Starting from Scratch? Tips for a Newbie Gardener

I just read this great beginners’ tutorial on starting a garden from Houzz. This isn’t for the person who is building a house and installing a garden completely from scratch, but rather for the person who looks at what they’ve got and has no idea where to start, or if they even want to garden at all.

So here’s the Reader’s Digest version: Clean up. Weed and Edge. Stepping Stones. Mulch.

1. Clean up.

I have three unsightly cedars on the edge of my front yard. They drop detritus like crazy in the winter, hiding everything that’s of any interest or beauty underneath it. By clearing that away, I see all kinds of things that I can’t see until I clean up. Even if there’s only lawn (even crappy lawn like above), or even only “dirt” (which gardeners call “soil”–dirt is a dirty word!), neatening it up will give all manner of gratification (as you can see above), and hope for what’s to come. Cleaning up may include pruning–I’ll get to that in a future post!

2. Weed and Edge.

To begin with, weeding may be quite intimidating, and not a little work. But once you’ve cleaned up the site (as above) so that you can see what’s there, and tackle small areas at a time, it’s not nearly as bad as anticipated. And definitely gets easier as you keep at it. Mulching (step 4) REALLY helps.

Then take an edger–or even an old long serrated knife will do nicely–and cut a sharp edge to the garden beds. You’ll be surprised what  an effect it creates. And in the same way, neaten the edges next to sidewalks, driveways and paths.DSCN1333

3. Stepping Stones.

Randomly positioned repurposed pavers

Randomly positioned broken, repurposed “grass pavers”.

One of the chief things about getting going in the garden is accessibility. The easier it is to get to all areas of the garden, the more you’ll wander in there, and the easier it is to do whatever needs doing, whether it’s weeding, planting, evaluating, watering…

So find something that will serve as stepping stones, and then find lots of places to put them. Your  goal is to make all the little nooks and crannies of the garden easily reachable. Bricks will do, flat stones, tiles, concrete rhubarb leaves (my favourite!).

Rhubarb leaf stepping stones in the veg garden.

Rhubarb leaf stepping stones in the veg garden.

4. Mulch.

Once you’ve dealt with the current generation of weeds, you’ll want to prevent more growth as much as possible. This is (one of the many areas) where mulch really shines. Put 2-4″ of some kind of (preferably organic) material that covers the soil. My choice is wood chips, that I got free from a local tree service. Compost or composted manure will also do, as will bark nuggets if you must. Pea gravel will work if that’s the look (modern, edgy or desert) you want. The further weeds have to travel to reach light, the weaker they become and the easier they are to pull. There will always be weeds, so let’s make them as little work as possible. And covering the ground, especially with organic matter, improves its quality, always a good thing. Better soil is a less desirable environment for weeds–they are generally opportunists that take advantage of empty or poor soil. Or not:-P

An area in permanent shade that has never been mulched or in any way improved. Weedy!

An area in permanent shade that has never been mulched or in any way improved. Weedy!

Does this help you get a sense of where to start in your new space? Let me know in the comments section, and as always, ask questions, make comments, share to FB or whatever.

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