11 Essentials for First-Time Vegetable Gardeners

Ready, set, grow!

April 21, 2022
Photo by James Ransom

You can Grow Your Own Way. All spring and summer, we’re playing in the vegetable garden; join us for step-by-step guides, highly recommended tools, backyard tours, juicy-ripe recipes, and then some. Let’s get our hands dirty.

As a certified horticulturist and hobby homesteader, I’ve slowly built my garden up from an empty dirt lot, creating a thriving wildlife habitat and sustainably-minded ecosystem along with 12 raised beds, a greenhouse, and a micro orchard. Baby chicks also just arrived last week! I’ve worked in the garden testing out tools and gadgets for years, so I’ve learned what works and what definitely does not.

As much as I like to have excuses for buying all the things, “accidental” seed and plant purchases included, it’s important to stay focused on the essentials—especially when starting up your first veggie garden. Whether you’re planning an expansive homestead with raised beds, or a curated collection of herbs on your patio, you’ll want to arm yourself with the right tools when dipping a trowel into the gardening world. The key is to start with a few of these stand-by staples that I've relied on for years, and then expand into more gadgets and frills as you better understand the needs of your specific plot.

Now, who’s ready to get their hands dirty?

1. Barebones Living Hori Hori Garden Tool, $40+

Part trowel, part knife—all perfection. The hori hori is my go-to tool for nearly all soil prepping, transplanting, and harvesting needs. It easily loosens soil to make the perfect pocket when planting small seedlings and it helps wack back the lemongrass or any other greens that start to get unwieldy.

2. ARS HP-130DX 7-Inch Ideal Light Pruner, $29.74 $27

Here’s where investment counts. You’ll need something that’s durable and will last a lifetime (with the proper care). These all-purpose snips are made from top-notch steel and will tackle anything from kale harvests to small-scale citrus pruning. I keep these on my hip at all times and reach for them often. Be warned—it cuts like butter so watch those fingers.

3. Garden Works Bamboo Fit Gardening Gloves, $12

I have different gloves for various situations, but the ones I love most are the ones that feel like I’m not wearing gloves at all. These bamboo mitts are breathable, allowing my hands to move freely and giving them great grip, too.

4. Simply Tidy Photo & Craft Keeper, $41.99 $19.99

Anyone else get a little overexcited about seed purchasing this year? It's easy to get dream of a huge harvest—especially if you’re planning your first garden. But don’t stress if you've got more packets than you can plant. Seeds will last up to two years with the proper storage, so make sure you pack up your extra packs in this handy photo box with individual drawers where your can organize your seed packs by variety or growing season for easy finding.

5. Top Hill Soil Blocker 2", $34.99 $29.99

Buh-bye plastic pots, it’s time for a different way to start your seeds. Seed blocking is a method of compressing a soilless starting mix into cubes so you can grow plants without the use of any pots or containers. These plants more resilient to transplanting due to increased oxygen exposure around their roots, and you won't clog up the landfill with cheap plastic starting trays either.

6. Backyard X-Scapes Bamboo Wood Fence Blank Post, $56.98

Oh, how I love a pack of 6-foot bamboo poles...the things you can do with these simple sticks! Peas need support? Check. Tomatoes need some bracing? Check. Need to keep your dahlias from flopping over? Done! With a few clips and a pair of pruners, you can customize a trellis to any shape or size that your vining vegetable desires.

7. allFENZ 2 in. Plant Support Clips, $10.20

Speaking of support, there are times when you’ll need to help your plant pals out with some extra trellis grip. Pass on the garden tape since that’s plastic you can only use once. These reusable clips come in a number of sizes and will help in getting those climbing and vining plants the hand holding they need.

8. Gardener's Best Jumbo Potato Grow Bag, $24.95

It’s easy to run out of real estate for your garden if you’ve gotten overexcited with seed catalogs and nursery runs. Grow bags work wonders for temporary garden expansions and experiments alike, and are especially perfect for long-season crops like garlic and tubers that grow wild like ginger and potatoes. As an added bonus, they also store flat when not in use. Who doesn't love a little pop-up moment?

9. Dramm 60-14505 Nine Pattern Revolution Spray Nozzle, $19.32

You'd never expect to need so many watering options until you hold this 9-setting spray nozzle in your hand. The full stream is helpful when filling a watering can quickly while the delicate mist is perfect for newly sprouted seedlings. There’s a setting for every stage of growing and trust me you’ll find your favorites—I’m a “rain/shower” setting kind of gal myself.

10. Water Right PSH2-050-MG Hose 500 Series, 50-Foot, $89.95

If you’re growing an organic garden, you won't be able to stop thinking about safety when it comes to your watering. This garden hose is not only lead, phthalate, and BPA-free, but it’s also super lightweight, hardly ever kinks, and comes in lovely colors. I’ve gone through my fair share of awful hoses that made gardening a real drag, but this one wins them all. And in case you're looking for other styles or more budget-friendly options, market editor Jada Wong also tested the best hoses over here.

11. FCMP Outdoor The Essential Living Composter 6 Gal. Worm Composter, $74.25

If you’re not already composting, consider this your call to action. Compost is gold when it comes to gardening, and you can easily make your own by saving the trimmings from last night's dinner. Vermicomposting—where worms break down organic matter—is hands down the easiest way to compost. The worm castings are then used as a fertilizer when diluted in water, becoming a true miracle worker for plant and soil health. There are no more excuses, even for you small space dwellers where bins are small enough to fit on a tiny patio or even under the kitchen counter!

12. Bosmere Colander Trug, $31.99

I find a lot of dual-use tools gimmicky, but when you can turn a harvest basket into a washing station, well, then you’ve got my attention. I know, I know—you still want that darling artisanal basket for your harvest pics, and that's fine! But just know that this trug is a workhorse and will be the one you reach for every day. Here’s to filling your baskets to the brim this growing season!

What are you most excited to harvest this season? Let us know below!

This post contains products independently chosen (and loved) by our editors and writers. As an Amazon Associate, Food52 earns an affiliate commission on qualifying purchases of the products we link to.

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Writer, Photographer & Certified Horticulturist


Smaug April 21, 2022
"Essentials" is a pretty big overstatement- a trowel, pruners and a hose (though you may not need 50') are pretty essential, and a good spray nozzle is very useful, a water wand more so. All of the recommended products are pretty pricey; you don't need to spend anything like the amount this would add up to to get a good start ($60 for stakes? No thanks). One of the great things about gardening, it's SO not about buying stuff.
Smaug April 22, 2022
This all bugged me for some reason- perhaps a general dislike of being bombarded with sales pitches constantly- anyway, I added this stuff up; it came to about $436- I assure you that you do not need to spend anything like that (and it doesn't include plants, seeds, fertilizer, soil amendments etc.) to start a vegetable garden- maybe $50 if you already have a hose.