This week, five tips for beginner gardeners
just starting to plan their spring gardens.


Tip #1. Keep it small

Whatever else I try to do in this column, my overriding goal is to encourage more life-long gardeners, and nothing makes a person feel more inadequate and exhausted than biting off more than they can chew.

The vast majority of those who leap before they look will not try it again once they land, crumpled and bruised at the end of a punishing summer; and from that heap will arise the worst kind of anti-gardening spokesperson – the kind that has ‘tried it, and it didn’t work.’

Strong words will be uttered…snarky memes created on social media…my name taken in vain…many, many times. Wouldn’t it be better to skip all that, start smaller and achieve balance?

So, whatever that winter-addled brain of yours is cooking up in the plans department, cut it in half.

Depending on how much Pinterest garden project fodder you’ve been browsing lately, you may want to cut it in half again.

Why neglect fourteen tomatoes in a garden bed all season when you can fawn over three in pots on your patio?  Adjust your plan to reflect the life you live right now, not the total fantasy you’re sure you’ll live in six months’ time.

You’re aiming for a sweet spot where the work you put in leaves you feeling physically tired, but mentally alive.  If you achieved that last year, great.  Kick it up a notch this year.  But just a notch.

Tip #2. Grow what you love


Hate tomatoes?  Don’t grow them.  Does cossetting your hybrid tea roses set your world on fire?  Grow more. Not sure if you want to board the Succulent Train with everyone else?  Don’t.

Trends come and go in the plant industry just as surely as they do in fashion and kitchen appliance finishes, and if you base your entire garden on someone else’s hashtag you’re never really going to feel like it’s yours.  By all means enjoy the trends when they turn you on, but allow your garden to reflect the gardener that tends it.  If that means growing cool hybrids in an Heirloom World, don’t wait for permission, #justdoit.

Tip #3. Start with trusted plants

Midnight Snack is not only beautiful, it’s an AAS Winner, so you know you’ve got a pretty good chance of growing it well.

Growing things well takes skill or bombproof plants.  If you’re still cultivating skills, it’s important that you work with plants that make you feel like a rock star, even when you’re not.  However, figuring out what’s meh and what’s marvelous takes a bit of research.

Thankfully, there are a couple non-profit organizations out there to help you with the sorting.  First, your local state cooperative extension office is filled with Master Gardeners who will bend over backwards to give you practical advice on varieties for your county, not for the French potager you’re drooling over on Instagram.  Here’s a cool tool from the folks at Gardening Know How to help you find yours. Call the number or visit their website and be amazed by the incredible amount of hyper-local advice they’re going to throw at you.

Second, did you know there’s a Consumer Reports for gardeners?  It’s called All-America Selections, and was founded in 1932 with the sole purpose of promoting superior garden varieties of ornamentals and edibles tested by impartial judges nationwide.  Well-known favorites like Gold Rush summer squash and Kentucky Blue pole beans are AAS Winners, and each year, more wonderful varieties join the ranks.  You can download the entire list on their website, or look for the AAS Winner emblem when you’re buying your seeds.  I grow some every year.

Tip #4. Right plant, right place

Sunny, poor soil? Grow cosmos, not delphiniums.

I am hardly the first to talk about this, and I will not be the last.  Don’t start your gardening journey by planting the wrong plants in the wrong place.  Match sun lovers with sun – shade lovers with shade. If you’ve got dry, sandy soil, don’t head down to the Big Box and buy them out of hydrangeas.  By all means, generously amend your soil (particularly if you are in a new construction property), but don’t spend your life trying to make a wet, boggy space home to your collection of lavenders.

Once you analyze your conditions carefully and start to plant for them, not against them, you will be amazed by how beautifully your plants respond.

Tip #5. Utilize Plan B

Image courtesy of the Lovettsville Co-op Farm Market


The hectic pace of modern life may cause us a lot of stress, but it also comes with a bonus for the DIYer: A back-up plan.  Apocalyptic zombie scenarios aside, if our seedlings don’t do well, we can get healthy plants from the store.  If our healthy plants don’t do well, we can buy a ripe tomato just down the street.

Our ancestors didn’t have the option of a Plan B and thus, we rarely see happy photos of our ancestors.  Use your Plan B if you have to.  Rejoice in the option of a Plan B. It’s not a cop out.

Unless of course you never had a Plan A, in which case, how are you planning to eat when the zombies come? – MW


This article reprinted with the permission of The Frederick News Post.