How to Start a Garden in 10 Steps

How does your garden grow? With good soil, adequate sunlight, some basic tools―and a good plan.

Bag filled with gardening supplies
Photo: Gadge

Would you like to plant some vegetables or herbs, or maybe some flowers that bloom all year round? We're all for it. Gardening gets you outside, makes your yard more attractive, and (if it's a vegetable garden) can set you on the path to eating more healthily.

Chances are, there's a gardening enthusiast in your life, and they'd probably love to offer you some planting tips and advice. But first, you need to do some prepping. You may be wondering, "What do I need to start a garden?" The answer is: Follow the checklist below.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Spade
  • Garden fork
  • Soaking hose
  • Hoe
  • Hand weeder
  • Basket


How to Start a Garden

Step 1: Assess Your Exposure

Most vegetables need at least eight hours of full sun every day. Flowers and other decorative plants have different sunlight needs, depending on their type. Study what sort of light your yard gets during the day, particularly noting the sunny and shady areas.

Step 2: Designate Your Planting Areas

You need a plan before you plant. A 4-by-4-foot plot of land is a good start for vegetables. For flowers, decide where you'd like to dig the beds. Here are some questions to ask as you decide where to put your garden:

  • Will my plants be protected from heavy wind?
  • Is this nearby to my water source?
  • Will I need to (and am I willing to) tear up a section of grass to do this?
  • Is the ground relatively level?

Step 3: Consider a Fence

Fences are especially important if you are planting vegetables (although some flowering plants may be enticing to critters, too). Build it before you plant the garden, so rabbits or raccoons never get a glimpse (or a taste) of that lettuce.

Step 4: Know Your Dirt

Most soil—even sand—can be enriched with compost and be fine for planting. But you need to determine how much organic material and mulch to add to make it fertile. A local gardening center can help.

Step 5: Decide Between Tilling and Creating a Raised Bed

Starting out, it's probably easiest to till and nourish the soil you've got. On the other hand, you may have a bad back and would rather not be bending down so low to garden. If that's the case—and you're willing to put a little more energy and planning into your space up front—you can build a raised planting bed with non-pressure-treated wood.

Step 6: Contact Your Local Cooperative Extension Service

If you don't already know which plant hardiness zone you're in, it's time to find out! Chances are, that will lead to further questions. But have no fear! The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a network of cooperative extension services that can help you determine what plants will grow in your part of the country when frosts are likely to hit, and the ideal time to plant and harvest.

Step 7: Write Down Your Preferences

For a vegetable garden, think about what you like to eat and what you generally buy (or can't find) at a local farmers' market. With flowers, make a list of the colors you love and what you'd like to see in a vase on your kitchen table.

Step 8: Consider Companion Planting

Certain types of plants and vegetables grow better together. For example, tomatoes tend to grow well when they are adjacent to carrots, basil, cucumber, and squash. For flowers, companion planting might mean planting types that will bloom at the same time, like tulips and daffodils.

Step 9: Know Your Enemy (Weeds)

Weeds can hurt your plants, because they compete with them for nutrients and space. They also might harbor disease. Weeding early in the process will protect your plants. If you're not sure what to look for, the National Gardening Association identifies dozens of weeds.

Step 10: Make a Seasonal Plan

Once you determine what will grow, what you like, and what time of year certain plants will flourish, create a schedule. If your flowering plants all bloom in July and then die off, have some evergreen plants to keep the area looking lush. If your tomato plants take months to get big, plant smaller vegetables nearby that can make quick use of the space. A local gardening center can help you plan.

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