Article updated March 8, 2023You’ve decided this is the year you’re going to start a garden (and reap all the mood-lifting, fitness-improving and healthy-eating benefits that go with it!), but you’re not sure where to begin. Swan’s here to help with several easy-to-follow gardening tips for beginners on how to get off on the right foot and make your gardening dreams a reality.
Choose The Right Location
The best place for your garden should take into consideration several things. First, you’ll want to make sure your garden is in a place you can see regularly so you’ll be more inclined to tend to it. Just make sure it’s not too close to the house. This location should also get at least six hours of sunlight a day and have good air circulation, but not be a windy spot. It should also ideally have level ground and loose, rich soil with good drainage. Plus, you’ll want to make sure you have a water source such as a spigot nearby for a garden hose to reach with ease. That way you can avoid lugging the garden hose around your property, saving your energy for the garden itself! Convenient access to garden tools and storage would be helpful as well.
Locate The Sunny Spots
Perhaps the most important factor when choosing your garden site is that it gets at least six hours of full sun over its entirety a day. Most vegetables, herbs and fruits need at least that much to thrive. One way to find out is to monitor the pattern of light and shadow over your planned garden location during the day. Place wooden stakes in the areas of shadow and then record the times when the garden site is fully covered with sunlight and when the shadows appear. If you don’t have the necessary amount of sun over the whole garden, you should adjust the size, position or even the location of the garden site.
Stay In The Zone
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has divided the country, including Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico, into 13 plant hardiness zones. For example, Zone 1 includes areas up north such as Fairbanks, Alaska, and the northern islands of Canada; Zone 11 includes most of Hawaii; and Zones 12 and 13 are in Puerto Rico. Each of the 13 planting zones are then divided into two number/letter-combination zones for greater accuracy.
A plant hardiness zone (or planting zone) is a geographic area defined as having a certain average annual minimum temperature. These planting zones by zip code were developed to aid U.S. gardeners and landscapers in choosing plants that would most likely survive the coldest temperatures in their area.
Each plant hardiness zone is also generally 10 degrees warmer (or colder) in an average winter than the adjacent zone, with the higher the zone number, the warmer the climate. This means that if a plant is “hardy to Zone 5” for instance, and your garden is in Zone 6, that plant will survive the coldest temperature in your area. However, if you live in Zones 1, 2, 3 or 4, your average annual extreme minimum temperature will be too cold to grow a Zone 5 plant in your garden.
Most seeds and plants come with a label listing their plant hardiness zone, so be sure to look for it. To discover your growing zone, add your zip code to Swan’s Interactive Planting Zone Map here.
Pick The Right Plants
Once you discover which plants will do best in your neck of the woods, select those that match your particular growing conditions and garden space. If you get lots of sun, choose sun-loving plants. If you want to grow crops such as melons and pumpkins that need lots of room, make sure your garden site can accommodate them.
You might also want to give native plants a try. Native plants are adapted to your local climate and soil conditions and have many advantages. According to the USDA, native plants don’t require fertilizers, need fewer pesticides than lawns, require less water, help prevent erosion, reduce air pollution, promote biodiversity and provide shelter and food for wildlife.
Spruce Up Your Soil
Healthy soil is essential to the success of your garden. When just starting out, you can invest in new soil that’s rich in nutrients and well-drained. You can also have your soil tested before planting to determine its needs. Try purchasing a soil-testing kit or send a sample to your local county extension office, and then amend soil health as necessary. To find your local extension office, add your zip code to Swan’s Interactive Planting Zone Map here, click the Soil-Testing Extension Office link in the white box on the map and then enter your zip code on the website that appears.
Find Your Frost Dates
Knowing your growing season is also important so you plant and harvest at just the right time to protect your crops from changes in the weather. First, you’ll want to find the last average spring frost date for your area so you don’t put your plants out prematurely and have them die from the cold. You’ll also want to find the first average fall frost date so that you harvest your plants or move them indoors before winter weather sets in. Just add your zip code to Swan’s Interactive Planting Zone Map here for the most recent last frost date and first frost date in your location.
Also check our handy growing guide below for zones 3–9 for a general timeline on when to plant and harvest a variety of popular vegetables. First find your plant hardiness zone, then check what months to start seedlings indoors, plant seeds or transplant seedlings outdoors, and harvest (but always go by the frost dates first for planting outside and harvesting).
Feed And Water Regularly
We’ve mentioned the importance of starting with healthy soil when planning your garden, but you also need to give your plants top-quality nutrition along the way with the right plant food. Research the needs of your plants and follow the directions on the food label.
Swan's soaker hoses drip water directly to plants' roots systems, reducing evaporation and using up to 70 percent less water than traditional garden hoses.
As far as watering is concerned, Swan has an amazing variety of watering products to accomplish your every watering need. You might want to invest in one of our soaker hoses. Soaker hoses are recycled-rubber hoses that have tiny holes or “pores” along their lengths that drip water directly to plants’ roots systems. This not only reduces evaporation, but also uses up to 70 percent less water than a traditional sprinkler hose system, making rubber soaker hoses very cost-effective and eco-friendly. Some of our more elaborate soaker hose systems include our EZ-Connect® System Connectors to extend soaker water hoses or otherwise customize your watering system for your garden’s needs. Check them all out here.
Of course we also have light- and medium-duty garden hoses for low-pressure watering needs such as watering delicate plants. You can take a look at our light-duty garden hose and medium-duty garden hose offerings here. In contrast, Swan’s heavy-duty garden hoses, as the name implies, are designed for the more demanding tasks of watering your garden, watering your lawn and cleanup. Click here for all of Swan’s heavy-duty hoses.
Swan's Metal Garden Hose feature Spiroshield™ technology, an interlocking spiral band for ultimate strength, flexibility and kink-resistance.
To learn more about the different types of garden hoses Swan offers, read our “Garden Hose Buying Guide” article here. To shop the entirety of Swan’s product line, which includes accessories such as nozzles and watering wands, visit our website here.
Now that you know some of the important first steps to starting your vegetable garden, it’s time to get out and grow!
Vegetable Growing Guide
For more general gardening information, read the following articles: