More About How To Start A Garden

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How to start a garden with raised beds

How To Start A Garden Part 2

This is part 2 of our post about how to start a garden. If you missed How To Start A Garden, Part 1, read it here.

Prepare The Soil

  • Rototill or dig soil, getting rid of rocks, and remove sod and weeds. If you try Square Foot Gardening, you won’t need to rototill– just dig. If you are digging up grass, put it in another area of the yard that you need to patch.
  • Add compost. This will help with drainage and give the plants a boost of nutrients.
  • Lay down newspaper or black fabric garden cloth to help control weeds. I put my weed barrier down and put mulch on top before planting the plants. Then I just put a small hole in it and put my plant in. It’s much easier than trying to mulch around all the little plants. (Note from Mike: Don’t use plastic for weed control. If you do, the plants won’t get enough water.)


When To Plant

Two to Four weeks before last frost is when you can plant cool weather crops like spinach, onions, radishes and lettuce. After the last frost in your area is the best time to plant warm weather plants like tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers. You can find out when your last expected frost date is here.

You can set some of your plants out a week or two early if you put mini greenhouses on them, like an empty milk carton with the bottom cut off. Take the lid off during the day and put it back on at night to keep the heat in. Be careful– If you get a hot day, you can fry your plants so take off the mini greenhouses if you get a really warm day.

Transplant your plants in early evening so they have time to get over the shock before the hot sun the next day.


Watering Your Garden

One important thing when you start a garden is to be prepared to water it. Do it. Really! Some people (like mom) think that you can just put your plants out and that’s it. You have to water your plants and you have to water them correctly. If your plants start to wilt, that means you need to water. If you notice that your tomatoes aren’t wilting but your cucumbers are, then you could have bugs instead but, for the most part, if you see your plants wilting they need water.

A good indicator plant is tomatoes. Tomatoes need a lot of water. If you start to see them wilting, you will know that the garden needs some water.

Don’t over-water either. If you do, you will rot your plants. If you aren’t sure if you need to water, stick your finger in the soil next to the plants. If it is moist or feels cold then you probably don’t need to water.

Just a side note: One time, Mom planted a cherry tomato right under the faucet. She had cherry tomatoes coming out of everywhere! One year I might try this just to see what happens! :-)


Weeding (Weed killers, etc.)

If you put down a layer of newspaper or landscape fabric, you won’t need to weed as much. Mulch is the best way to keep weeds at bay because weed seeds need light to germinate and if they don’t have it you won’t have as many weeds.

how to mulch garden paths for weed control

I like to use wood chips for mulch. I can usually find them free from tree cutting companies or from the city or county. Cities and counties usually have a branch disposal center and will mulch them. Usually, you can take your truck or car and go load some up. When we didn’t have a truck we would load the wood chips in the back of our car in galvanized containers. When we didn’t have those we put a big tarp in the trunk and loaded it. We pulled the tarp up the sides so the wood chips wouldn’t end up all over the place.

You can also buy mulch at the store. Look for broken and torn open bags. A lot of times, the store will have those discounted for .50 or $1.00 a bag just to get rid of them. If some bags are torn open but not marked down, ask if you can get them for less. Often, they just haven’t gotten to marking them down yet.

If you call a tree cutting service to see if they have wood chips, be sure to ask if they are free. One time I just asked for wood chips. I was ecstatic when I got the most beautiful wood chips I’d ever seen and the company even delivered them! I cried a week later when I got a bill for $100. Augh!! Huge frugal flop!


Pests (natural and other pesticides)

I use regular good old pesticides on my gardens. Why? Because it kills the bugs. Pesticides wash off of your produce and, if mixed correctly, don’t harm the environment. A lot of times you will need to spray before the fruit or vegetable has set so you don’t even spray the actual produce, just the plant.

If you want to go organic, one of the best things to use is just plain dish soap. Mix with some water and spray it on your plants and it will kill a lot of the pests. Here are some other organic pesticides to use but be careful!! If you are using organic pesticides to save the environment you may actually be doing more harm than good.


how to start a garden - staking and tomato cages


Some plants will need to be staked or grown on a trellis. A fence is a good place to start. If you don’t have a fence, you can start by scouring yard sales for things like tomato cages. I find them all the time for less than a dollar and they last forever. You can also take small pieces of wire fence, make a circle and make your own a cage. Another idea is to just use a stick or rod. Put it in the ground next to your plant and then just tie with string, old panty hose, etc.

garden staking plants - pole and string garden trellis


These are a few of the basics to help you get started. Feel free to ask questions about how to start a garden or anything about gardening and I will answer them as best as I can. If you need help with specific tips about how to start a garden for your specific area you can also call your local Cooperative Extension Service. You can find the extension office for your state here or look in the phone book under County Extension.

I have also started a new garden ideas web site you might want to check out! Find it at

If  you missed part 1 of  How To Start A Garden, find it here!


Photos By: pdbreen, KoryeLogan, Apreche


  1. Cynthia says

    Thanks for the wonderful tips! Many things can be used as mulch, including grass clippings from mowing, and shredded cardboard boxes. They help to prevent weeds, but they also help the ground retain moisture. I love to grow all the traditional veggies for canning, including those for tomato sauce, salsa, ketchup, and barbeque sauce. But, I also like to plant a few new, kind of unique things, like blue corn, lemon cucumbers, and red pear tomatoes. I always look for heirloom veggies, so that I can save their seeds and replant again next year. Hybrid seeds cannot be saved. I love your website! Happy gardening!

  2. Deb Brown says

    I love gardening; veggies, herbs, flowers, fruits you name it. I bought my new home 12 years ago and have fought with gardening every since. Half is bad clay soil and other half is soggy no drainage. Actually started to give up on it. But NOW, you have given me the jolt I needed to go with raised beds! My daughter sent me your link a month ago and am so happy she did. GREAT newsletter:)

  3. christina says

    I have a fairly large raised vegtable garden. It is large enough that each year, instead of manually turning it over my husband rototills it for me. While I do consider myself a some-what advanced gardener, I honestly don’t know if I should put mulch in to help with the weed control. Can the mulch be ground up with the yearly rototilling or do you recommend that I carefully try to scoop the mulch out at the end of the garden season? It would look so much prettier and it also would cut down on the weeds if I was a little more sure of the mulch in such a large veggie garden. Could you please advise me on this matter? Thank you so much!

    • says

      Yes, all mulch should decompose and then just grind it up with the rototiller. Of course you can’t do this with landscape fabric but regular mulch like wood chips, newspaper, grass clippers, compost etc. can just be turned back into the soil.

  4. Tammala says

    Hi, I am so new to gardening, however, I have managed to start an apple tree from seed. It is still very small, about 10″tall ss far. Any tips for that? My other question is about the newpaper. I have lots of it and am so happy you mentioned using it in place of the black stuff. So, let’s see if I have it right. I put the newspaper on top of the ground and then mulch? So does the little hole for the plant/seed go down through the newspaper? Your avice and tips have been so helpful, thanks a bunch.

    • says

      Tammala I will let Tawra answer most of your question but on the newspaper what we usually do is plant the plants then lay a thick layer of newspaper up very close to the plants. Then sprinkle enough mulch on it enough to cover the newspaper and to hold it down. It you are going for looks you can use a little more mulch.

    • says

      What I do for the newspaper is put it down. I wet mine because it’s windy here. Then I put a light layer of mulch on top. What this does is give a much thicker protection of mulch without spending so much for wood chips. Then I just poke a hole in it with my finger and plant my plants or seeds. You will have to be careful with seeds that it doesn’t wash back over them if you get a rain.

      The apple tree, well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news but it’s going to 10-15 years before it’s big enough to produce apples. Apple trees here in Kansas are about $10 at Walmart and they will start producing in 5 years so that might be a better way to go.

  5. says

    Thanks for the great ideas. With your extreme fatigue disorder, how can you manage all…like the newsletter, website, ebooks, house, kids, gardening, being frugal….I am really amazed.

    • says

      Bindu we really aren’t super moms. Our homes can look like a bomb blew up at times and there are many days we can’t even think what to have for dinner let alone fix it. Tawra and I joke all the time and say we are lucky because by combining both our brains together we have one. :) Otherwise we would be able to think or remember anything. We are forever calling each other and by the time the other person picks up we can’t remember what we called for. :) :) So it means a lot when someone like you thanks us and understands how hard it is. Thanks so much.

    • says

      HA! We don’t manage it all! Believe me more days than not I feel like the walking dead but I just keep forging on! I’m not sure why some days but I do! :-)

  6. annie says

    I could use a super energy pill or some energy from my 3 year old grandson. LOL. Do have a question though. How can I get rid of bermuda grass? That is some strong determined grass and it manages to get in my square foot garden. Where we used to live we had zoysia grass but this bermuda grass is something else. There has to be a non-chemical way to get rid of it permanently.

    • says

      The only non-chemical way to get rid of it is to pull it out or use vinegar sprayed on it. If you use the vinegar IT WILL KILL any plants that are by it. My suggestion is Roundup. That is my all time favorite weed killer in the garden. It can be put on the leaves of just the plant you want to kill and turns to water after it goes back into the ground.

      • says

        Just to let anyone who doesn’t know Tawra went to horticulture school and has worked as a master gardener for 2 different counties in 2 different states – in other words when you call your county to ask a question on gardening she would have been the one to answer your question. She also worked here at the Wichita Botanical Gardens too. I just say this because I know she wouldn’t toot her own horn and to let you know she really knows her stuff when it comes to gardening.

      • Fay says

        Just a thought about Round Up. The company has numerous products. Some kill all vegetation–so be sure you are getting the one that kills only weeds.

  7. annie says

    Thank you both for your help. I’ve already got vinegar and will probably get the Roundup. It’s still too early to plant around here right now. Just want to get a head start on the bermuda grass. I love to plant a garden and pecans. With the price of fruits and vegetables going up, up, up, everybody should plant all that they can since every little bit helps.

  8. Terri says

    I have 3 raised beds which require A LOT of watering every day. I will be out of town for 6 days in July. I really don’t want to have to ask a neighbor to water the gardens for me if at all possible. I know you can use a soda bottle turned upside down in the soil to help with irrigation, but that won’t last long enough. Does anyone have any further ideas or should I just put out dozens of soda bottles full of water and hope for rain?

    • says

      Terri I am facing the same problem but my garden expert (Tawra) is awol and won’t be able to talk to her for a couple of days but hopefully one of our readers has an answer for you.

      One thing if you do have to ask a neighbor to water them you might do what Tawra did for me when I had to take care of her garden. First she made sure her potted plants were as close together as possible so I didn’t have to walk around the house dragging a hose. Then she used a splitter on her hose so she could hook up 2 hoses and laid them right by where I would be watering so all I had to do was turn the hose on and not have to drag a hose every where.

      It would cost a little more but they do have timers I think now that you can attach to a faucet and you could maybe put that on the faucet with a splitter and a couple of soaker hoses.

      Don’t forget to mulch well which you maybe already know and that way you maybe could only water every other day.
      Last but most important – pray like crazy for rain. : )

    • Veronica Tidd says

      I think the best way to take care of your watering problem is to put down soaker hose.
      You need to do this at the time you plant yoour garden so it stays on the ground.
      I don’t think you really need a timer and splitter. Lengths of soaker hose screw together to make as much length as you need. You can experiment with the hose before you leave and regulate the flow if you have very high water pressure

  9. sandra says

    Anyone know/have any tips on Pear tree care?? my tree Produces Lots of pears But Leaves & pears get some black spots & holes in leaves some

  10. Dee says

    One other thing to help with watering is to go to your local nursery or perhaps Walmart and get some water crystals. They look like plastic pellets until they get wet. When they get wet they plump up and will store water until the ground in the hole starts to get dry and will then release the water to the plant. Just put 1-2 dry tablespoons per plant hole before putting in the plant.

  11. Fay says

    Absolutely love the Square Foot Garden method you spoke about. I have the original edition and I still read it to refresh my memory. For those one the fence about purchasing the book. Not only does it give you the “how to” but you also get the “where, when, what and why to”. It has a fabulous reference section for just about anything you’d plant. Tells you of soil, sun, water, composting, gives plant/harvest time tables. It also has some companion planting; like plant radishes between the cucumbers to keep the cucumber beetle away.
    If your budget is super tight–check it out of your local library and spend an evening or two taking notes.

  12. says

    Hi, We also plant a garden under plastic and it does get water by laying cheap drip tubing under each sheet over to the side of the holes you make for the plant. It works great and uses much less water than traditional hose watering. The tubes are spliced at the end of each row on a tube line that leads to one hose so I water five 75 foot rows with one set up. I have it on a timer so I never have to worry about it even if I am on vacation and the plastic means no weeds at all except the few that pop up at the base of the plant. It works out really well and we use the same plastic for two years in a row. We bought one large box of plastic and it has lasted four years now. Hope this helps somebody. Thanks.

  13. Dee says

    Hello–I’ve enjoyed learning how to start a garden:>) It’s the first day of summer and I am just putting up my new green house in my yard and I’d like to start growing something NOW even though it’s so late in the season. Can you advise me on what kinds of things I can start now that will grow quickly enough to complete before first frost. I’d like to try some herbs, squash, tomatoes? Too late for seed grown for sure? Some of the veggie plants I’ve seen for sale at the stores that have gotten a good start look bad wilted and the leaves are falling off. wonder why. OK, Thanks so much!Dee in Oregon Coast p.s.I’m disabled and have been ill so this is on a very small scale.

    • says

      Dee here are a few to get you started. Beans, peas, carrots, herbs like basil, oregano, thyme, sage, summer squash and some fast growing cucumbers. You might try some of those plants that look wilted and rough especially if they are on clearance. More often then not if you plant them and give them a little tender loving care they will revive. Tomatoes it maybe to late to start them but you could maybe try one or two plants. You would be amazed how much you can get off of just a couple of plants of any thing. It is a little late for seed grown. Since you need to start things on a small scale I would pick one – two plants of a few of your favorites. Hope this helps a little.

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