Tips For First Time Gardeners From First Time Gardeners
Green thumbs are a myth.
At least that’s how we feel about it. Let us explain. We are two people who began working at Territorial Seed Company with very little knowledge of gardening. Anything we did try to grow, inevitably died. Mel grew up with a dad who gardened, but the first time she killed a house plant, she thought, “Okay, maybe this isn’t for me”. Dana grew up in the city and neither of her parents could keep anything alive (except for the children, of course). Basically…Mel had an outlet for gardening but no interest, and Dana had an interest but no outlet.
A little background...
Dana: The only attempt at growing anything before moving to Oregon was on my apartment porch in Richmond, Virginia. I accumulated some dirt and some plants from who knows where. I planted them. And, that was it. I neglected to water, because well, aren’t plants supposed to survive during 100 degree summers? Needless to say, my ignorance got the best of me and the plants. I always loved the outdoors growing up and loved visiting the weekly farmers’ markets. Always curious how a carrot or a head of lettuce magically appeared in the soil, I never tried hard enough to find a source from whom to learn. I’m sure that in a city with a population of 200,000, I could have found something, but I was so intimidated. Intimidated by the unknown, my complete lack of experience, and my many previous failures.
When I got the opportunity after college, two years ago, to house sit on an 11 acre property in the foreign town of Cottage Grove, Oregon, I thought, “It’s now or never”. Let me just say, it was the best decision of my life. The house came with a fenced in garden with which I could do whatever I desired. Of all the things I could have started with, I began with asparagus crowns. I mean, who can turn down those dirty-spider-leg looking roots? Not me. Months later, when I saw their tiny little green heads popping out of the ground, I felt a burst of hope.
It definitely wasn’t all successful, though. My biggest shame is that I killed a cactus from the home I moved to because I put it outdoors in the middle of February. I thought it needed to “dry out”…
Luckily, only a month after moving to Oregon, I found a job at Territorial Seed Company where I was immediately thrown into the world of super knowledgeable gardeners and an overwhelming collection of vegetable varieties. To be honest, before this life, I thought a cucumber was a cucumber. I had no idea there were burpless, English or Japanese cucumbers. I would work, then go home and read my books (and yes, my main one was the TSC catalog). My whole life I wanted so badly to be self-sufficient, and to watch things grow. Now, I have beds full of onions and garlic (my specialty) along with a pretty extensive memory of flower and perennial varieties. I have learned A LOT and still learn new things a hundred times a day. I make countless of mistakes, but instead of becoming discouraged, I learn and adjust. That’s what it’s all about. We feed the plants and they teach us.
Mel: I always admired my dad’s ability to plant and maintain roses, and other assorted flowers. But, after many attempts at keeping a plant alive, I just gave up and figured I didn’t have that “green thumb” the people in the gardening world always referred to. Enter: Territorial Seed Company. About two and a half years ago when I started working at TSC my interest in gardening started to peak. I was surrounded by it every day; coworkers saying how much they love it and reading customer success stories. But, the ability to kill a plant that came anywhere near me and the fact that I had a very small yard deterred me.
Eventually, due to the [constant] encouragement from a few of my coworkers, I decided to give it a try. I started small—just a few plants, in containers (who knew you could grow vegetables in containers?). And with the help of a friend, my first garden turned from an “it’s-never-gonna-happen” to something that actually existed! In my tiny yard!
Now, I learned a few things along the way: the importance of pruning, the importance of trellising (I lost a plant to a mild wind—it snapped right in half), removing dead leaves, watering at the base and not ON the leaves, not putting things out too early, the list goes on and on, but you get the idea…I made [several] mistakes. Yet, here it is another gardening season, and not only am I planning my garden, but I’m expanding! Who needs a back yard (not that I have much of one anyway) when you can have a raised bed?!
Here are a few things we’ve learned along the way:
1. You CAN grow in small spaces.
WARNING: You may develop an addiction to shopping for pots and containers—of all shapes and sizes!
2. Despite what you might think, plants not only like to drink…but eat!
Who would’ve thought that plants need nutrients just like we do?!
3. Don’t get discouraged WHEN you kill something.
It happens to everyone, even the most avid gardeners.
4. Don’t feel like you have to grow everything from seed. We recommend starting with transplants for vegetables that can be a bit more finicky.
Ex: Tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants; we let the experts [at our farm] handle these.
5. Don’t be fooled by a drooping plant. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to water—it could be a sign of overwatering. Try checking the moisture level by sticking your finger in the soil; if it’s moist at least an inch down, you’re probably okay. Trust your soil.
We have both lost multiple plants to unfortunate drownings.
6. And because water is important, here is another watering tip: Try to avoid getting water on the leaves of your plants. It can make the plants more susceptible to fungal diseases or sun scald. Always water at the base of the plants.
The roots are what really need the water, anyway.
7. Timing is everything. Don’t get too excited if the sun peaks out for a day. Cold weather can return. Pay attention to your first and last frost dates. For example, here in Cottage Grove, OR, our last average frost date is May 15th.
Mel may or may not have killed a tomato plant when she put it out too early, because she thought the sun was there to stay. Now, her tomato plants don’t go outside until Memorial Day Weekend [just to be safe].
8. Full sun actually means...full sun!
Heat-loving plants truly do need their 6-8 hours of sun per day. This does not include: slivers of light coming through slots in a fence, or intermittent spots of sun when the wind blows the branches on your giant shade-providing tree.
9. Read our catalog. There is over 30 years of gardening experience going into the information and tips throughout our catalogs. Take advantage of it.
Both of us constantly refer to it.
This last tip is for everyone; new and expert gardeners alike!
10. Don’t be afraid to try planting something new.
Ex: Mexican Sour Gherkins never sounded appealing until I planted some that I received from a friend. I planted it in the corner of a bed with very little expectations, but it quickly became a favorite and it is now something I will have to grow every year!
If you consider yourself new to gardening, or have not had stellar success in the past, do not get discouraged by failures. Learn from them and take that new found knowledge into your next year’s plantings. Anyone can have success in the garden, whether you think your thumb is green or not.
Authors: Dana M. & Mel R.