11 Must-Try Gardening Tips for Newbs
Jealous of your neighbor's lush garden? We'll get you that green thumb in no time.
While I wholeheartedly believe that we can learn almost any skill if we put our minds to it, for me, this hasn’t worked so well with gardening. I’ve tried a variety of projects, and yet my gardening thumbs are still black. However, even after a string of gardening disappointments, I’m still not ready to completely give up.
With spring in full swing, I want to share some tips for those of you who, like me, need some help in the gardening department. There are still some easy ways to get garden-y that doesn't feel quite so overwhelming.
Try an Herb Garden
Woolly Pocket Living Wall Planter
The spouts of watering cans fit easily into the holes of the Woolly Pocket. Plant an herb garden in your kitchen and snip herbs right off the wall. $26.99; woollypocket.com
Photo courtesy of Woolly Pocket
An herb garden is a great beginner project, even if you live in an apartment and don’t have any outdoor space. If you happen to have a windowsill in your kitchen or some available counter space that gets some natural light, you have the makings of an herb garden.
These have become so popular, you can often find the most common herb plants in your local gourmet supermarket. Choose herbs that you and your family will enjoy in the recipes and types of foods you like to eat. Even if you’re someone who doesn’t cook a lot, a simple basil plant could be great to use in dishes like scrambled eggs or pasta.
Drop the herb plants into pretty pots, line them up on your counter, read the care directions for each and set a recurring reminder on your phone each week so you don’t forget.
Try Out a Terrarium
Terrarium With Ammonite Fossil
Shells, coral and fossils look phenomenal when mixed with additional elements of nature, such as moss, ferns and other greenery. This gorgeous terrarium by DoodleBirdie puts a genuine ammonite fossil on display.
Another great beginner gardening project is to create a simple terrarium in a large glass bowl or container. You can choose to keep your terrarium either inside or out (depending on where you live), and fill it up with easy to care for plants.
If you’re still feeling a bit uneasy about including too many plants, focus on adding other natural elements to your terrarium such as shells, rocks and pebbles.
Make sure to snap a photo on your phone of the care instructions for any plants that you include, and think of your terrarium as your gardening training wheels. Once you master caring for it, you’ll be ready to take on more projects.
Make It: How to Create A Terrarium
Create a Container Garden
Somehow, keeping plants in pots feels way less overwhelming to me. Container gardens allow you to easily move your plants and flowers around to create the best-looking outdoor space you possibly can. For ease, I always choose pots that are a bit bigger than the original so I can easily drop plants in while keeping them in their original containers.
I haven’t been great at keeping up with watering, so I’ve started grouping my containers together according to how much water they need. If you happen to have a few plants that require watering more than once a week, line them up or group them together.
At the Beach
Bring a bit of the seaside to your garden with a collection of beach-themed planters, such as inexpensive sand buckets or other plastic beach toys. Plastic and insulated metal coolers make great containers too. You can even fill large shells with sandy growing mix and tuck small succulents into them.
Decorative or storage baskets come in an amazing variety of shapes, sizes and colors to complement any of your favorite container flowers. To help wicker and woven-wood baskets last longer, treat them to a coat of varnish or polyurethane and line them with plastic before adding the plants.
Color Your World
Recycle your old paint cans into pretty container gardens. Or buy metal paint cans at hardware stores and home centers. To dress them up, drizzle craft paint around the top rim and add some drips down the sides. Cover with a coat of polyurethane to stop the cans from rusting, or leave them untreated and enjoy the rusty, rustic look that develops within a few months.
Celebrate the guy in your life with a collection of containers that represent his favorite things. If he enjoys grilling, for instance, tuck some low-growing plants into a little hibachi, or go big by turning an old kettle grill into a mobile planter. Other fun ideas include coffeepots and mugs, animal-themed containers, toolboxes, auto accessories and sports-related items.
Give tired or tattered old hats new life as a hanging garden. Baseball hats make instant pot covers: Simply open the sizing tabs in back, slip the opening around the base of the plant and snap the tabs closed again. On straw, felt or fabric hats, cut a hole into the front or top and gently feed the plant stems through the hole.
Old or damaged kitchen-related items those you don't plan to use for cooking any longer offer endless possibilities for plant containers. Cooking pots and pans are just the start: Try colanders, cupcake tins, measuring cups or any other items meant for holding liquid or dry materials. Bundt pans and angel food cake pans make perfect planters for living wreaths.
Turn an old desk into a charming container by tucking small bushy and trailing plants into the partly opened drawers. Complete the effect by popping plants into desk accessories, such as a pencil holder, an old telephone or a small desk lamp.
Time for Tea
It's easy to get carried away collecting teapots and teacups to the point that you run out of room to display them indoors. Why not turn some of them into pretty planters? It's fine if they're chipped, or if their handles or lids are missing. Metal teakettles and tea tins can be delightful additions to the grouping.
Embrace Air Plants
If the phrase “get your hands dirty” puts you on high alert, you might be a good candidate for air plants. Air plants magically don’t even require soil! They also don’t require typical watering (though you will need to mist them).
Because they're so flexible, you can get creative with the containers you use for them, and go crazy when incorporating them into your decor. I especially love to use them in bathrooms or bookshelves when styling “shelfies.”
Get More: Air Plant Decor
Succulents Are Your Friend
Succulents and cacti are another group of plants that are perfect if you’re not exactly a ninja gardener.
Succulents are able to store water in their leaves, so they don’t need to be watered nearly as often as other plants. I’m lucky enough to live in Southern California, and even though it doesn’t rain here often, it rains enough that I still don’t need to water any of my succulents.
A sunny patio at the Atlanta Botanical Garden is the setting for this display of varying-sized containers with an assortment of succulents that include Dyckia 'Black Gold' (clockwise from foreground), Yucca 'Color Guard', Euphorbia 'Sticks on Fire', Echeveria runyonii, and Kalanchoe 'Flapjacks'.
Colorful Modern House with Rooftop Patio
A modern roof deck overlooks a hilly desert landscape, and a small container garden houses native plants. Because the homeowner is a professor of environmental studies, the house is a teaching tool and example to his students of sustainable architecture. The home runs on solar power, recycles gray water and captures rain water in cisterns.
If you’re interested in testing out the waters in the world of gardening, there's no need to purchase 30 plants of differing varieties. Start off slow with two or three, and as you start to feel a bit more comfortable, you can add to your plant and flower family from there. This will also help you figure out which types of plants you enjoy caring for the most (or not!).
Get Your Daily Dose of Vitamin C
Dwarf variety citrus trees are not only beautiful, given the right conditions, they can also be bountiful. Fill terra cotta pots with these flowering fruit trees to give your outdoor space a sunny, So-Cal vibe. Lemons, limes or oranges — learn which citrus trees perform best in pots.
Green Up a Privacy Wall
Urban living often means cramped quarters both indoors and out so make the most of the space you have by thinking vertically. Designer Dan Faires repurposed wood beams from a NYC building that was slated for demolition to create this privacy wall with shelves he filled with potted plants. See more of Dan's NYC digs.
Pot Patio Roses
For urban-dwellers lucky enough to have access to a patio or rooftop that receives at least 5-6 hours a day of sunlight, planters filled with patio, mini or dwarf roses will provide colorful blooms all summer long. Learn how to plant these dimutive stunners.
Grow Strawberries in a Windowbox
No outdoor space? No worries. All you need is a sunny windowsill to produce a season's worth of sweet strawberries for topping salads or yogurt, or for filling pies, cobblers or sunkers. Learn how to plant a windowbox or hanging basket with summer's favorite fruit.
Group Pots Together
These galvanized containers in various sizes contain a veritable veggie patch of chives, peppers, leeks, strawberries and tomatoes. Grouping containers together like this is not only visually appealing, it also helps to create a more humid mini climate for the plants, reducing moisture loss from both leaves and potting mix. Get tips for selecting the right container.
Put Railings to Work
Plant-filled baskets that line the railings surrounding this Brooklyn, NYC patio provide a natural break between the outdoor living room and a view of lower Manhattan beyond. Learn more about this space.
Get the Kids Involved
Dwarf sunflower seeds, potting soil, empty tin cans and enamel paint are all you and the kids need to grow your own cheery characters. Green up your thumb and get crafty with this cute project.
Be Selective When Picking Shrubs
When selecting shrubs for container gardening, it's important to keep the plant's mature size and growth rate in mind. Slow growers that maintain a small, compact shape, like this Japanese pieris 'Flamingo' are an ideal choice. With glossy dark leaves year-round and clusters of pink urn-shaped flowers in early spring, this shade-loving shrub will add color and year-round interest to even the smallest of outdoor areas. Get more tips for selecting the right shrub for your container garden.
Sunny, Warm Spot? Plant Chiles
Break apart a spicy or mild dried chile to release dozens of plantable seeds. Sow the seeds in multi-purpose soil then place the pot in a sunny, warm location, like a windowsill. In just a few months, you'll be enjoying fresh-from-the-garden chiles. Learn how to pot your own chiles.
Opt for Low-Care Succulents
If your green thumb is a little, um, brown, a low-maintenance plant, like echeveria shown here, is a safe bet. Thanks to their ability to store water in their fleshy leaves, stems and roots, succulents require very little watering — but they do require plenty of sun. Position the pots where they will receive at least 2-4 hours of direct sunlight each day and water sparingly only when the topsoil is completely dry, about every 10 days.
Add Columns of Color With Flowering Vines
Compact climbers, like jasmine and clematis, are great container plants. All they need to thrive is a pot with good drainage, a trellis or post for support and regular watering and feeding. Learn how to pot your own climbing plant.
Make a Mobile Garden
Add casters (available at your local hardware store) to the bottom of metal trash cans to create rolling planters you can easily move around your outdoor space or even bring indoors when temperatures dip. Learn how to make your own.
Build a Windowbox for Herbs
Basic woodworking skills are all you need to turn pressure-treated lumber into a convenient spot for growing fresh herbs all summer long. Add a line of copper anti-slug tape (available at specialty gardening shops) to ensure that you're the only one munching on the harvest. Learn how to construct your own windowbox.
Get Creative With Containers
Don't toss out that empty tin, instead fill it with a potted plant to add a splash of color and pattern to your outdoor space. To prevent excess water from rusting the container's bottom, be sure to punch drainage holes using a hammer and nail before adding the potted plant. Get more tips for upcycling old containers.
Perfect for the smallest of outdoor spaces, this multi-pocket fabric wall planter from Burgon & Ball offers a kitchen garden's-worth of planting space for an assortment of fresh herbs like rosemary, thyme, chives and basil. Irrigation holes in each pocket allow excess water to drain away, ensuring plants stay moist but not overly wet.
Choose the Right Potting Soil
The difference between a healthy container plant and one that doesn't thrive could be as basic as choosing the right soil mix. Give container plants a healthy head-start by learning the pros and cons of 4 different potting soil types.
Pick the Right Shrub for Shade
If your patio or terrace is shady, consider planting a hydrangea, like this lacecap hydrangea 'Bluebird' whose showy blue, pink or purple flowers (dependent on your soil's acidity) will add a splash of color from late spring through summer. Browse more shrubs that perform well in pots.
Fresh Salad At Your Fingertips
Salad greens are not only tasty and oh-so good for you; they're also quick to grow — and best of all, when you cut leaves for your salad, new ones replace them so you can munch happily all summer long. Get step-by-step instructions for growing your own salad patch.
Grow Your Own Blackberries
7 Tips for Prepping Containers Before Planting
Plants need water — that's a given — but too much water is too much of a good thing. Pots without adequate drainage can cause plants to wilt, lose color and ultimately rot. Make sure your pots are planting-ready with these tips.
Green Up Outdoor Rooms
High above West Hollywood, this patio enjoys sunshine 300+ days/year. Planters filled with bamboo surround the loft's outdoor spaces for privacy while a Kimberly Queen fern on the table and a pair of asparagus ferns on the ground filter LA's famously polluted air while requiring very little maintenance. Browse more photos of this loft.
Apples in the City
Even the smallest patio can produce a bumper crop of crisp apples. Popular apple varieties include 'Egremont Russet', 'Cox's Orange Pippin', 'Discovery', golden yellow 'Elstar' and 'Blenheim Orange' with its crisp, nutty flavor. Get more tips for growing fruit in containers.
The container gardening fun isn't over when winter arrives. Blooming annuals, like pansies, ornamental cabbages and primrose will cheer up containers till spring arrives. Learn 7 more choices for winter gardening.
Save Space With Raised Beds
Make the most of even the smallest amount of gardening space with tiered beds. Easier to maintain than a traditional garden (plants are at a more comfortable level) these elevated containers also warm up sooner in the spring and stay warmer later into fall than a traditional garden making your patio or rooftop the envy of the neighborhood.
Plant a Mini Orchard of Peaches
Although most peach trees aren't well suited to growing in pots, varieties that have been grafted onto dwarfing rootstocks, such as 'Pixy', 'St. Julien A.' 'Bonanza' or 'Garden Lady' are safe bets. Be sure to plant in large pots and fertilize before and after flowering. Get more tips for growing fruit in containers.
Pot a Variety
Combining several small plants together in one pot is a great way to mix colors and textures. Plus, since young, small plants are typically cheaper than mature ones, it's also a budget-friendly option. To make brightly colored flowers — like this pink kalanchoe and zinnia — really pop, plant them in a terra cotta pot that has been painted a flat black.
Designer Jamie Durie turned this underused patio into a private outdoor dining room for a couple who were eager to combine two passions: gardening and entertaining. A pergola provides shade and gives this outdoor space a secluded feel while a wall covered in edible-plant-filled pouches puts fresh veggies within easy reach so guests can help themselves.
Pot a Pair of Blueberries
Harvest a bumper crop of these tasty superfoods by potting a pair of blueberry bushes in acid-rich soil. Fertilize regularly to promote growth and be prepared to cover the bushes with netting while they're producting fruit to keep birds from eating the fruits of your labor. Learn how to plant delicious blueberries.
Use a Water Monitor
If you know that you can't be trusted to water your plants, then embrace technology and use a water monitor.
A company called Parrot created a product and coordinating smartphone app called Flower Power which tracks the moisture, sunlight and fertilizer level of your plants. It will then send an alert to your smartphone when you need to take care of it. This is as close to “set it and forget it” as you can get with gardening. http://www.parrot.com/usa/products/flower-power/
Do Your Research
‘Desert Rose’ Paddle Plant
Native to South Africa, the paddle plant (Kalanchoe thyrsiflora) blends beauty with a rugged personality. Plants are heat and drought tolerant and adapt well to planting beds or containers. ‘Desert Rose’ has chalky blue leaves with red edges and tips. Full sun draws out the strongest coloring in leaves. Hardy in Zones 9 to 11.
Photo by Doreen Wynja for Monrovia
There's endless information available online on every subject and gardening is no exception. Before you embark on your gardening adventures, make sure to spend some time doing a bit of research and figure out what types of flowers or plants do best in your climate or part of the country. You want to make sure you'll be making things as easy as possible for yourself.
Use Plant Caddies
I have a love for large plants and giant pots; however, they're insanely hard to move around. If you too are a giant plant lover, make sure you think through how you might move these giants if you ever need to. Plant caddies are the ticket. You can put your larger plants on top of one and have the flexibility to move it wherever you need to.
Our Product Pick: Plant Caddy, Target
Set Up Gardening Appointments
Another good trick for staying on top of your plant care is to add recurring appointments in your calendar (or reminders on your phone). Figure out how often your plants/garden will require your care, create individual appointments and set them to repeat each week (or several times a week).
This will go a long way in ensuring you don’t neglect your new green friends, as well as help you to create a routine around your gardening practice.
Combine Gardening With Design
Another thing that’s helped me overcome my fear of gardening is the idea that you can truly incorporate plant life into the design of your home. Again, this is another mind shift that helped to make gardening feel a bit less overwhelming. Take some time to choose pretty pots and plant stands, choose plants of varying heights and look at your plant and flower selection as if it were a design project in your home.