Are You Starting Your First Garden?

...How to get started...
by Shauna Dobbie
by Dorothy Dobbie

The Local Gardener magazines, Ontario Gardener, Manitoba Gardener and Alberta Gardener, are published by Pegasus Publications Inc.

Drawing on her 30 years' experience as a senior executive in the magazine publishing industry, Dorothy launched Manitoba Gardener in 1998, initially running the business out of her home. Two years later, Dorothy's daughter Shauna, living in Ontario, jumped into the fray with Ontario Gardener. And two years after that, they started Alberta Gardener. Visit us at and register for our "Ten Neat things" newsletter. Watch Shaw TV for garden tips and Listen to CJOB for the Gardener Sundays at 9:08

March 28, 2021

Are you starting your very first garden? Congratulations!

There are several little details to help you get started from the idea to your first year of blooms or food. Here is a primer that will get you through with most plants. This guide will be printed at the back of every issue of Canada’s Local Gardener.

May you have a long future as a gardener, during which you add techniques from others and elements you discover that work for you.

Happy gardening!

How to start a garden

Make it smaller than you think you’ll need.

Mow the area, then lay down 7 to 10 sheets of newspaper over the grass or weeds.

Water the newspaper.

Pile on four to six inches of triple mix soil

If you want, pile on four inches of cedar mulch.

Plant bedding plants.


Outdoor containers should be larger; smaller ones will dry out too quickly. Hanging containers will dry out faster than those on the ground.

Drainage is important. If there are no holes in the container and you can’t put holes in it, put plants in a plastic liner pot and into the container.

Use potting soil for containers, not triple mix.

Feed container plants something like liquid kelp or Miracle Gro. They’re different from in-ground plants.

Bedding plants

Water bedding plants the day before you plant them.

Dig a hole a little bigger than the pot the plant is in.

Remove the bedding plant from the pot. Squish the pot to get it out.

Gently spread out the root ball on the plant, put it into the hole and backfill around the root ball with soil.

Fibre pots: remove the plant and compost the pot.

Cell packs: if a plant comes in four or six attached plastic containers, they are four or six small plants, not one big one.

When you are done planting in a bed, water it well.

Fall bulbs

Fall bulbs bloom in spring. They include tulips, crocuses and daffodils. You can plant them until the ground is frozen.

Plant bulbs in a hole that is three times the depth of the bulb. If a bulb is one inch high, plant it three inches deep. If it’s three inches high, plant it nine inches deep.

You can plant each bulb in one hole or plant more bulbs in a wider hole.

Leave one to two bulb-widths between them.

If you have chipmunks or other animals that will disturb bulbs, put chicken wire over the bulbs before filling in the hole with soil.

Direct-sowing seeds

Prepare an existing bed by removing weeds and mixing in compost or topping with triple mix.

Either follow the directions on the seed packets, ask the person you got the seeds from, or follow the suggestions below.

Some seeds need light to germinate: ageratum, balloon flower, browallia, columbine, gaillardia, geranium, impatiens, lettuce, lobelia, nicotiana, osteospermum, petunias, poppies, savory, snapdragons.

Other seeds should be covered lightly with soil: alyssum, aster, balsam, beans, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, celosia, corn, cosmos, cucumbers, dianthus, eggplant, marigold, melons, morning glory, nasturtium, peas, pepper, radish, spinach, squash, tomato, zinnia.

Plant seeds about as far apart as you imagine the grown plant will need. Or plant them less far apart then thin them when they are too close together.

Thin seedlings by snipping them off so you don’t disturb the roots of neighbouring plants.

Water new seeds with the mister on your hose nozzle so they don’t wash away, but water them thoroughly.

Keep seedlings in a damp bed until they are one to two inches high.


Weed the day after it rains or the day after you water. It is easier to pull weeds from damp soil than from dry soil.

Hoe tiny weedlings in the spring.

If you don’t know what it is, wait until you do know before pulling it.

If you can’t pull a weed out, cut it off at ground level. Do this as often as needed, which could be daily.

Eventually it should die from lack of sunlight.

Mulching can control weeds and make weeding easier.


Always water new plants gently but well.

Water more deeply and less often. Water the soil, not the plant, but don’t worry about plants getting wet.

Watering in the morning is best, but time of day doesn’t matter that much.

Outdoor pots need water frequently, possibly every day.


Don’t treat for pests unless they are truly decimating your garden.

Many insects are beneficial to the garden. Several non-beneficial insects will attract beneficial insects to your garden.

Funguses and insect-eating plants will usually go away if treated with neem oil.

Aphids can be kept under control by spraying them off with water. It won’t kill them, but it will slow them down.


Six or more hours per day of direct sun qualifies as full sun.

Three to six hours qualifies as part sun.

Less than three hours qualifies as shade.

Dappled shade can be any of these, depending on how dappled the shade is and for how much of the day.

Full sun is necessary for most vegetables. Part sun is acceptable for leafy vegetables.

Pay attention to the tags on plants at the nursery. You can experiment with plants outside the recommended sun requirements, but be prepared for whatever the result is.


Hardiness Zone is a number given to your geographical area to indicate whether a plant will survive the winter. You can find the hardiness Zone for your area online at Or you can ask at your local garden centre what Zone you are in.

Zones don’t matter for annuals. For perennials, they will give you an idea of what survives. For trees and shrubs, they are pretty accurate.

Canadian hardiness Zones and USDA hardiness Zones are different. A rule of thumb is to subtract one from the USDA Zone to get the Canadian Zone.

There are microclimates in every yard.

Proximity to the house or a fence or position on a hill will change the climate.

Your local garden centre will not sell you plants that won’t thrive in your area. Or, if they do, they will issue a warning.

Fall clean-up

Rake leaves off lawns and into flower beds.

Remove very diseased plants. Throw them out.

Everything else can be left for birds, insects and other animals. Much of it will compost in the garden over the winter.

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