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

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 by: Photo courtesy of Woolly Pocket

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

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.

Photo by: DoodleBirdie


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.

Create a Container Garden

Winter Plants

Winter Plants

Keep your porch or patio colorful and full of life with a variety of winter proof evergreens.

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.

20 Stunning Low-Budget Container Gardens

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A Hanging Garden

Colorful purses, small tote bags and other handled handbags make fun and fashionable plant holders. Lining them with plastic will keep the potting soil from staining the fabrics. Hang the handles from hooks on a wall, slip them over fence posts or dangle them from tree branches.

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.

Basket Cases

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.

Beyond the Pails

Plastic, metal or wooden buckets are ideal for displaying all kinds of flowering and foliage favorites. Smaller pails are perfect for individual plants; bigger buckets are great for large single plants or colorful combinations.

Case by Case

Give an old suitcase new life as an out-of-the-ordinary container. Old (or new) chests, makeup cases or wicker cases are other good options. Add the plants, prop the lid partway open and let the stems spill out over the edge.

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.

Dad's Garden

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.

For the Birds

Old bird cages, birdhouses and feeders make fun and fanciful containers for displaying pretty plants. Abandoned nests, bird figurines, feathers and other avian accessories help to complete the theme.

Hats Off

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.

Have a Seat

Convert old wooden, wicker or plastic chairs into uncommon containers by cutting a hole in the seat and slipping in a pot of flowers. Doll-sized chairs don't need any extra preparation: Simply set a small pot right on the seat.

Kitchen Capers

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.

Going Fishing

Turn a tackle box into a unique container. Display some lures in the upper tray or plant those sections too. Bait buckets, cricket cages, traps and fishing baskets also work well for holding plants.

Office Space

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.

On the Farm

Bring a touch of country charm to your deck, porch or patio with a grouping of farm-related containers, such as bushel baskets, wooden crates and berry boxes. Feeders, waterers, buckets, feed scoops and other livestock-related items offer other planting possibilities.

Picnic Planters

When you're not using your picnic table, dress it up with a display of picnic-themed planters, such as plastic pitchers and glasses, colorful serving bowls and, of course, an old picnic basket.

Thrifting With Shoes

Sneakers, shoes and boots in either plastic or leather make absolutely adorable holders for individual flowering or foliage plants. Sit them on the ground, prop them up on a rack or hang them on a wall or fence.

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.

Portable Gardens

When your kids have outgrown their play wagons, turn those toys into marvelous mobile containers. Regular-sized wagons can hold a wide variety of plants, so you can grow a whole garden in a single wagon. Wagons are also great for growing lettuces and other greens.

Wetting Your Plants

Don't throw away those leaky or dented watering cans. Use them as-is or remove the handle and widen the opening to make more room for plants.

Yes, You Can

Old or reproduction food tins make terrific pots for your favorite annual flowers or houseplants. Group them by a theme, such as candy, coffee or veggies, or mix them up for a quaint and colorful collection.

Embrace Air Plants

Tillandsia Air Plants on a Wall

Tillandsia Air Plants on a Wall

For a low-maintenance indoor garden, cluster several tillandsia together and step away. This large-scale air plant grows without soil, extracting its needed nutrients from air and water. These giant tillandsia are from Terrain.

Photo by: Terrain


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

Accent Pillows and Coffee Table

Accent Pillows and Coffee Table

Colorful books and bouquets blend with a group of mixed pattern accent pillows for a cheerful, eclectic look in the living room.

Photo by: Rebecca Zajac

Rebecca Zajac

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.

Low-Water Succulents Are Earth-Smart

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Modern Succulents

Succulents are a natural way to add texture and subtle color to a space. With their sculptural shape they’re both modern and on trend.

Photo By: Alison Gootee

Splash of Color

A round, wooden stool with painted white legs provides a pedestal for a vibrant succulent that adds a pop of color to this powder room.

  1. white photos

Photo By: Mia Baxter Smail

Coffee Table Accents

Make geometric planters from wood and concrete to create an eye-catching centerpiece for indoors or out.

Miniature Garden

These tiny potted succulents would be the perfect accent for a fairy garden, or a lovely favor at a dinner party place setting.

Echeverias and Other Succulents Mixed

A stone pot brims with echeverias, sempervivums, and tillandsias in this unique arrangement

Photo By: Living Green Design

A Modern Succulent Bowl

Atlanta's 43rd Annual Show House and Gardens featured this bowl of succulents on the home's back terrace, designed by Kolo Collection. decoratorsshowhouse.org

Succulents Fill Modern Metal Planter

Succulent Containers

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'.

Succulent Terrariums

Terrariums can make a great planter for various varieties succulents.

Outdoor Succulent Wall

This succulent wall effectively utilizes a blank, outdoor wall and adds interest to the home exterior. Succulents clustered by type gives the arrangement a gradient effect.

Contemporary Rock and Succulent Garden

A unique rock and succulent garden brings in the elements of the outside.

Photo By: Jordan Iverson

Succulent Tree

Carefully-arranged succulents blended with an assortment of natural foliage diffuse a sense of beauty in the shape of a tree.

Large Succulent Container

Built-in stone pots house miniature gardens filled with multi-colored succulents.

Succulent Bouquets

Succulent bouquets add a flower-like look to the outdoor space.

Photo By: Drew Kelly

Black and Green

This Echeveria pulidonis is beautifully set off against a slate-colored bowl.

Sedum Tower

Biltmore Estate's Walled Garden Crew Leader Travis Murray created this dramatic sedum tower.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Ben Ford

Start Small

Colorful Modern House with Rooftop Patio

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.

Photo by: Tom Bonner

Tom Bonner

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!).

30 Small Space Gardening Tips for Apartment Dwellers

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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.

Photo By: Shutterstock/VICUSCHKA

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.

Photo By: Shutterstock/Scp photography

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

Easy-to-grow herbs, potting soil, empty tin cans and enamel paint are all you and the kids need to grow your own cheery characters.

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.

Photo By: Shutterstock/PATARA

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.

Photo By: Shutterstock/elena moiseeva

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.

Photo By: Shutterstock/Peter Turner Photography

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.

Grow Tomatoes From Seed

A little early planning and a few packets of seed are all you need to grow a bumper crop of the country's most popular homegrown veggie. Establish the seedlings indoors then transfer them to a waiting pot in a sunny spot for a summer's-worth of fresh produce.

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.

Garden Vertically

Perfect for the smallest of outdoor spaces, this multi-pocket fabric wall planter 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.

Photo By: Woolly Pocket

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.

Photo By: Shutterstock/rolkadd

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.

Photo By: Shutterstock/Daniel Granozio

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.

Photo By: Shutterstock/Eric Krouse

Grow Your Own Blackberries

In under an hour, you can plant a large container with a blackberry plant (Tip: Choose a thornless variety) to provide you with fresh fruit for topping salads or filling cobblers and pies from end of summer to early autumn, depending on your location.

  1. blackberry

Prep 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.

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' (pictured) with its crisp, nutty flavor.

Photo By: Shutterstock/Eag1eEyes

Winter-Worthy Plants

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.

Photo By: Shutterstock/Olga Miltsova

Hanging Herb and Veggie Basket

Plant a hanging basket with cherry tomatoes and an assortment of herbs — like basil, rosemary, thyme, oregano or parsley — to keep fresh seasonings for an Italian dinner within easy reach.

Photo By: Shutterstock/Anna Mente

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.

Photo By: Shutterstock/Del Boy

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.

Photo By: Shutterstock/simm49

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.

Green Dining

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.

Photo By: Shutterstock/Friday Ivo

Use a Water Monitor

Wireless Plant Water Monitor

Wireless Plant Water Monitor

A clever plant monitor measures sunlight, soil moisture, temperature and fertilizer levels, and sends notifications about the plant's needs to a user's mobile device.

Photo by: Eric Perry ©2014, Scripps Networks, LLC. All Rights Reserved

Eric Perry, 2014, Scripps Networks, LLC. All Rights Reserved

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

‘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: Photo by Doreen Wynja for Monrovia

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

Garden On The Move

Garden On The Move

Create a container garden with mobility in mind. Vary its position for light, decor, or for indoor/outdoor use.

Photo by: Photo by Sam Henderson

Photo by Sam Henderson

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

Colorful Hexagonal Planters With Climbing Plants

Colorful Hexagonal Planters With Climbing Plants

These multicolored hexagon-shaped container gardens are artfully arranged on a kitchen wall to bring a touch of the outdoors to the indoor space. Various climbing plants spill over the sides of each container.

From: Sarah Taylor

Photo by: Sarah Taylor

Sarah Taylor

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.

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