Gardening 101: How Beginners Can Develop a Green Thumb

For newbies, gardening can seem pretty intimidating. Here are our tips for making this the year that you finally conquer gardening.

There’s a reason why so many homeowners are putting in gardens instead of lawns; why so many renters are growing in containers on their balconies; and why city-dwellers are signing up for waiting lists to get into community gardens—gardening is all the rage.

But for many, gardening can be daunting. Maybe you don’t have a green thumb (I’ve managed to kill air plants). Or maybe you’re unsure of how or where to start (choosing the right kind of soil and seeds can be nothing short of dizzying). Before you decide to—once again—forgo gardening this year out of fear, remember this: gardening is not as intimidating as it might seem, as long as you know the basics.

ESTATENVY recently spoke with the folks over at Adams & Sons Gardens in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood, to hear their top tips for making this the spring that you finally conquer gardening. The first step? Gardening is often a process of trial and error, so remember to relax and have fun.

1. Understand your climate and your region

Not all plants are created equal—so why treat them as such? What you plant should be determined by where you live. Take a look at the characteristics of your garden area—things like climate and sun exposure. Then, talk to someone who works at your local garden center about the best native plants for your region. This ensures that you’re not setting yourself up for failure before you even plant anything. Assessing your surroundings helps you to understand your limits and the possibilities.

2. Take the time to analyze the soil you’re working with

Reading your soil’s pH and nutrient levels arms you with everything you need to know to start planting. To get a thorough reading, send a soil sample to your local nursery. There are also at-home testing kits available at places like Lowes, Home Depot or your local gardening store. The results will tell you how acidic or alkaline your soil is, which ultimately affects how plants absorb nutrients.

Since different plants thrive best in different pH levels, this test will help you decide what to plant or indicate how you should treat the soil.

It’s important to examine the soil’s texture, too. Good soil should easily crumble in your hands. Anything harder than that can make it difficult for most plants to grow roots.

3. Don’t bite off more than you can chew

It can be tempting to start with exotic plants and complex fruits. But before you get carried away, it’s best to start with easy plants. According to Adams & Sons, vegetables are a good first step—they don’t take as long to grow, meaning your time and money investment is a little more manageable. Once conquering plants like tomatoes, cucumbers or peppers, gardeners have a little more confidence to move forward with more complicated plants.

4. Be sure not to over—or under—water your plants

Striking that perfect balance when watering your plants seems never-ending dance. But according to Adams, there’s one important thing to keep in mind—just stay consistent. Make sure the water penetrates the soil as opposed to just putting a little bit on the surface. Newer plants will need to be watered more frequently because their root systems aren’t completely developed.

It's also important to water at the right time of day. Early morning is best due to its cooler temperatures. Watering in the evening can result in fungus and other plant diseases.

5. Remember to be patient

This is probably one of the most important things to keep in mind. Don’t expect things to grow overnight—gardening is a process, and it takes time to see any progress.

Sometimes impatience will cause you to overwater or fuss too much with the plants, hoping that they will grow faster. Monitor them regularly, but unless something looks wrong, just let them be.