How to Start an In-Ground Garden
You’ve decided to finally do it! Maybe it’s your first garden or maybe gardening is something you’ve been meaning to get back to. Either way, you’re here because you want some basic help to get your project launched. So, here’s a primer to get you started! (We’re focusing here on in-ground gardens, but see our Raised Garden articles if that’s what you’re looking for.)
Decide the Type of Garden You Want
Chances are good that you know the answer to this already. But whether the garden you imagine consists of vegetables, flowers, herbs, or something else entirely, read up enough that you know you can achieve what you are after in your geographic growing zone. Learn about your gardening zone, including the limitations it may impose. You are more likely to be successful by sticking with plants that are easy to grow in your region, especially if you are new to gardening.
Pick a Site
If you have the luxury of making a choice, look for maximum exposure to sunlight. Flat sites are normally easier to work with, but you can cope with a certain amount of slope with a bit of extra work and maintenance.
Often though, people don’t have a lot of choice about where they plant. For example, if you want bedding plants around your house, you will simply have to get by with the amount of sunlight available on each side and plant accordingly. Even if you have limited location options, you can shape the garden attractively to please the eye.
Clear the Ground
You will need to remove weeds and sod in the garden area. Here are several methods of sod removal, from fastest to slowest.
- The fastest method (if you want to plant very soon) is cutting the sod. Use a sod cutter to remove the sod completely and add to your compost pile (if you don’t have a compost pile yet, cut sod makes an excellent starter).
- Use a rototiller for sod-busting which will integrate the grass into the soil. This may require several passes to chew up the roots sufficiently, so the grass doesn’t continue to grow. For best results, till several times with a week or so between sessions. This will give the roots time to die off and become more integrated with each pass.
- A longer-term approach is the “lasagna method.” Cover the turf with 5-6 layers of newspaper. For tougher varieties, like Bermuda or St. Augustine grass, double the amount of paper. Spread a 3-4” layer of compost over the paper, then give it several months for the compost and paper to decompose. The best time for starting this method is the fall so it can “winter over” and be ready for planting in the spring.
Test Your Soil and Add Amendments
Have a soil test done or buy a kit and do it yourself. Residential soil often needs some help, especially if it is in a new construction zone. Add the appropriate amendments depending on how acidic or alkaline your soil is.
Prepare Your Seed Beds
Loosening the soil before planting helps roots access water and grow better. You can do this by hand, with a shovel and hoe, but a rototiller is the most efficient method. Plus, if you are adding more organic matter (compost, potting soil, or other amendments), it will be integrated more thoroughly with a tiller. Either way, loosen the soil when it’s moist enough to form a loose ball but dry enough that it falls apart when you drop it.
This is a big topic with infinite details depending on what you’re growing, so read up on each plant. You may use seeds, seedlings, or a combination of the two. For most plants you will want to wait until the risk of a frost is low. Whether you use seeds or young plants, keeping them moist is especially important in the early days as they take root.
Your garden will need daily watering in the early stages, then you can gradually taper off as they gain strength. How often you water after that depends on your soil, humidity, and rainfall, though once a week is a good place to start. Different soils retain water differently. Clay takes longer to dry out than sandy soils. If you are uncertain, dig your fingers 3-4" below the surface. If it’s dry at that depth, it’s time to water.
Mulch keeps weeds out (by depriving them of sunlight) and keeps moisture in. Organic mulches will gradually decompose and fortify your soil.
As your garden begins to grow, help it reach its full potential by keeping up with garden chores. Water the plants before they wilt. Pull weeds before they go to seed. Remove dead, dying, and diseased vegetation. Support tall plants (like tomatoes) with a trellis, stake, or a tepee. Finally, harvest as soon as ready!
After the Harvest
End of season maintenance is just as important as preseason preparation. It’s always a good idea to enrich your soil with organic material and the leftover stalks, stems, and roots are rich in nutrients. Get out the rototiller and you can integrate all that goodness into your soil for the next garden.
Gardening is a rich pastime, with endless refinements and discoveries you will make over time. The key is to get started by observing the basics.
Find the Right Tools for the Job
At CHP we aim to provide the best for outdoor living and gardening is an integral part of that. We offer a wide range of rototillers including walk-behind tillers and tow-behind tillers for ATV or tractor. And be sure to explore our gardening category for a host of useful tools. We update our inventory frequently so check back with us soon. You can also sign up for new product alert emails here. Happy gardening!
Last updated: 7/14/2022