Starting a Garden - Any Advice?

Updated on February 28, 2012
❤.M. asks from Santa Monica, CA
15 answers

Okay you gardening gurus, I am wanting to start a garden?

Any advice from you experienced gardeners?

What to plant? Some basics? What's easy to grow? What's incredibly hard to grow?

Any tips that are not-well known or overlooked?

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answers from Dallas on

I love my Square Foot Garden! It's simple, he explains everything, and even my black thumb gets a reasonable harvest multiple times a year.

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answers from Minneapolis on

In California, you should be able to plant anything you like. Unlike here in MN,
there are things I can't grow because it's too cold up here :(

Whether it's veggies or flowers, compost will help even the worst soil grow things, along with sunlight and water.

You'll want to put it where it will get the most sun, preferably the south side of your yard if possible.

Yes, Tomatoes are easy to grow, but they MUST be started indoors because they are very fragile. Not to mention, they are the most susceptible to damage. Three years in a row we have lost most of our tomatoes due to hail and wind.

Peppers, if you like them, are easier than Tomatoes to grow, and they're tropical plants (like Tomatoes) and should grow beautifully in CA.

Lettuces do well in the cooler weather so you could plant them as soon as it doesn't freeze at night... well, this is a dumb question but does it even freeze where you are?

If you want natural pest control use flowers. Marigolds keep the deer away, but I haven't yet figured out how to get rid of the gopher that popped up in my raised beds last year. Somehow I think our attempts will end up like Bill Murray in Caddyshack...

One book I bought (and read the heck out of and LOVE) is The Vegetable Gardener's Bible

Or you could check amazon or your local library for others.

There is also a site I use to make my gardening a little easier. Backyard Farmers ( ) they have a garden planner that shows you where you can plant things based on where they were planted last year and what you're trying to plant next to each other. Some things shouldn't be planted next to others due to some bugs and diseases that could be transferred from plant to plant.

That is just a little bit of info. Definitely get some resources that you can check anytime you wish. Don't just rely on the internet, because you may want to take your info outside with you.

I wish I could be starting a garden in CA! I would be able to plant everything I want and then some!

Good Luck with all you decide!

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

Well, since you got folks from just about every part of the country besides SoCal, I think I'd better speak up!

You can grow just about anything your heart desires here (I live about 20 min. away from you in Carson!) I've gardened most of my life and have had tomatoes, peppers of all kinds, beans, squash, onions, carrots, cukes, swiss chard, watermelon, cantaloupe, broccoli, lettuce, plus orange, lemon, grapefruit, nectarine and Fuji Apples, which I plant in very large containers (keep on my patio to save yard space). Can't even think of all the stuff I've had luck with here. So, think of what you like, and go to it!

I have to second the suggestion of good soil prep because that is VERY important. Buy some bags of compost and dig it into the place you want to plant before you even think of buying plants/seeds! You can use existing flowerbeds or along walkways to plant veggies to extend your garden and dress up your yard. Right now is ideal....actually ALMOST a bit late...for lettuce, peas, broccoli and other cool weather crops, because they tend to bolt and go to seed very quickly when the weather turns really hot.. There are LOTS of garden sites online that can help you with just about anything you'd like to know...just Google your question if you are unsure!

My one suggestion that most folks don't bother with is to start your own compost pile....pick a corner of the yard to outline with cement blocks (mine is against a block wall fence so that saves on blocks!) Start small, but save ALL your vegetable scraps, peelings, go into the compost. Just start by digging a hole and burying your scraps...the earthworms will do the work for you. Just keep digging holes beside the previous one until you use up all your space, then start over with the first site. By NEXT spring and thereafter, you won't have to buy any compost or fertilizer because you will have made your own....and NO, it does NOT smell, because it is buried. I use my grass clippings, leaves, and even shredded newspapers to go into the hole with the scraps....just be sure not to add greasy stuff and cover it well...or you'll have every varmint in the neighborhood visiting your "deli" every night for a feast!

I would suggest that you also check out some articles on "companion planting" which talks about plants that "like" each other better and help to ward off insects from other some actually help the other plants to grow stronger!

Sorry, this is lengthy, but it's hard to tell a new gardener how to start from scratch without being lengthy! Again, the internet and Google are your best friends, so use them. All of your area hardware stores (Lowes,Home Depot, etc) have garden sections and have nice veggie selections and are usually cheaper than places like Armstrongs, but Armstrong has some great plants and all of their gardeners can give you very good advice on growing in this area.

Good luck on your new venture! Let us know what you decide to grow and how it is turning out for you.

PS...I forgot to add, you can grow just about any herb that you can imagine here as well. I once had a basil plant that was about 3 ft. tall and 4 ft wide and overwintered YES, basil grows well here! Also, unless you just love, love, love mint.....keep it contained as someone else suggested! For ease of moving, I have given up on clay pots for plants and gone to the very large rubber ones. Much easier on the back if you decide to rearrange them! Oh, I also place a square of plastic mesh from things like onion bags, orange or grapefruit bags, etc....over the drainage holes at the bottom....lets the water drain and keeps the SNAILS out of the hole where they just LOVE to lay their eggs so it will be close to "dinner"

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

Don't forget the herbs - buy them as small plants - many can grow in pots or in the ground. I don't know what grows well there, but my rosemary and thyme plants have survived 2 or 3 years here in DC, despite a couple of snowmageddon storms. I can't manage to keep cilantro growing, but have had great success with different parleys, sage, chives, etc. Really saves money over the fresh at the store. Beware of mint - it grows really well, but is a bit like bamboo in that it will take over if you don't keep it contained (my mom would sink a bucket most of the way in the ground and plant it in the bucket.)

Last year I had enough rosemary and thyme for our Thanksgiving turkey, Christmas lamb and plenty left over that I dried a lot and put in pretty jars for Christmas presents. Now I'm hungry for rosemary chicken!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Norfolk on

You need some good soil, sunlight, water (but good drainage so roots don't rot assuming you don't want a water/pond garden).
Someplace where it's not too windy would be good, too.
Vegetable gardens will need direct sunlight for all or most of the day.
Some flowers like direct sunlight while other plants like more shade (like hostas).
Tomatoes are some of the easiest veggies - the smaller cherry varieties are the easiest.
Roses can be tricky. Marigolds and pansies are easy.
There are so many types of garden it would help to know which kind you are interested in.
It's helpful to chat with neighbors about what they are growing and local nurseries will know a lot about what will grow in your area.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Colorado Springs on

You need to pick the brains of the pros at your local garden center. They'll know what will work best in your own back yard.

One thing seems to apply everywhere: when you're starting out, invest good time and money into the soil. It's not as much fun as planting the flowers and veggies, but if you provide those flowers and veggies a good home to grow in, you'll be much, much happier with what you get.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

we had lots pf success with tomatoes and zuccini and jalapenos. The strawberries did ok. cilantro was awesome. We were told basil helps keep flies away. That did well too.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Spartanburg on

If you like basil, plant it in a sunny spot that is NOT windy and has good, rich dirt. Rosemary, on the other hand, does fine where is windy, it too needs lots of sun but it's less delicate than basil and it thrives on a different, less "refined" soil (ok even on rocky surface). Parsley needs good dirt too but less sunny and definitely more "hydrated". Just my 2 cents. Have fun!


answers from St. Louis on

Soil and sunlight are your biggest things.

Thing about plants is what usually grows well doesn't always grow well. Around here tomatoes and peppers grow like weeds, except the past two summers, then they took off late. I guess just don't get down on yourself if the garden shop says this grows like a weed and it doesn't, sometimes the weather is against you.



answers from Los Angeles on

You have some awesome tips below. I wanted to re-iterate the ease of container gardening. It seems to work well in small patio spaces, and seems easier to prevent pests, etc. I also wanted to add that Trader joes has GREAT kitchen herb gardens that actually have 4-5 herb plants. You can separate & transplant into bigger containers & they'll grow big. Same with their basil. For $5, you can buy a basil container with 5-10 separate basil plants that will each grow big when transplanted. It's a great deal.



answers from Los Angeles on

buy seedlings, so much easier than seeds, tomatoes are easy, and so are peppers and beans. if you have poor soil you can use big pots. plant in the sun, and pay attn to watering, somethings need frequent water, others fend for them selves. I find that tomatoes do better w/ watering every 4 days or so.



answers from Las Vegas on

I agree on the seedlings, I have a hard time growing from seeds because something and eats them once they start coming out.

I think at the beginning it is best to get things that will reward you more than once. Lettuce, tomatoes, bell peppers, zucchini, herbs, etc. I have tried peas and green beans, and you have to plant so many to make it worthwhile (I always get like 5 from a plant all year). With things like broccoli, you put so much time into one plant, and you get one big head, and then it's done.

Also, this is totally a test year for you, you will figure out what works for your soil and what doesn't, and what you like growing. I can't grow zucchini and squash, but I can grow tomatoes like crazy. I know a lot of people that have the opposite problem a few miles from me, I think it has something to do with the pH of the soil.



answers from San Luis Obispo on

Add my vote for Square Foot Gardening. Mel's book is easy to understand. After checking it out of the library three times, I finally broke down and bought my own copy. I'm on my fourth year and can hardly wait for planting time... and then to enjoy (literally) the fruits and vegetables of my (minimal) labor. My kids love picking fresh carrots to munch on. My son says they taste better right out of the garden (freshly washed). I've also grown onions, spinach, lettuce, corn, potatoes, cucumbers, marigolds, cilantro, peppers, tomatoes, sweet peas, beans, and squash with varying success because of our weather. Last year we successfully branched out to potatoes. This year we'll need more boxes as my children are growing and they eat more!



answers from Oklahoma City on

I second the square foot gardening tip. Even if you set your garden up differently, the SFG book has good tips on how to mix a good gardening soil. It also has charts that show when to start each plant or seed, relative to your local frost date. And it has a section where it gives some details about different common plants (veggies, herbs and flowers) such as how long it takes the seed to germinate, how long til it starts fruiting, what the common pests/diseases are for the plant and how to combat them, etc. The book is easy to come by at bookstores, on, or even at Lowe's.

The other suggestion I would make is to locate and visit your local county cooperative extension office. The people who work there can help you with what grows well locally, as well as what to avoid. They're a great resource.



answers from Chicago on

I started a garden last year and I loved it. My favorite are the herbs. I love cooking and cooking with herbs is fantastic. We also had lots of tomatoes, cucumbers are easy to grow, zucchini (they use up a lot of space).

The one things I would recommend is that you think about which veggies and fruit you and your kids love and use in cooking. Those are the ones you should grow.

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