Weekend Gardener: 5 Secrets Every First-Time Gardener Should Know

March 31st, 2017 – Williamson County Weekend Gardener

As our culture continues its march back to basics and natural approaches to food, home gardening is once again on the rise; even more so here in Williamson County as we seek to supplement the bounty available at our various farmer’s markets.

If you’re among the many first-time gardeners this Spring, here are five tips many veteran gardeners have learned the hard way — presented in the hopes they’ll save you time, money, and heartache.

Tip 1: Start Small

Nothing will squelch a budding love for gardening like over-committing out of the gate.Even if you have grand visions of becoming completely self-sufficient from your back yard, consider taking one step at a time.

The location of your garden is a very important consideration.Light and soil condition are just a few keys that will affect your success.

Here are links to some useful planning resources…

What Grows in Sun Versus Shade
Planning Resources for Beginners

Tip 2: Raise It Up

No matter what your starting soil condition, you can always improve it quickly with raised beds. Here in Williamson County, we often deal with clay soil. In fact in many neighborhoods, developers have scraped the healthy topsoil and sold it off before building homes; homeowners are often left with low-quality fill. Raised beds let you build your own soil, and soil is THE key.Plant in great soil and nature will overcome many other obstacles.Raised beds also save your back, they heat up sooner in the Spring, and they make it easier to control water and weeds.

Here are links to some helpful resources about raised beds and great soil recipes…

Build Your Own Raised BedsHow to Get Superpowered Garden Soil
Simple Ways to Improve Garden Soil
How To Amend Clay Soil

Tip 3: Grow What You Eat

Even for experienced gardeners, it’s often tough not to get caught up in all the cool things to grow when you’re standing in front of a seed display at the garden center, or staring down aisles full of herbs and vegetables — all of which you’d love to have growing in your own back yard. My best advice is to start with the end in mind. What do you want to be able to make with your harvest? Salads?Salsa? Berry smoothies?Is that realistic given your space available, location, our USDA Hardiness Zone 7A, and other factors?  Also, consider how much production you’ll get per plant — for example, tomatoes in this area will frequently give a LOT of output, as will zucchini and other vegetables — so don’t over-plant and end up trying to pawn off produce on everyone you meet…

Based on our USDA Hardiness Zone 7A, we can typically expect our last frost to be around mid-March.  Lately, that has slipped closer to April 1st.  And just because plants are available at the garden center doesn’t mean they’re ready to plant outdoors with no protection.  Keep in mind that this time of year you have to be ready to provide some cover because the danger of frost (or close to it) still looms.Here are links to some useful resources about what to plant when, based on our location here in Williamson County…

Zone 7 Vegetable Planting Guide
Zone 7-8 Planting Schedule

Tip 4: Keep It Natural

Resist the temptation to run to the garden center for chemicals every time you hit a snag with bugs, diseases, or weeds. You’ll be much happier without them!

Raised beds make it a lot easier to control weeds, because you can start with a weed-free environment. And there are a lot of hacks out there to save you time and trouble.  This is a hobby where people tend to share a lot of experiences (good and bad) in an effort to help other gardeners avoid their own mistakes or learn from what worked the best.

Tip 5: Have Fun

Whatever you do, make it fun!  Involve the kids if that makes it fun. Make it a solemn activity if that’s what makes it fun.

I was introduced to gardening at a young age by my Grandfather. Viewed from decades of hindsight, my Grandfather likely learned gardening as a practical result of the Great Depression; it is likely he HAD to garden.  It is also likely he felt some obligation to pass his knowledge along; knowledge I gladly absorbed. In his retirement, gardening became a full-on obsession with my Grandfather, who used it to keep both his mind and body busy (and probably keep outside, away from my Grandmother when necessary). It was clear he enjoyed it, and if not for him I would have missed out on something really great. The man enjoyed a single radish at lunch every day; a radish he had grown himself. Everyone else thought they were “yucky,” but he loved them. As the main beneficiary of all his gardening knowledge, I can tell you he enjoyed it because HE grew it. I doubt he had much interest in the radishes at the store…

Gardening allows for life-long improvement. It is for those who find great joy in tilling the Earth and observing the miracle of God’s creation in action.  It can often convey a sense of confidence and self-reliance; and it’s just flat out a great way to live. So if you’re one of the many who have resolved to get out and grow something this Summer, now’s the time!  Make a plan, keep it simple, focus on your dirt, keep it natural, and have fun!

Weekend Gardener
Williamson County Gardening Resources:

Williamson County Master Gardeners Association

Williamson County Extension Office

Williamson County is in USDA Hardiness Zone 7a (0 – 5 degrees)
USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map

Previous Articles:

Are Knock Out Roses Down for the Count?

Don’t Miss The Azaleas

10 Flowers To Grow With Vegetables

Homemade Weed Killer Recipe

5 Ways to Get Soil Ready for Spring

Stop Topping Crape Myrtles

5 Plants Anyone Can Grow

5 Ways to Get Back Outside