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How to start a garden

Looking for the easiest way to start a garden? These tips will help you begin small and grow
what you love, from flower gardens and kitchen gardens to kid-friendly pollinator gardens

June 18, 2021 in Life

Couple eating popcorn in bed

There is something so satisfying about digging in the dirt and then watching your plants grow and flourish throughout the seaso

Gardening isn’t just a rewarding hobby (though it’s hard not to love freshly picked flowers and produce); it’s also a fun way to get physical activity and
spend time outside, and may also help you reduce stress.


The most important takeaway when starting a garden is to keep it small. Even if you have a good-sized yard, spend a season getting
used to maintaining a smaller garden before you commit to a larger project. And establish a budget to keep your plant purchases in check — once you visit the garden centre, it’s really easy to get carried away by all the choices.


Here, we’ve gathered some helpful tips to show aspiring green thumbs the basics of how to make a garden.

How to start a garden: decide what you want to grow 

When starting a garden, spend some time doing research and figuring out what to plant. Do you want to teach your kids about attracting pollinators, like bees and butterflies, to the garden? Do you want to grow a kitchen garden filled with veggies to feed your family? Or do you want to plant a flower
garden in your front yard to add to your home’s curb appeal? Maybe it’s a mix of all these ideas! It’s important to know the difference between two

basic types of plants. This can help you make short- and long-term plans when you’re setting up garden beds. 


    Annuals are plants that you need to replant every year. They may be ornamental flowers, like petunias, or veggies, like tomatoes and basil.


    Perennials are plants that come back year after year for several years. At the garden centre, they’re often grouped according to sun and shade     preference.

Create a list of everything you’d like to plant in your garden and scale it down to a reasonable size for your first year. Start with maybe three to five plants.

How to start a garden: Choose the right site

Before you start buying plants, it’s important to be aware of your space’s conditions. Is your designated garden area in full sun, complete shade or a mix of both? Spend a day or two mapping out where the sun is throughout the day. Be mindful of especially dry areas, where drought-tolerant plants may thrive, and wet areas that don’t drain as well after a heavy rain. And remember that the sun moves throughout the year: a spot that gets some noontime sun in mid-June could be in shade by August.


The easiest way to start a garden from scratch is to lay cardboard and mulch over the grass. Digging up sod can be time-consuming and labour-intensive. If you do this setup task in the fall, by spring, the grass will likely have died off and your site should be ready for


If you want to grow sun-loving veggies, like tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers, your garden bed needs to get at least six to eight hours
of sunlight a day. 

How to start a garden: Map your garden before you dig

Drawing out your plans can help you visualize your ideas. Consider hiring a landscape designer for big projects. If you’re keen to
set up a garden bed yourself, start with a small chunk. For example, don’t rip up your whole front lawn unless you have a plan and plants to fill it in.
For a patio or balcony, take careful measurements to figure out how many containers will fit. You may also need to be mindful of weight.


Create a manageable goal for the first year and then expand accordingly. Landscaping software can help you map a garden or patio
layout, too.


Whatever your goals, don’t do any serious digging without knowing where underground power, phone or other lines are. Your
province may have some type of “call before you dig” program to help you determine where it’s safe to put your shovel.

How to start a garden: Assemble your tools

What do you need to start a garden? Well, you don’t need a big collection of fancy tools. A few good-quality essentials for planting and ongoing maintenance will get you rolling without a huge expenditure. Some essentials that might be worth investing in: 


  • Gloves to protect your hands
  • A trowel to help with planting and small digging
  • A bucket to carry around tools or to hold weeds
    and debris
  • Pruners for removing small branches and stems  
  • A watering can or good nozzle for your hose   
  • A shovel for more laborious digging and edging
    (cutting the grass into a neat, tidy border)  
  • A multi-purpose garden tool, like a soil knife,
    that can do a variety of tasks and is easily portable


An easy way to get what you want is to use points you’ve earned from your eligible American Express® Membership Rewards®
 .You can pay for almost anything with points with Use Points for Purchases1 such as eligible tools or plant purchases.

How to start a garden: Amend the soil

One of the most important ingredients for starting a successful garden is healthy soil. That means you’ll want to regularly amend it, or add specific materials (such as compost, sand or minerals) to the mix. Digging these into your soil can add nutrients, improve its structure, help it hold water (and drain well), encourage healthy plant growth and prevent plant diseases.


    It’s important to know if there are challenges to overcome in your garden, like clay or sandy soil, which aren’t ideal for many plants. Compost can     work wonders for both extremes, and can boost the quality of healthy soil. You can buy it in bags or in bulk at garden centres. In some locations,     you can even get it delivered to your home. There are also soil calculators online that can help determine how much you need for a home delivery.     If you have the space, consider adding a compost bin or pile to your property so you have a constant supply.

    Fall leaves

     Fall leaves are a great (free!) soil amendment. Chop them up with your lawn mower, add them to your garden and let them break down over the     winter. 

Plants in containers benefit from good-quality outdoor potting soil. Look for bags that are specifically formulated for growing plants
in pots. You can even find potting soil varieties that are tailored to growing specific kinds of plants, like flowers or vegetables.


If you have hard-packed or clay soil and want to grow vegetables, you might want to consider creating raised beds. They can be a
great way to ensure a kitchen garden is growing in a good mix of rich organic matter.


If you have any concerns about contaminated soil on your property, or simply want to know your soil’s pH (which will suggest which
amendments you need to add), get a soil test. The plant type that Do an internet search for your province plus “soil test for home gardeners” to find
out where you can obtain a testing kit.

How to start a garden: Choose your plants or seeds

Visiting a garden centre can be overwhelming, so it’s a good idea to head there with a list. When choosing perennials, look for healthy plant growth. Leave behind plants with any signs of pest damage or stress, such as yellowed or withered leaves. Read plant tags carefully to see how big and wide plants are expected to grow, and for any growing requirements (such as full sun vs. partial shade). Bonus tip: if you visit at less-busy times (as in, not on Saturdays), the staff will be more likely to have time to answer your questions.


When deciding which vegetables to plant, growing from seed can be easier on your budget. But depending on your climate and growing season, many vegetables, such as tomatoes, need to be started from seed indoors much earlier than you can plant them outside. For those, you’ll need to plan ahead and provide the right growing conditions.


On the other hand, with seedlings (a seed that has just sprouted), all the work of seed starting has been done for you. Many seed
companies will put the ideal planting time (e.g., late spring) right on the packet.


Plants can be a big investment when you’re starting a garden. If you have a cash back card or an eligible Membership Rewards® Card, be sure to use it when you’re shopping to earn cash back or rewards you can take advantage of
down the road.

How to start a garden: Keep up with maintenance — and have fun!

Once your garden takes off, be sure to maintain a regular watering schedule and to pull weeds so they don’t take over and become unmanageable. Adding organic fertilizer to your gardens is a great idea, too (read the package for frequency), to ensure plants continually get the
nutrients they need to thrive.


Above all, don’t stress — starting a garden is a learning experience, and there are bound to be surprises both good and bad.
Have fun, pay attention to your plants, and search the internet (or join an online gardening forum) for when those inevitable questions arise.

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