First-time gardener tips for success

Choosing the right location, one with good soil and light, is the key to success for healthy plants and high yield of tomatoes and other crops.  Photo by Deborah J. Benoit

By Deborah J. Benoit

Special to the Observer

Do you want to enjoy fresh, home-grown veggies this summer? Perhaps you’d like to adorn your home with fresh-cut flowers.  

Whatever the reason, this year you’ve decided to start a garden of your own. But before you grab a spade and head for the backyard, put pen to paper and make a plan. 

Dream as big as you like, but for this year at least, plan small. Your first garden will be a learning experience. To ensure success, narrow your focus. Trying to do it all is a sure way to become overwhelmed.  

Whether you choose to garden in a small plot, a raised bed or a few pots by the back door, gardening success isn’t hard to achieve.

First and foremost, like the old saying, it’s all about location. Look around your yard at various times of day before you decide where to put your garden. The location needs to provide three things that are key to success: soil, light and water.  

If you’re gardening in containers or raised beds, you can purchase soil to meet your needs. If you’re planning on a more traditional garden plot, choose a location with good soil. Ideally, you’ll want soil that’s loamy — a balance of clay, silt and sand that retains moisture but drains well and will provide nutrients for your garden.  

If you’re not sure about your soil, consider a soil test. If your soil is less than ideal (most is), it can be improved with, for example, the addition of compost. A soil test will tell you about your soil’s pH and nutrients and make recommendations for amendments and fertilizer. More information on soil testing can be found at the UVM Agricultural and Environmental Testing Lab’s website (   

The location you select should provide full sun for at least 6-8 hours a day since most vegetable plants and flowers require that to grow to their fullest potential. And you’ll want a convenient source of water nearby. Toting water to the far side of the yard in the summer heat is a sure way to dampen your enthusiasm, resulting in skipped watering and unhappy plants.

Once you’ve selected a location and know how much space you have available in your garden, get to know the plants you want to grow. Invest some time in a little research. That tiny tomato plant in its 4-inch pot may grow 2 feet wide and 6 feet tall or sprawl out to cover several feet of your raised bed. Be sure to give your plants room to grow. 

Introduce your plants to the outdoors gradually. “Hardening off” allows them to adjust to conditions in the garden, particularly the sun. Place your plants outside in a semi-shady spot, gradually moving them into direct sun over a week or two. 

When planting, water them well. If a support, such as a trellis or tomato cage, will be needed, put it in place at the time of planting. Cover garden soil with mulch to help retain moisture and suppress weeds. 

Keep an eye out for pests or signs the plant may be stressed. Be sure plants get adequate water, fertilize as recommended for your particular plant and remove weeds. Before you know it, you’ll be enjoying the fruits of your garden. 

Deborah J. Benoit is a UVM Extension Master Gardener from North Adams, Mass., who is part of Vermont’s Bennington County Chapter.

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