A lush blooming garden not only attracts butterflies and birds, but also sweet compliments. Growing a garden may seem daunting at first glance, and you might find a thousand excuses to not getting your hands dirty (literally); but believe you me, it doesn’t call for beginner’s luck. Watching those green leaves and colorful flowers dance in the wind with a smile is surely worth the effort. And as gardeners would agree, nothing tastes better than fresh vegetables you grow at home.
Gardening is one of the easiest and more rewarding pastimes for beginners to pick up. Why else thousands of people would incline towards this “fruitful” hobby in times of lockdown? Besides, the planet has over 391,000 vascular plant species. So you can choose plants basis your liking, location, and even lifestyle. What’s more, the secret to a beautiful home garden is hidden in its name itself – PLANTS. Follow these hands-on gardening tips for beginners to get started.
1. P For ‘Pot’ Size
The pot is your plant’s home. Obviously, it needs to be of the right size and make. What would happen to toddlers if we allow them to live independently in spacious penthouses? They will be spoilt, right? The case is similar to plants. If the pot is too-large, the soil will dry out slowly, making the plant more susceptible to root rot. If the pot is too-small, the soil will dry out quickly and you’ll be obliged to water more frequently. Also, your plant could become root-bound and exhibit stunted growth.
Ideally, choose the smallest pot (3-4 inches) for sowing seeds or planting saplings. You can even use paper cups as they are bio-degradable and you can directly put it in a larger pot when the time comes. Make sure there are drainage holes at the bottom to allow excess water to seep out. Keep an eye at the bottom of the pot. If you see roots coming out, you know your plant has outgrown the pot and it’s time to repot it. When transplanting, shift to a pot 2-4 inches larger in diameter.
2. L For Lighting
Plants feed on light for survival. Vegetables and flowering plants require at least 5-6 hours of direct sunlight every day. Sunlight is rich in red and blue hues, both of which are extremely important for plant growth. The blue side of the spectrum promotes healthy leaf growth while red hues foster flowering and fruiting. It’s best to keep your tomatoes, pumpkins and chilies on the terrace or north-facing balcony, to ensure they get maximum sunlight. Indoor plants, especially decorative ones, do well without direct sunlight, and can survive even in bright indirect light. In case, you don’t get enough sunlight inside your home, go for Lucky Bamboo, Peace Lily, Snake Plant or Spider Plant. Money Plants are quite versatile and can survive under any lighting conditions.
3. A For Aqua (Water)
When it comes to watering, go by your instincts. If the weather is hot and the leaves are drooping, it is time to water your plants. The golden rule, however, is to dig your finger 3-4 inches in the soil to check the moisture. If it feels wet, you can probably wait for a day or two before watering again.
Late evenings or early mornings are the best time to water your plants. This gives them enough time to supply themselves before the water evaporates on hot soil during the day. Water thoroughly until it seeps out of the drainage holes. That way you know the soil is getting moisture all the way to the bottom.
Don’t let your pots sit in water. Damp soil could cause root rot and death. If you are using planter trays, empty them after you water and after it rains. It’s always better to let the soil dry out before next watering as it promotes root growth of the plants.
If you’re one of those who might miss watering plants regularly, start your gardening journey with drought-tolerant plants like Aloe Vera, Palms, Ferns, Cactuses and Succulents. Snake plants are one of the most low-maintenance plants you can own.
If time is a constraint, you can even go for self-watering pots. These innovative pots contain a small built-in reservoir at the bottom that allows plants to absorb water when needed.
4. N For Nutrition
Fertilizer is both a gardener’s friend and foe. While the right amount of fertilizer can work wonders for your plants, overfeeding can result in burnt and wilted leaves. Home-made DIY fertilizers are the best bet in gardening for beginners. You can use anything from tea bags, crushed egg shells, grounded coffee to fruit peels and aquarium water as supplements. Adding these organic fertilizers to your soil will help retain moisture, stimulate good bacteria growth, and fight pests and diseases.
The 3 most vital nutrients for a plant’s growth are Nitrogen (N), Phosphorous (P) and Potassium (K). Nitrogen is essential for the growth of leaves. Phosphorous is largely responsible for root growth and flowering. And, Potassium (sometimes, referred to as Potash), takes care of fruiting and also helps plants in fighting diseases.
Knowing the NPK values of a fertilizer can help you select one that is appropriate for the type of plant you are growing. For example, if you are growing leafy vegetables, go for a fertilizer with higher Nitrogen number to encourage leafy growth. If you are growing flowers, apply a fertilizer that has a higher Phosphorus number to aid more blooms. You can also add fertilizer with higher Phosphorous (P) and Potassium (K) numbers to encourage fruiting, once flowers appear on your vegetable plants.
There are lots of fertilizer options available in the market, with the proportion of macronutrients clearly highlighted on the pack as N-P-K. The higher the number, the more concentrated the nutrient is in the fertilizer. For example, a balanced fertilizer for general purpose usage will read 5-5-5, which is an equal 5% of each element; while a fertilizer listed as 20-5-5 will have four times more Nitrogen in it than Phosphorus and Potassium.
When it comes to fertilizing plants, less is more. If you want to play safe, start slow by adding a teaspoon of NPK mix (liquid or water-soluble) to 1-litre water and feed the plants once every month. Now that’s a tried & tested tip in gardening for beginners.
5. T For Time
Another important factor to consider is the sowing time or season. If you are buying potted plants from the nursery, you can skip this topic. However, if you wish to raise your vegetable garden from the scratch (read: seeds), you need to consider the season for best results.
This gardening calendar by Nurserylive.com provides a list of month by month activities for growing indoor vegetables in India.
|Month||North India||South India|
|JANUARY||Brinjal||Lettuce, Spinach, Gourds, Melons, Radish, Carrot, Onion, Tomato, Okra, Brinjal, Beans|
|FEBRUARY||Applegourd, Bittergourd, Bottle gourd, Cucumber, French Beans, Okra, Sponge, Gourd, Watermelon, Spinach||Lettuce, Spinach, Gourds, Melons, Radish, Carrot, Onion, Tomato, Okra, Brinjal, Bean|
|MARCH||Applegourd, Bittergourd, Bottle gourd, Cucumber, French Beans, Okra, Sponge, Gourd, Watermelon, Spinach||Amaranthus, Coriander, Gourds, Beans, Melons, Spinach, Okra|
|APRIL||Capsicum||Onion, Amaranthus, Coriander, Gourds, Okra, Tomato, Chilli|
|MAY||Onion, Pepper, Brinjal||Okra, Onion, Chilli|
|JUNE||All gourds, Brinjal, Cucumber, Cauliflower (Early), Okra, Onion, Tomato,Pepper||All Gourds, Almost all vegetables|
|JULY||All gourds, Cucumber, Okra, Tomato||All Gourds, Almost all vegetables|
|AUGUST||Carrot, Cauliflower, Radish, Tomato||Carrot, Cauliflower, Beans, Beet|
|SEPTEMBER||Cabbage, Carrot, Cauliflower, Peas, Radish, Tomato, Lettuce||Cauliflower, Cucumber, Onion, Peas, Spinach|
|OCTOBER||Beet, Brinjal, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Lettuce, Peas, Radish, Spinach, Turnip||Brinjal, Cabbage, Capsicum, Cucumber, Beans, Peas, Spinach, Turnip, Watermelon|
|NOVEMBER||Turnip, Tomato, Radish, Pepper, Peas, Beet||Beet, Eggplant, Cabbage, Carrot, Beans, Lettuce, Melon, Okra, Turnip|
|DECEMBER||Tomato||Lettuce, Pumpkin, Watermelon, Muskmelon, Ash gourd, Ridge gourd, Bitter gourd, Bottle gourd, Cucumber, Chilly, Cabbage,|
6. S For Soil
Like us humans, plants demand ample elbow and legroom to spread their roots. Your potting soil needs to be loose and fluffy and should crumble in your hands. If your soil is hard and the texture is clay-like, it will be difficult for all the plants to grow their roots.
For the uninitiated, it’s better to buy potting mix from the local nursery or order it online. Good potting soil is light-weight and contains mostly coco-peat, vermiculite, and sometimes, decomposed, organic matter. Some potting mixes might even contain slow-release fertilizers and moisture-retaining crystals that would help you reduce plant maintenance. For vegetable and flowering plants, prepare your soil by mixing organic potting mix and cow dung manure in 60:40 ratio. For indoor plants, you can use only potting mix and top it up with a small amount of cow dung manure every 3 months.
Gertrude Jekyll, the legendary horticulturist and landscape architect, once said ‘A garden is a friend you can visit anytime.’ Gardening for beginners is not at all complicated if you follow the basic rules – good drainage, rich soil and optimum lighting. In fact, it’s easier than you think. So, put on your gloves and dig yourself into the grow-at-home adventure, right away.
And don’t forget to share your first experience with us in the comments section below! Happy digging!
Cover image courtesy: Pixabay.com