Updated: Feb 16
Cultivating a garden might sound like an idyllic pastime for some: fresh herbs and seasonal vegetables right outside our doorstep? Yes please! Starting a garden could be a daunting task when starting out. Does kale even grow in the summer? How much water is too much? Focusing on the benefits of gardening inspires us to take the challenge. We gathered some tips to create a guide to gardening that makes it doable, enjoyable, and rewarding.
Step 1: Consider the Space
From urban environments to wide-open spaces, there are many ways to set up a garden depending on the space that is available. For people with balconies and smaller spaces, consider small outdoor garden beds to begin with. Use pots and trays to start growing food without taking up much space. Larger spaces might allow for bigger garden beds and even walking pathways and water sources. Think about what setup will be accessible for consistent care and maintenance. A garden is there to enjoy, so make sure it is conveniently placed to plant, pick, and water regularly.
In any space large or small, always consider light. Determine how much natural light a windowsill or a backyard spot gets and whether it is complementary for the plants you want. Many vegetables and fruit will thrive in full sun, ideally with six to eight hours of full sun, while others do well in partial sun each day.
Some vegetables that grow well in the summer are tomatoes, zucchini, and peppers because they need full sun. Native flowers like the California poppy and matilija poppy also thrive in full sun. Other plants are a bit more versatile since they can tolerate both full sun and partial shade. Among those are broccoli, collard greens, kale, and green beans. Check before planting how much sun a plant needs; this will make caring for your garden much more doable.
Step 2: Decide What to Grow
Plants that are native to your area are the best option for starting a garden that will last. Native plants grow well in their natural habitat, are nonharmful and noninvasive, and overall save both money and water. California’s agricultural impact is so beneficial because of the options the climate provides for a variety of fruits and vegetables.
Summer in California is great for tomatoes, peppers, citrus, grapes, carrots, and squash, to name a few. Winter is ideal for leafy greens and root vegetables like kale, spinach, arugula, carrots, turnips, and potatoes. Herbs like basil, thyme, rosemary, parsley, cilantro, and mint grow well with a few hours of full sun and good water drainage. Basil, oregano, and sage are some herbs that are native to California and have both a beautiful aroma and delicious taste.
Step 3: Care for the Garden
Maintaining a healthy garden requires intention and care. Think about the plants that will grow well naturally and according to the seasons. These are the fruits and vegetables that will continue to thrive when given the light and water that they need. While some plants deplete nitrogen from the soil, others can replenish it. Rotating these crops is one of many ways to keep a garden healthy for a long time. Keeping soil healthy can also be achieved with composting. Using compost can help return nutrients to the soil and maintain nutritionally dense produce.
Step 4: Learn Along the Way
The beautiful thing about gardening is that there is no finish line. A garden is what you make it, and it can change, evolve, and improve over time. Tending a garden means learning about what certain plants like; what works and what doesn’t. Try planting seeds that grow very easily and don’t need a lot of attention, and with time this will encourage you to branch out. A step-by-step guide can help with starting a garden, but learned experience offers a meaningful path to enjoying it long-term.
With this guide, starting a garden can happen anywhere. Whether it begins with herbs in a windowsill or tomato vines in the backyard, gardening is a gratifying way to connect with nature, share and enjoy fresh foods, and learn more about the environment. If you’re in San Diego County, Land & Feast offers residential land care and landscaping services that will help you start your garden and enjoy the outdoor space you have.
By Melanie Coffman