gardening, you may seek ways to make your maintenance job easier and more efficient, especially when it comes to watering.

Drip irrigation uses up to 30-50% less water than traditional methods, showcasing your commitment to sustainability and leading to healthier, more bountiful yields. Invest in a greener future for your garden with DripWorks' irrigation products.