Gardening is not an exact science. Even experienced gardeners make mistakes, so novice gardeners shouldn’t be the least bit intimidated. Follow this advice to arm yourself with the basics
1. Choose the right plants for your soil
Before you buy any plants, check your soil type: is it light and sandy, or heavy and clay? Many plants thrive better in one type than the other. If you’re not sure, take a look at what plants are growing in your neighbour’s garden.
2. Give plants enough space
Don’t be tempted by the displays at the garden centre and buy too many plants for the size of your bed. If you place young plants too close together, not all will survive or, if they do, they will need more frequent watering and fertiliser. Crowded plants are also more susceptible to disease. Plant labels tell you how much room they need.
3. Be gentle with new plants
If you remove new plants from their pots by pulling their stems, you’re likely to break or bruise them. Instead, gently squeeze the pot sides and turn it upside-down, using your other hand to catch the plant as it slides out. Or place the pot on a hard surface and press the sides as you rotate it. Again, the plant should slip out when you upturn the pot.
4. Plan ahead with your design
Before you do any digging, have a think about the big picture of your garden. Place all of your bulbs and young plants on the soil surface first and move them around until you’re happy with the arrangement. Then plant them.
5. Soak your roots
The last thing you want is dry root balls. Thoroughly soak the roots of a new plant before you put it in the soil. And make sure the hole is bigger than the root ball before you attempt to put it in. A plant’s roots need to be able to spread to get the best chance of tapping moisture and absorbing the soil’s nutrients.
6. Label, label, label
For first-time gardeners, it can be easy to forget what you’ve planted and where. Take an extra minute to write a plant label (most plants you buy from a garden centre come with one) and pop it in the ground next to the seeds, bulbs or plants you’ve planted.
7. Water mindfully
Plants are designed to live outside and to draw natural moisture from the earth without the need for daily artificial irrigation (unless we’re experiencing a drought). As a rough guide, poke your fingers about two inches into the soil around the plant; if it’s very dry, add some water. The exceptions are container plants which, because there are a lot of them in a finite amount of soil, will need regular watering.
8. Be brutal with weeds
It’s important to learn early on that weeds are a gardener’s worst enemy. Weed regularly and make sure you remove all their roots. If there are seeds clinging to the weeds, don’t put them in the compost heap; you’ll end up re-seeding your weeds when you spread the compost.
9. Give shrubs some breathing room
Resist the temptation to plant your shrubs near a fence or wall. They grow outwards (in all directions) as well as upwards, so plan accordingly.
10. Have fun with it
Allow yourself to experiment and try new things. If you realise you’ve planted something in the wrong place – either because it’s the wrong height or colour, or because it’s not growing well – you can move it. Most plants and shrubs, even young trees, can be uprooted and replanted.