How to - Gardening Basics

No matter what your age or the size of your plot, it's never too late to start growing.

If you're new to gardening and have decided this is the spring to sink a spade into your first flower bed, you may be thinking: "Yikes, where do I start?" Well, I'm here to help. I remember my first experience with gardening, almost 15 years ago, poking around the yard of the older home my husband and I had just bought, wondering what was going to come up.

Back then, I didn't know a forget-me-not from a columbine. I learned by digging in, as I'd had some practice in my mother's garden while growing up, but I had no grand plan, just raw enthusiasm. In fact, I moved plants around so much that my husband joked my perennials ought to have come with wheels instead of roots.

So don't worry if you don't have a solid plan for your garden yet – most gardens evolve. Once you've learned a few horticultural basics and discovered what appeals to you, you'll have a better idea of the sort of garden you want to create.

The first big step is choosing the proper gardening tools. In fact, well-made tools can often make the difference between frustration and enjoyment, so invest in quality ones, which are usually carried by specialist suppliers.

The basics
Spade and shovel
• A spade has a narrow, long, squared-off blade for turning soil and marking planting holes; a rounded shovel with a long handle is ideal for planting trees and shrubs.
• Look for forged metal heads and handles that fit securely into the shaft.
• Hardwood handles should have a varnished finish, fit comfortable in your hands and not feel too heave.
• Optional: a digging fork to break up soil clumps,

Hand trowel
• A small shovel-like hand tool with a sturdy grip; useful for planting annuals, transplanting vegetables and container gardening.

Rakes
• A stiff-tined metal one for leveling soil and removing small stones, plus a fan-stlye rake to clean up fall leaves.

Running shears, or secateurs
• For light pruning and cutting back perennials. Look for a bypass model (which has a curved blade that passes by a fixed base), forged steel blades, a strong spring and comfortable handles.
• Lopping pruners have longer handles and bigger blades for cutting more substantial branches.

For weeding
• A standard hoe is perfect for small weeds.
• For mulched beds (where soil is covered with a layer of wood chips or straw), use a weeding knife that you push into the ground close to the weed's stem. This will loosen the soil so you can pull out the weed – roots and all. I swear by the Japanese Farmer's Knife from Lee Valley Tools.

For moving stuff around
• A wheelbarrow or garden cart will spare your back when hauling soil, pots and plants.

For creature comfort
• A gardener's kneeling pad is more comfortable than strap-on kneepads.
• Lightweight, good-quality gardening gloves.
• A gardener's tool belt to hold hand tools and seed packets.
• Sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat.

Books for beginners:
The Garden Primer by Barbara Damrosch, Workman Publishing Company, 688 pages, softcover, $26.95.
What Grows Here by Jim Hole, Hole's, 256 pages, softcover, $19.95.
Clueless in the Garden: A Guide for the Horticulturally Helpless by Yvonne Cunnington, Key Porter, 200 pages, softcover, $21.95.
Gardening for Canadians for Dummies by Liz Primeau, Mike MacCaskey, Bill Marken, John Wiley & Sons, 456 pages, softcover, $29.99.

Read more in How to and Gardening Basics

  • Page 1: Digging In

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