Tips for New Gardeners - Southern Fried Soprano

To You, New Gardener

22nd April 2015

Tips for New Gardeners - Southern Fried Soprano

Hey you, new gardener. I’ve got some advice for you.

Since I started gardening, I’ve gotten a lot of questions from friends and acquaintances, asking me for advice on starting their own gardens. It’s flattering, for sure, considering I haven’t even been a Real Life Gardener™ for two seasons.

What advice would I give to someone who wants to start their own garden?

tips for new gardeners

1. Grow what you love.

Truly, I feel like this is the most important tip. It can be pretty overwhelming deciding what to plant. There are so many varieties–heirloom or hybrid, which cultivar is good for your climate.. I could go on.

In the end, though, all that matters is that you’re pleased with what’s in the ground.

You’ll encounter people with some pretty strong opinions. If you want to grow a simple jalapeño–do it. Don’t worry about the people who want you to grow some fancy cultivar. Only want to grow tomatoes? Go for it. Want to put sunflowers in your backyard though your mom thinks they’re tacky (mine doesn’t–and any mom who does.. I’d like to talk to that mom)? SO WHAT WHO CARES.

Pepper Army - Southern Fried Soprano

I like peppers. So.. I’m growing a lot of peppers.

New gardener, if you like it, try to grow it. Gardening, while a joy, is some pretty hard work, and hard work is made less hard when you love what you’re doing. There’s no guarantee your garden will turn out the way you want; you’re at the mercy of nature and a bunch of other factors. But the journey is a lot more rewarding when you’re working toward something you want to see rather than something you’re told you’re supposed to want.

There is nothing better than talking with my mama about the things her daddy grew. Her eyes light up. Those are the things I want to grow. It doesn’t matter if they’re out of fashion, outmoded, or silly.

2. Keep a journal.

sparrow magazine garden journal

from Sparrow Magazine

Garden journaling is super important, even if you’re not a record-obsessive human like me.

Garden journals have been around since we started stickin’ seeds in the ground, really, and with good reason–they’re the best way we have to keep track of what we did and when we did it.

What’s even cooler is that some garden journals become works of art, full of beautiful illustrations and depictions of blooms and beauty.

jennifer branch garden journal

love this from artist Jennifer Branch

 If you’re not an artist (I’m certainly not), that’s okay, too. Your journal, of course, is whatever you want it to be, but I recommend you keep it pretty practical. Use an old Moleskine, a spiral notebook, or binder and keep track of what you planted, when you planted, and how it’s going. You can structure it however you like–it can a list, it can be a diary.. it can be anything.

Think about how great it will be next season to open your journal and see a precise record of the past year’s garden. Patterns emerge! You’ll learn something! Neat.

If you’re not into paper, there are even garden journal/diary apps for your smartphone or tablet, or you can use a note-taking program like Evernote or OneNote.

I use my garden journal for lots of things. I record information about the varieties I’m growing (info I get from the seed packet, etc.), Important Events™ in the garden (like when things germinate or when I transplant seedlings), and reminders to fertilize/weed/check for pests. My garden journal is just for me, and it grows as my plants do!

If you’re not sure where to start, check out these tips from Sparrow Magazine on Keeping a Mindful Garden Journal.

3. Ask for advice, but trust your gut.

Everyone’s got an opinion. That’s the good news. The bad news is that some of these opinions are pretty much bumpkis, and when you ask for advice, you’ve got to learn to weed out (pun intended) the useful help from the distracting silliness.

I’m a member of a ton of gardening Facebook groups, and they’re super useful. For new gardeners, though, they can be overwhelming. How many times have I seen someone ask a question about a problem they’re having and then get frustrated with the diversity of responses as to the solution to that problem? Too many.

None of those people responding to the New Gardener on Facebook know that person’s garden. Those people only have the limited information the gardener is giving them, and those people are responding based upon their experiences and environments, all of which may be very different from the person’s own.

You’re a new gardener, but you are NOT an idiot. Trust what you know and what you see in your garden. Ask for help, but don’t assume that every answer you get is sound advice.

4. Let go.

Nature is pretty good at, you know, being nature. Case in point.

Last year, I tossed a couple of pumpkin seeds near the back of my backyard fence. I didn’t need them anymore and they were the last two in the seed packet.

“Hey! These are biodegradable!” I thought, and I threw them to the wind. Bye little dudes, sorry I couldn’t use you, thanks for coming, you’ve been great.

A few weeks later, my mom asked me to check near the back fence, because something was growing. It turns out that those two measly pumpkin seeds, those seeds I so carelessly and casually threw away, sprouted.. and I had two volunteer pumpkin vines.

I‘m telling you this story because I, like so many new gardeners, want to over-tend my garden. Brown leaf? Oh God, my plant is diseased! A little bit of wilt in the hot Arkansas afternoon sun? MY PLANT IS DYING, I NEED TO DROWN IT IN WATER.

Needless to say, I won the award for Helicopter Gardener of the Year. And I ended up doing more damage to my plants than just leaving them alone would have done.

Yes, new gardener, sometimes it’s best to let nature do its nature thing. Hands off. The planet’s been growing things for a lot longer than we mere humans have.

5. Watch for critters!

Y’all. Animals. They’re adorable. I love them so much.

.. Until they start eating my plants.

Squirrel Pepper Damage - Southern Fried Soprano

Y’all. A squirrel did this to my pepper plant. It is not even May yet.

Last year, I had a raised bed garden full of cute little bean seedlings, and in the course of 24 hours, the adorable rabbit that has lived in my backyard since before I can remember ate every single one of them.

That rabbit didn’t care that I personally had planted each little bitty seed in the ground. That bunny needed to eat.

But because it’s an adorable rabbit and I can’t bear to think about.. permanently removing it, this year I had to take some extra steps to ensure Mr. Cottontail finds lunch elsewhere. These steps make accessing my raised bed garden a LOT more difficult and a LOT less fun, but it’s the trade-off I’m making so that my beans this year might at least have a chance of survival.

Rabbit Proof Fence - Southern Fried Soprano


New gardener, you undoubtedly will face both cute and not-so-cute furry things attempting shenanigans in your garden. You’ve got choices on how to control them, depending on your space and resources. It’s up to you to decide what you want to do.. but you’ll have to do something. Choose wisely!

I think that covers it. I’m by no means an expert, but I have learned a couple of things in my first year of playing in the dirt.

What suggestions would you have for a new gardener?

  • Great list, Georgeanne! I will JUMP ON THE BANDWAGON with the “let go” advice. My first couple seasons I obsessed. Knowing whether I was ruining the lives of my bean plants kept me up at night. Literally. I’ve relaxed over the years and wouldn’t you know, nature has a way of doing it all by itself! Your garden posts have made me so desperate to have a chunk of time to get my hands dirty. 🙂

    • Nature does NATURE THINGS. So amazing. I love garden books and I have a practical LIBRARY of them, and as you can imagine, I tried the whole “pruning your tomatoes” thing… I’m pretty sure I gave them a disease last year. 🙁

      I’m still obsessive, but mostly in a “HURRY UP AND GROW!!!!” kind of way, now. If I obsessed over my beans, I would be devastated–that chipmunk is KILLING ME, man!

      Go get your hands dirty, lady!!! And post about it so I can ogle!

  • Great advice! I’m in my third season, and what helped me was spending the winters reading gardening books. Plus, it’s fun to dream about and plan the garden in winter.

    • I love reading gardening books! What’s your favorite?

      Seed catalogs are great for wintertime dreaming. They also make me sad, in a way, haha, because I want more space than I have!

  • OMG I can’t wait to have a garden… It’s the one thing that living in an apartment I can’t do!! One day!!