Tag Archives: backyard gardener

10 Tips for Beginner Gardeners

Starting your first garden can be overwhelming. There are so many decisions to make like location, varieties, and even what tools to purchase. There’s plenty to learn and do. Any gardening book will dive into planting dates, pests, garden amenments and more. Starting with these 10 tips can help get you on track for a great first season.

Have your soil tested.

Learning as much about your soil as possible can help ensure your garden is a success. You’ll be able to add appropriate amendments and avoid wasting time and money. It can also help you select varieties. For example, carrot varieties like Chatenay Red Core Carrots perform better in heavy clay soils because they are short and have blunt ends.

Understanding Soil Tests

Amend your soil as needed.

Once you’ve tested your soil and had a look at your results it’s time to amend your soil. Certain amendments like lime or fertilizer should only be added if your soil test indicates a real need. Lime is used raise the soil’s pH. Raising it too much can make certain nutrients inaccessible to plants. Adding too much fertilizer can also be detrimental and can run off causing toxic algal blooms in your local watershed. A safe place to start is adding organic matter in the form of good quality compost. It can provide a variety of nutirents, help sandy soils hold moisture, and help heavy clay soils drain better. If you’re on a tight budget check out our post for free amendment ideas.

Choose a gardening style that works best for you.

In a recent post, we discussed the pros and cons of raised beds. While they’ve become very popular they may not be the best choice for everyone. The same goes for no-till gardening, hugelkultur beds, container gardening, and other gardening styles. Start with what’s easiest for you and experiement from there.

Start composting.

Every home should have a compost bin! Composting creates free soil for your garden and helps reduce waste. Apartment dwellers should check out vermicomposting as a small space alternative to an outdoor compost pile.

Use mulch.

Mulch helps to hold moisture, supress weeds, add organic matter, creates habitat for beneficial insects, and can even help prevent certain plant diseases. We have a number of articles about different types of mulch on the blog.

Learn about crop rotation and cover crops.

Crop rotation is key to a healthy garden. Never plant the same type of plants in the same place two years in a row. Cover crops can be used with crop rotation to decrease pest and disease pressure, reduce erosion, and add nutrients to your soil.

Start small.

It’s common advice and worth heading. You’ll get more from a well maintained small garden than a poorly cared for larger one. It can be really tough to narrow down which varieties to choose but it’s worth it. Add one or two varieties and increase your garden size a bit each year.

Consider your water source.

Lugging watering cans around is time consuming and exhausting. Put your garden as close to a water source as possible. If you can, invest in some hoses and a sprinkler or drip irrigation.

Choose varieties appropriate to your area.

When selecting your seeds and plants be sure to read carefully. For example, folks that live in zones farther north should look for varieties that mature quickly and folks in the far south should consider more heat tolerant varieties.

Knowing your hardiness zone can help you select appropriate varieties. For information about hardiness zones visit our post, Everything You Need to Know About Plant Hardiness Zones to learn more.

Start your own transplants from seed.

Starting your own transplants ensures you get the varieties you want and those that are well-suited to your area. It’s not as hard as you think. Check out Pam Dawling’s advice for starting seeds here on the blog.

Starting a garden is an incredibly rewarding experience but it can be tough. Use these tips for your first garden to make sure your garden is a success.

Edible Landscaping: Beautiful Vegetables for Your Front Yard

I’m a firm believer that all plants are beautiful in their own way. I’ll spend just as much time admiring cabbages as roses. However if you live somewhere with a lot of restrictions whether they’re from the town or home owner’s association it can be devastating to read rules about what your yard must look like. Growing your own food is hard enough without trying to keep up with the neighbors.

This list of beautiful vegetable varieties can help you get food production out of an ornamental bed. We also have a list of edible and medicinal flower varieties that can help you get double duty out of any flower beds! You can find that here.

Rainbow Swiss Chard 

Many greens are pretty but few have the stunning color and hardy, upright nature of rainbow chard. They’ll easily fit into an ornamental or flower bed and can be selectively trimmed to keep the garden looking full and still provide harvests throughout the season.


From spicy bush basil to dark opal basil, it comes in a wide range of styles that can be added to any garden.


Red Sails Looseleaf Lettuce

Their are many gorgeous lettuce varieties that can easily be snuck into the border of a flower garden along with some beautiful and matching Vinyl Pavilion . Some ideas include: Yugoslavian red butterhead bibb, Mayan jaguar lettuce, or red sails looseleaf.


Peas have lovely flowers and leaves brining their beauty to the Ware Landscaping early in the year. Also because they grow on a trellis they’re perfect for adding height to a garden or squeezing in some edibles crops when you have limited space.


While chives aren’t quite as big as some ornamental alliums they still offer beautiful blooms. They also stay good looking and can be harvested all summer long making them a great easy maintenance choice.


During the spring harvest period asparagus is small and rather inconspicuous. However later in the summer it grows into large showy fronds. They’re truly gorgeous and most non-vegetable gardeners won’t recognize them as asparagus at all.


Creeping Thyme

This herb is useful, fragrant, and a wonderful sprawling ground cover.


Amaranth is often used as an ornamental but it can also be used as an edible green like spinach when young and tender and produces grain when it’s fully mature.


Chinese Five-Color Hot Pepper

Depending on how strict your area is not all peppers may be acceptable. However there are several varieties like the ornamental Chinese five-color hot pepper pictured above that are still edible but offer a lot of beauty.


Curled parsley like moss curled or forest green varieties can be used to add a lot of texture to the garden.

Scarlet Runner Beans

Like peas, scarlet runner beans add dimension and beauty to the garden. They’re also very heat tolerant.

Bicolored Tomatoes

All tomatoes are pretty but there’s a few varieties that offer a unique touch to the garden. Try bicolored varieties like green zebra, big rainbow, or striped roman for an unusual touch.

Additional Tips

  • Plan your garden well. Lettuces and other greens planted in a design or among other ornamentals will fit in with flower gardens much better than traditional rows will.
  • Keep your garden well maintained. A weedy or poorly watered won’t be appreciated in your neighborhood no matter what varieties you planted.
  • Give your garden variety. Adding plants to your garden with different heights, colors, and textures will add a lot of interest.

Edible landscaping can be beautiful! Even if your neighborhood has strict regulations regarding vegetable gardens, chances are you can still squeeze in some edible plants. These are just a few ideas of edible plants that will fit into any ornamental garden.

Pin it for later.

Southern Exposure’s Holiday Gift Guide

Everyone wants to find presents that make their friends and family feel understood, appreciated, and loved. Thankfully for anyone who like gardening or wants to learn there’s plenty of easy, affordable, and sustainable gift ideas to excite any gardener this holiday season.

Many of these ideas are also great whole family gift ideas for those with kids. Gardening focused gifts can help children get excited and involved in the outdoors with their family.

Popcorn Sheller and Popcorn

Check out some of SESE’s awesome popcorn varieties like the rainbow Cherokee Long Ear Small Popcorn (pictured above) or  Pennsylvania Butter-Flavored Popcorn for a truly gardener twist on the classic “movie night” basket. For the ulimate experience check in during harvest time and bring over your favorite gardening documentary.

Mushroom Spawn

Know a gardener or budding permaculturalist looking to branch out? You can order mushroom spawn from Sharondale Farm through SESE. It’s an excellent gift for those looking to add productivity to shady areas of a property.

DIY Insect Hotel, Bird, or Bat House

Handmade gifts can be especially meaningful. Making an insect hotel, bird, or bat house will help you show off your DIY skills, improve your loved one’s garden, and give some deserving species a helping hand.

CobraHead ‘Steel Fingernail’ Weeder and Cultivator

This is one of Southern Exposure’s favorite tools for small gardens. National Garden Club testers were really impressed with it as well. Plus it’s made in the USA.

Educational Materials

SESE is known for selling seeds but we also offer some great DVDs and books for any gardener to expand their knowledge and gather more inspirational project ideas. Some of our favorites include:

Be sure to visit the website for more great options!

Seed Mix

Make up a basket of your favorite varieties to share or select one of SESE’s mixes like the Virginia Heritage Seed Collection, Welcom-to-the-Garden Pollinator Collection, or the Three Sisters Garden Package. This is a great idea for the adventurous gardener who loves to try new things.

Seed Saving Basket

Heirloom loving gardeners will love a seed saving gift basket. Pick out some of your favorite heirloom and open pollinated seed varieties and a few of SESE’s seed saving supplies. Things like self-sealing seed packets or seed vials and seed cleaning screens may not seem exciting to everyone but will make a big difference in the life of your favorite seed saver.


It sounds super wierd but anything that will make a garden more productive will make your gardener happier. Gift your friend a homemade compost tea kit, cover crop seeds from SESE, or a garden amendment like work castings or liquid kelp.

Gift Certificates

If you’ve got a particulary picky friend or just can’t decide what to get consider an SESE gift certificate. You can purchase paper gift certificates or digital ones and leave the tough decisions up to them.

Cold Frame

If you’re into handmade gifts, a coldframe is a simple project for those with basic carpentry skills. For the best effect pair it with some cold hardy seeds or a helpful book like Eliot Coleman’s Four Season Harvest.

Your Seed Collections

Part of Southern Exposure’s mission is to keep varieties alive, so we love seeing others share seeds. If you’re a seed saver consider packaging and gifting some of your own seed collections. This is an especially budget friendly gift idea as well, but another gardener will know just how much you care.

Your Time

Not everyone can go on a shopping spree for their favorite gardener. If your budget is tight consider giving a handmade redeemable coupon for your time. Maybe you could offer 1 hour of weeding or help with springtime planting. There isn’t a gardener in the world that’s not going to be excited about getting some free help!

Whatever your budget you can find a great gift for any of the gardeners, seed savers, permaculturalists, or homesteaders in your life.


Pin it for later: