If you’ve never gardened before, it can be very intimidating to know where or even when to start. I think that the best time to start gardening as a beginner is in Spring, as it’s not too hot and not too cold to start getting your garden going for those great summer harvests.
Make sure that the spot you are going to plant your new plants gets a few hours of afternoon sun, that the soil is clear of rubble and it is nourished with some good compost, and you will be set up for a win.
For a beginner gardener, I recommend that you buy seedlings for most vegetables for your first season at least. Growing from seed isn’t difficult, but can have a few more challenges. When buying your seedlings, look for the healthiest looking plants you can see – nice bright green leaves, no wilting or brown, curling leaves and no visible damage.
But what should you plant? Here are my top 5 picks for beginner urban gardeners:
- Lettuces and silverbeet
Lettuce and silverbeet are very low maintenance, and practical plants to grow. Plus they grow fast, so are great to have a continuous planting cycle of throughout the spring and into summer. They aren’t big fans of direct sunlight, so make sure they are planted in a spot that gets some shade too. Plant them in rows, spacing the plants out about 20-30 cm apart. Just watch out for slugs and snails as they love to eat your leaves. I use egg shells to keep my plants safe – there are mixed opinions on this in the gardening world, but it works well for me. You can also use coffee grounds to help deter the little leaf munchers too.
Radishes are the one exception (in this list) to the seedling rule. Definitely, buy seeds for growing these peppery little veggies. Dig a shallow row – you can even use just your fingertip, and then sprinkle seeds down this row, cover with a very small amount of soil – you want to just cover the seeds, not bury them. As the sprouts begin to grow, use a pair of scissors to thin out the plants, by cutting the stems of some of the sprouts. This prevents root damage to the sprouts you are keeping in the ground and will mean that your radishes have enough room to grow. Radishes grow really fast, and you’ll know when to harvest them when you see the tops of the radishes poking out of the soil.
Tomatoes would have to be one of my all-time favourite things to grow. The amount of variety you can know get in seedling form is amazing. For beginners, I recommend starting with cherry tomatoes or Money Makers – these are very easy to grow and incredibly fruitful plants. You can branch out into different varieties if you are feeling brave – the possibilities are endless. Plant your tomato plants 30cm apart, and plant a stake in the soil about 7cm away from the base of the plant as you plant the seedling. As the plant grows, you can begin securing the main stem to the stake with a piece of soft tie to prevent the plant from snapping as it grows, and from damaging the roots if you try to add the stake later on. Tomatoes need a lot of water and they love a good bit of sun.
- Courgette (zucchini)
If you talk to anyone who has grown courgettes before, they’ll tell you that they always end up with at least one giant courgette (a marrow) and that they always end up with a huge supply of courgettes too. Zucchini plants need a bit more room as their leaf span can grow quite wide. You want to leave around 60cm of spacing between zucchini plants. This is especially important as a common problem with growing zucchini is powdery mildew, a white fungus that spreads on zucchini leaves. Good airflow, and making sure that plants are watered in the morning, not the evening, can help to prevent powdery mildew from taking hold of, and killing your courgette plants. The zucchini can be harvested at any size you are happy with – I tend to harvest when they are around the same size that you’d see in the supermarket.
Herbs are a great addition to the garden. Not only do they taste delicious on your food, they also look great in the garden. Herbs make a great container garden as well – so if you’ve run out of in-ground space, you don’t need to miss out! Companion planting basil with tomatoes is a beautiful thing and the basil is thought to help enhance the flavour of the growing tomatoes. However, basil prefers a more shady spot, so if you are going to do this, make sure the basil is a bit shaded by the tomatoes. Try growing mint, parsley, rosemary or basil for some great, summery flavours – making sure they aren’t exposed to too much sunlight as they grow. Harvest as you need, and enjoy!
This one is a bonus because it’s not a vegetable, but it is a great addition for beginner gardeners. Marigolds are my favourite spring companion plant (companion planting is growing different plants together to help reduce pests, attract pollinators, or increase productivity). They come in a range of different reds, oranges, and yellows, and they attract beautiful pollinators to your garden, which will help your tomatoes and courgettes to be fertilised and then grow!
Make sure you give some of these a go this Spring! Happy gardening!