Thinking of starting a garden? Wonderful! There's no joy like finding yourself blissfully immersed in the beauty of nature surrounded by plants and flowers or enjoying a fresh meal of vegetables and herbs you grew yourself. In the nature plants are designed to grow, though they'll grow better in your own surroundings with a little help from you.
Here is a very brief guide to assist you in getting started, or shall we say, getting the gardener in you sprouted? :)
Pick your spot: Plants can't survive without sun and water, so choose a place for your garden where they can get all they need. Almost all vegetables and most flowers need about six hours of full sun each day (there are some exceptions though) during the growing season. Start the garden where gets your attention daily, lest your busy life takes it out of mind being out of your sight. Provision for water outlet around the spot will come very handy.
Prepare the soil: Soil is the most important factor for garden; however, most soil around houses isn't ideal for plants, being too tight or lacking required nutrition. Prepare the soil well. Effort put in the preparation will bear more than its own sweet fruits. Proper preparation also prevents dormant weed seeds (present in topsoil) from becoming a further problem. Lightly scratch (scarify) or roughen the soil surface. Unless the site is heavily compacted, do not till the soil deeply, because: (a) deep tilling promotes the germination of weed seeds already present deeper down, and (b) in arid climates, deep tilling disturbs the upward movement of moisture through the soil, thereby lowering the moisture-holding capacity of the soil. Water the area 2 or 3 times each day over a two- to three-week period to encourage dormant weed seed germination. After 2-3 weeks, when this second crop of weeds is up, mow or scrape the new weeds off at ground level. Next, add organic matter to the soil (composted plant parts). Organic matter does wonders for soil: It holds water for plants' root in dry times, but also allows excess rain to flow freely away. It breaks dense soil up to make spaces for roots to grow and air to reach them. Go easy on synthetic fertilizers - high nitrogen soils only encourage the growth of weeds and lush vegetative plant growth at the expense of flowers.
Sow seeds: As a first times your best chance to grow flowers, vegetables and herbs is to choose from our Easy-to Grow Seeds. They will grow without much fuss and captivate your curiosity – there is nothing like watching the whole life cycle of a plant unfold before your own eyes. Of course, you can choose to grow other plants too by following the planting and growing guide and reading up the Seed Starting Guide.
Water: Seedlings should never dry out, so water daily while they are small. This holds true even for plants that are drought tolerant. Reduce as the plants get bigger. New transplants also need more water until their roots become established. Once the plants are established their water requirement depends on the type of the plants, the soil, humidity and climate. Plants that are thirsty will wilt slightly in the heat of the day.
Climate: Choose to grow the plants according to the seasons in your garden and the local climate. Some plants are better adapted to grow in cold weather whereas some are the opposite. In order to grow vegetables according to the seasons see our Vegetable Sowing Calendar.
Plant care: As a first-time gardener this is where selecting Easy-to-Grow varieties makes quite a difference to your periodic garden effort. Nevertheless, all plants in your garden will need varying amount of care. Weeding is one pain that every gardener has to live with. If you are wondering where the weed seeds come from, well from almost everywhere – the wind, birds, shoes.. Deadheading the spent blossoms from your flowers will keep them blooming longer and looking fresher. Vegetables will produce more if you keep harvesting while young. Some taller plants may need to be supported with stakes, to keep from tipping over. The rainy season and high humidity is a bad time for many plants due to spurt in fungal attacks and activities of other pathogens. A common disease is Dampening Off, which is a fungus that attacks the plant at the soil line. One minute your seedlings look healthy, and then suddenly they topple over. Making sure the seedlings have good air circulation as well as making sure you don't over-water, will also help prevent this. See the Plant Problems? guide for more information. Despite all the care it may happen that some of the plants do not do well. Move on and replace it with something else. After all, the thrill of gardening will not be as high without the uncertain nature of our Mother Nature playing her own dice!
Many plants, both hardy and tender have extremely fine dust-like seeds. They are produced in copious amounts to ensure that at least a few germinate, for if they become covered with soil, or are dispersed into other unsuitable conditions they may fail to grow. This is what happens in the wild - as a gardener you have only minute quantities of seeds, perhaps a mere trace of dust in a small packet! Therefore they have to be handled and sown extremely carefully. It is worth bearing in mind that fine seeds have a lower germination and survival rate compared to larger seeds.
Sowing: Small seeds must be sown very evenly over the surface of the compost. Fine seeds must not be covered with compost otherwise they will not germinate. But to ensure they are in close contact with the compost, and are therefore able to absorb moisture, lightly press them into the surface. To make them easier to handle the seeds should be mixed with finest sand or talcum for an even sowing. Do not cover with compost, only press them in gently. Irrigate from the bottom or with a hand-sprayer, so that the seeds will not be washed away.
There are several different ways of scattering the seed/sand mixture over the compost surface, but whichever you use sow half the quantity in one direction and the other half at right-angles, as this helps to ensure very even sowing. If you have sown well, the surface of the compost should be lightly and evenly dusted with the sand/talcum.
Watering: The compost should be watered, but not overhead as this will disturb the seeds. A gentle fine mist spraying is acceptable. It is recommended that you add some fungicide to the water to prevent the seedling disease, damping off, which can rapidly destroy a complete batch of seedlings. If compost becomes dry it will delay or often prevent germination altogether.
Light: Small seeds are generally photo-sensitive. Most of them need light to germinate, however, some of them need total darkness instead. This is stated in the planting and growing guide. As soon as germination occurs the containers must be placed in maximum light to prevent the seedlings becoming weak and leggy. However they must be shaded from the sun, which can scorch and dry them up.