A Beginner’s Guide to Basic Gardening: Tools, Soil, and More
By Handyman Reviewed
Basic Gardening Elements
Like most hobbies, getting into gardening may seem challenging at first. But with a few simple tips and the willingness to get your hands dirty, you’ll find it to be equally rewarding and enjoyable.
There are so many things you can make out of gardening. Apart from growing your own produce to cook for your family, you can also donate them to your local food bank.
To give you a headstart, we curated this comprehensive guide to gardening containing everything you need to know about growing your own vegetables. From knowing the right type of soil to use to maintenance, then read on to kickstart your gardening journey.
First things first, consider if you have the appropriate space and layout to start a garden. The amount of space you have will essentially dictate what you can or can’t plant.
You can begin by asking yourself: do I live on a landed or non-landed property?
If you live on a non-landed property such as an apartment or condominium, it can be tricky to start a garden due to space limitations, but not totally impossible. Potted plants, vertical gardens, and raised bed planters may be an option. However, this also has its own share of limitations such as the type of seeds that you can plant, for example.
On the other hand, landed properties, especially those with backyards, offer more flexibility when it comes to starting a garden and designing it the way you want. Regardless of the space, you have available, there are three things that you should consider: soil, water source, and sunlight.
Soil is the most basic element you need for planting. Now, it may not be the most exciting part of gardening but try to think of it this way: any growing plant needs to have a good foundation for it
to thrive, much like houses, buildings, and even people.
There are different types of soil available. Each of which has different properties and uses. In other words, understanding the basic nuances of soil types will help you identify the most suitable one for the crops you intend to grow.
To know what type of soil you have in your garden, scoop up a handful of soil and try to determine its texture. Here’s a quick guide for reference:
Once you’ve identified the type of soil you need for your garden, the next step is to check the soil’s acidity level, which is determined by its pH level. This is important because a soil’s pH level will affect plant growth.
The quickest way to do this is by purchasing a soil testing kit from your local hardware store or gardening supplies shop.
Generally, your soil should have a pH level between 6.5 to 7 for your plant to thrive. Meanwhile, some plants thrive more using soil that’s too acidic (with a pH below 5.5) or high in alkaline (with a pH above 7.5).
Another basic element you need for plant growth is water. The most important thing to remember here is that you need to have a working water source in your garden. Most gardens have an outdoor faucet where you can attach a hose to water your plants.
Generally, plants need about one to two inches of water weekly to be healthy, depending on weather conditions.
For instance, you need to water your crops about two to three times per week (about half an inch more than the usual) during summer or hot weather conditions. Naturally, your crops would require less water when it’s cooler. Drainage is also an important factor to consider. Your garden must have a decent drainage system as well; otherwise, it would run the risk of flooding or waterlogging. This is very crucial if you live in an area where rain is rampant. If you don’t have one installed yet, you can start by considering the French drain.
This drainage system involves a pipe buried underground to divert water to an area where it can easily be drained. It’s normally covered by loose material such as gravel. On a related note, you can also install an irrigation system, which helps you control the amount of water for your plants. There are different types of systems available like sprinklers, soaker hoses, and drip irrigation, to name a few.
It goes without saying that sunlight is a vital factor for plants to grow. Just like water, it’s equally
important to make sure that your plants and crops don’t get too much sunlight.
In other words, plants require different amounts of sun exposure and intensity. This is defined by the following gardening terms:
● Full sun - Plants need six to eight hours of direct sunlight per day.
● Partial sun - Plants need three to six hours of direct sunlight per day.
● Partial shade - Plants need three to six hours of direct sunlight per day but need protection from intense sunlight during afternoons.
● Full shade - Plants need less than four hours of sunlight per day.
Generally, vegetable crops need about six and eight hours of sunlight per day. Seed packets
often contain information about light requirements, so make sure to check before planting.
So now that you have some idea of the basics, the next thing you need is to start planning the layout of your garden. There are several types of gardening methods and techniques you can consider in order to maximize the amount of space you have available.
Types of Gardening Methods
The first thing that may pop into your mind when you hear the word “gardening” is an image of a lush and nicely cultivated backyard garden with growing vegetables and plants. This is exactly what in-ground gardening is like. This is an excellent option if you have ample space to start a garden outdoors. Here, you can plant anything such as vegetables and fruits, given that you have a decent source of water and sunlight, plus a working drainage system. Just keep in mind that your plants would only thrive if they’re compatible with your location and climate. In-ground gardening also gives you plenty of flexibility to customize your garden space the way you like it. For instance, you have the option of choosing a big or small vegetable plot and planting a few trees for shade.
As you can already guess by its name, raised gardening involves building raised garden beds or boxes where you can do all your planting. This is a popular option for growing vegetables and fruits.
Generally, this type of outdoor gardening is easier to maintain, offering better drainage and weed management, just to name a few benefits. Not to mention that the elevation also makes it easier on your knees and back. Because raised garden beds can take up more space, you also need to have decent outdoor space for this. Some common materials used for building raised garden beds include wood lumber, bricks, straw bales, and natural stones.
This no-frills gardening method is fairly simple—just fill your chosen container with soil, pop a seed, and you’re good to go! This straightforward method makes it a versatile choice for those with ample and limited spaces.
You can use a pot, tub, or basket to start with. It’s advisable to use a large-sized container simply because it holds more soil and has higher water retention. Larger pots also offer more room for your plant’s roots to grow. On the other hand, smaller pots tend to dry out faster, especially during hot weather conditions. You must also make sure that your pots have drainage holes to avoid waterlogging. Ultimately, your choice of plant will dictate how large and deep your container must be, so consider that when choosing one.
Vertical gardening is a popular option for urban properties with small and limited spaces, particularly condominiums and apartments. As its name suggests, this technique involves growing plants vertically through a panel or structure.
That said, it can also mean that this method can be a bit restrictive in terms of the vegetables you’re able to plant. Some of it includes beans, peppers, miniature cucumbers, garlic, onion, and more.
Despite this, this technique consumes less space than other gardening methods. Your choice of structure will ultimately depend on several aspects including sun exposure, wind exposure, plant characteristics, and maintenance requirements. Trellises and fences are common structures used for vertical gardening. From there, you can use planters, baskets, and wall-mounted pots to start planting vegetables.
To put it simply, hydroponic gardening is a technique that grows plants without soil. Instead, it involves growing plants using nutrient-rich water. Hydroponic gardening provides a good alternative to those living in tighter and smaller spaces.
This method can be used all year round and generally doesn’t have strict light requirements, allowing you to plant indoors. There are several factors to take into account when starting your own hydroponic garden, which includes temperature, humidity, light exposure, acidity level, and water.
Along with this comes different subsystems such as the Wick System—arguably the most common and simplest system ideal for beginners. As a starting point, you can use a styrofoam tray to hold your plant in place. All you need to do is to place it on top of a nutrient solution so the plant’s roots can absorb it.
Comparison of Gardening Methods
To sum it all up, here’s a quick table containing all the important information you need to know about gardening methods.
Now, here comes the fun part: choosing which vegetables to grow in your garden. Not all vegetables are easy to grow though, so it’s important to start with beginner-friendly vegetable seeds before exploring others. One of the most common mistakes that beginners make is planting too many seeds from the
get-go. If you’re an absolute beginner, you can ask yourself this simple question: what do I and
my family like to eat?
There are so many meals that you can create using vegetables. And the good news is that the most common ones are also fairly easy to grow.
There’s a reason why lettuce seems to consistently rank among beginner-friendly crops. They grow fairly quickly and continuously, even after your initial harvest. On top of that, there are also different varieties to choose from including loose-leaf, romaine, arugula, butter lettuce, and more. Take note that your chosen variety will affect ideal temperature conditions for germination, as well as harvest times.
Here are some quick facts about growing lettuce:
Root plants are also generally easy to grow, and that includes carrots. This versatile vegetable
can tolerate frost and can be planted in the early days of spring.
Proper soil preparation is vital for growing carrots because they’re root vegetables. Apart from
having sufficient space, make sure to remove stones, rocks, and soil clumps that could hamper
Beans are a great addition to any vegetable garden. This staple requires less maintenance than
other vegetables and is fairly easy to grow.
They can also yield multiple amounts of produce in one harvest. Generally, beans also grow
continuously throughout the harvest season, so you can be sure of a steady supply of beans as
long as you properly take care of them.
Garlic is one of the very few vegetables that requires little effort to grow. The most important thing to remember when planting garlic is its timing.
Compared to other crops, garlic is best planted during fall where its roots begin to develop before the ground freezes. It starts to develop foliage by spring until it’s ready for harvest by
Cucumbers are another versatile vegetable that can be planted on the ground or in a container.
This sun-loving plant thrives in warm and humid weather, making it ideal for those residing in
tropical climates. Despite this, cucumbers can also be cultivated in temperate regions. Just make sure to follow the ideal growing recommendations below to get the best results.
The secret to yielding good produce is proper maintenance. The first thing you should do is to
check your seed packet for maintenance instructions like watering and sun exposure.
There are a few general things that you should know about maintenance to maximize plant
growth. Some common practices include deadheading, pruning, and culling, which involve
cutting or removing damaged parts of the plant such as branches, buds, and leaves.
Apart from these, using fertilizers and pest control methods also play a huge role in plant health,
which we’ll go through below.
Soil is an important source of nutrients for plants. Unfortunately, not all soil is built well enough
to supply plants with enough nutrients, which is why using fertilizers is necessary.
There are six primary nutrients that plants need in huge quantities: carbon, oxygen, hydrogen,
nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.
You may have heard of natural and synthetic fertilizers, both of which provide nutrients in
different ways. Natural fertilizers are made from organic matter such as plants, animals, or minerals. Common natural fertilizers include manure, compost, and blood meal. On the other hand, synthetic fertilizers are chemically manufactured by man. Synthetic fertilizers are water-soluble and may be quickly absorbed by the plant. The basic rule of thumb is to pick an all-purpose fertilizer, which provides all the secondary and micronutrients your plants need.
Just like all living things, plants and crops are vulnerable to pests and bugs. It goes without
saying that pests can damage your plants, ruining weeks or even months of growth and hard
Some common signs of pest infestation include tiny holes and tears on leaves, wilting, decay,
discoloration, and the presence of foreign substances like honeydew.
Therefore, it’s important to prevent them from happening in the first place. Contrary to popular
belief, pest control doesn’t necessarily need to involve chemical pesticides that could do more
harm than good to your garden.
You can always resort to natural ways such as growing certain plants such as mint, dill, and
nasturtium that act as natural pest repellants. You must also regularly check and remove weeds
since they also have a tendency to attract insects.
Another way to naturally repel pests is by attracting good pests or natural predators. For instance, ladybugs feed on aphids and other soft-bodied pests while garden spiders prey on all kinds of pests.
To attract these good pests, you can start by planting pollen-producing plants like flowers. Herbs
such as mint, rosemary, and thyme also make great options to attract these good pests.
Tools and Equipment
It's important to get the right set of tools to finally kickstart your gardening journey. It can be easy to go overboard and purchase any gardening tool you can see but the truth is, you only need to fill up your kit with a few basic must-haves.
Gardening requires you to get your hands dirty, but having a good set of gardening gloves is also important for safety reasons. Apart from keeping your fingernails clean and dry, wearing
gloves also prevent blisters, cuts, and scrapes.
This small hand tool is very versatile and well, handy. It’s used for digging, planting, smoothing, and moving plants or materials.
It features a long handle and a narrow and flathead. This tool is used for digging deeper holes,
reshaping plant beds, as well as cutting sod.
Think of shovels as oversized hand trowels that are longer than spades. This tool allows you to dig and scoop loose gardening materials including soil, compost, fertilizer, and mulch. Compared to spades, shovel blades are curved.
As its name suggests, pruning shears are used for pruning or cutting off branches and stems.
They can also be used to trim hedges and grass—perfect for landscaping.
This is especially useful for gardens on landed properties with trees. Rakes allow you to gather and whisk away leaves and debris.
Garden Hose/Watering Can
Regardless of the layout of your garden, you need to find a way to water your plants. Garden hoses with adjustable nozzles work best for gardens on landed properties.
Otherwise, you can always use a trusty watering can if you’re unable to install a nearby water
source. Watering cans come in different sizes, so feel free to get one that fits your needs.
With the right mindset and skills, growing your own garden from scratch can be an incredibly fulfilling experience that the whole family can embark on. We sincerely hope our beginner’s guide will make you appreciate gardening as much as we do!