The Big Spring Spruce-Up

8 Simple Tips for Garden-Growing Success

It doesn't have to be that complicated.

March 19, 2019
Photo by Rocky Luten

For The Big Spring Spruce-Up, we’re throwing our windows wide open and letting in all that fresh air. Follow along for handy tips and game-changing tricks—cleaning and organizing to-dos, home decorating projects, and more.

Will this be the year you finally plant the vegetable garden of your dreams? Some people are intimidated by gardening, but as long as you do a little bit of research (which you’re doing right now—give yourself a pat on the back!) and keep a can-do attitude, you can easily grow your own produce at home. I’ve even grown herbs and tomatoes out of my little apartment.

Gardening isn’t as easy as throwing some seeds in the ground and hoping for the best; but it doesn't have to be that complicated, either. Here are a few key tips to growing a garden—follow them, and you’ll be enjoying homegrown produce all season long.

1. Pick the Right Spot

Even if you don’t have a large yard, you’ll want to consider the lighting and conditions of the spot where you’re going to plant. The Old Farmer’s Almanac explains that vegetables need around six hours of direct sunlight each day, so you’ll want to pick an area away from trees or the shade of your house.

Further, you’ll want to choose a space that doesn’t get overly wet or dry during the summer, as either of these conditions can hurt your plants.

2. Start with Easy Plants

Just like with houseplants, some vegetables are more forgiving and easier to grow than others. The Old Farmer’s Almanac lists squash, beans, kale, cucumbers, and carrots among some of the easiest plants to grow from seed. Tomatoes are also rather easy to care for, but you’ll have better luck if you purchase young plants from a local nursery and transplant them into your garden.

3. Use Raised Beds

If possible, you should plant your garden in raised beds. Why? You’ll be able to fit more plants, since you don’t need rows, and you can also fill the beds with rich, organic soil that will help your plants thrive. Plus, when your plants are closer together, there’s less room for weeds, which means less work for you.

4. Grow Vertically to Save Space

If you’re pressed for space, you can fit more plants into your garden by encouraging them to grow up, not out. Most vining crops, such as tomatoes, beans, peas, squash, and cucumbers, will happily grow up trellises or cages, allowing you to maximize your planting area.

5. Give Plants Space

Raised beds allow you to plant closer together, but your vegetables still need space to grow—otherwise, they’ll end up competing for water, nutrients, and sunlight. Most vegetable and herb seeds come with spacing guidelines on the packet, so take these into account as you plan your garden. Also, be sure not to plant tall crops where they might block the sunlight for shorter plants.

6. Keep Weeds and Debris Under Control

Weeds aren’t just unsightly to look at. They can hinder the growth of your precious vegetables, which is why weeding is an essential task for any gardener. A set of high-quality garden tools will help you keep them at bay—take caution with weed killer or pesticides in your vegetable garden, or else you might contaminate your produce.

Debris such as fallen leaves can also be harmful to your plants, as it can spread diseases. For this reason, you’ll want to remove anything that’s covering the ground around your plants, especially during the fall.

7. Be Careful When Watering

Most people who claim to have a “brown (or black) thumb” simply haven’t figured out how much to water their plants. If you water them too much, the roots may rot, but if you don’t water them enough, they’ll wilt and die.

To remedy your plant-killing ways, stop guessing at when plants need water. The Old Farmer’s Almanac explains you’ll want to feel the soil before you water—if it sticks to your hand and holds together when pressed into a ball, it’s still moist enough and doesn’t need more water.

In general, you’ll also want to water earlier in the day so excess moisture has time to evaporate off leaves. Further, if you invest in equipment to help water your garden, a soaker hose is generally preferable to a sprinkler, as these deliver water closer to the root of the plant.

8. Create an Indoor Garden, Instead

If a full-size garden isn’t going to work in your yard, you can always create an abridged indoor garden instead. For instance, there are lots of herb kits that you can easily grow in a windowsill, and they’ll provide you with fresh garnishes for all of your meals. You can also grow salad greens like arugula and baby kale in hydroponic indoor gardens. Just be sure to put your indoor plants in a spot where they’ll get adequate light so they can grow big and strong.

What are your tips for gardening success? Let us know below!
Grab your copy

It's here: Our game-changing guide to everyone's favorite room in the house. Your Do-Anything Kitchen gathers the smartest ideas and savviest tricks—from our community, test kitchen, and cooks we love—to help transform your space into its best self.

Grab your copy

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • howtoplant
  • Zorro
  • Smaug
  • Tedra Powers Ulmer
    Tedra Powers Ulmer
Freelance writer, product tester & baking enthusiast.


howtoplant August 16, 2020
Great article! Thank you for giving me this extremely useful knowledge how to plant
Zorro September 2, 2019
As a Master Gardener, I am always interested in learning more about my passion, growing plants. I was, however, disappointed to the constant reference to the Old Farmer's Almanac, which is an excellent reference but not the only resource available. Tools need not cost over $300.00 to be effective, Lee Valley has similar garden utensils at less than half the cost. Start off small and take inexpensive courses offered at local greenhouses or nearby botanic gardens. Ask neighbours who are gardening for their help, true gardeners are willing to share their wisdom. We all learn from each other and gardening transcends social boundaries. Whether you are growing a pot full of herbs or an acre of organic vegetables, join the conversation! Grow something good to eat and help save the planet!
Smaug March 19, 2019
Well- people should be encouraged to garden, and a beginner CAN have success- with some determination and luck; some of the herbs, and things like radishes and arugula, are hard to miss with, but it's a process. For one thing, if you want to eat it, there are probably innumerable beasties and wogs who would like to do the same (though I suppose that few of them venture to Manhattan), and any number of diseases and fungi that are looking for homes- all of this stuff generally appears in a tiny section at the end of plant books ("Pests and Diseases"). Some of it can be both difficult to diagnose and to treat- questions like "why are the leaves turning yellow" can have a thousand different answers, and plant nutrition isn't really any simpler than human nutrition (though, like us, they can be very good at finding what they need in what they have). On the bright side, there's no reason for gardening to be expensive- you only really need a few simple tools for the vast majority of processes, and they should last a long time. Growing from seed (or cuttings) can be very satisfying, tapping into our parental and creative instincts, and generally- as with most of gardening- there's very little to lose. Most of you have probably learned to make bread, learned to make pie crust etc. and had some failures along the way, and you probably will with gardening too-all part of the experience. Tomatoes, by the way, are quite easy from seed- the seeds need to be fairly fresh (though 2 or 3 year old seeds, if properly stored, will still have fair viability) and they do take some time, so in much of the country you'll need to keep them indoors for several weeks. I would advise against overcommitting for novices (or pros, for that matter)- that couple of dozen seedlings that you keep in a couple of trays in spring can be a real burden by midsummer.
Tedra P. March 22, 2019
Advice from your county Cooperative Extension office is every state Land-Grant university has excellent gardening resources online. Many counties also have Master Gardeners who provide education and information.
Smaug March 23, 2019
There are certainly a lot of resources; good nurseries will have knowledgeable and helpful employees (though it's tough for beginners to judge- a lot of nurseries really don't), University agriculture and horticulture departments can frequently be approached, and of course there are tons of advice on the internet and TV programs, some of it useful. But books are still the backbone; of particular use in the Western US, Sunset's Western Garden Book has been an invaluable resource of practical advice for many decades; I haven't followed recent editions, but I understand that they now have books for other parts of the country, and they published an extensive "Pests and Diseases" book for the west a while back.