Taking up gardening as a hobby can be an effective and productive way to relax and fill free time, but making major mistakes will bring about stress and defeat the purpose of your new pastime. Knowing where to plant, how to plant and what to plant before setting out makes cultivating your own crops easier and more satisfying. It's tempting to just head to the home improvement store, pick out whatever looks good and start digging holes, but doing your research and creating an organized plan will pay off almost immediately.
- Choose your plants: If you've got little to no experience as a gardener, it's best to select plants that are easy to grow. If it's flowers you're hoping to raise, pansies, geraniums and marigolds are good choices, as they require little more than sunlight and water. If you've got the room, sunflowers will pop up with minimal effort and will grow tall and sturdy with the help of stem supports. When it comes to vegetables and herbs, tomatoes, zucchini and green beans will grow quickly and bountifully. Raising peppers, onions and basil is nearly effortless, and they're fitting companions for tomatoes.
- Prepare your plot: One of the more complex decisions in the relatively uncomplicated task of starting a small garden is researching the optimal conditions for each plant. Once you've decided what you want to grow, find out how much sunlight and what kind of real estate -- surface area and depth -- each plant needs. Armed with this information, you can choose to use beds, planters or a combination of the two. Clear the area and till or replace dirt with loose, nutrient-rich soil. If you suffer from back problems or don't want to dig the beds, consider building a raised bed with untreated wood. Use compost or other fertilizer if you suspect that the soil doesn't already have enough nutrients.
- Plant: Most plants should go in the ground after the last frost, but there are exceptions. Make sure you consult the seed package or other instructions before planting everything at once. Flowers can be strategically placed for aesthetic reasons, but vegetables should be planted in rows with sufficient space between the rows for walking and working. Research the typical behavior of each plant; if it's considered aggressive, create an underground boundary to keep it from invading and smothering other crops.
- Protect your plot: Animals and insects would love to feed on your plants, so you'll have to deter them with fences and other protective products. To keep out rabbits, plant the fence several inches into the ground in addition to bordering them above ground. Clear plastic row covers keep out spring insects, and mole and beetle traps prevent damage from other pests. In the summer, remove large insects by hand during weeding sessions.
- Maintain your garden meticulously and regularly: Perhaps the most crucial part of keeping a garden is effective watering. New plants and seedlings need water as often as every day. After they're established, water your crops as needed, slowly and deliberately -- and early in the morning, if possible. To avoid fungal infections, be sure to water the ground rather than the leaves. Watch for weeds, and use a hoe or other tool to break up the soil and discourage the growth of unwanted invaders. Mulch also prevents weed growth and retains moisture in the soil. Ask someone at your local garden center which type of mulch is right for your plants. Depending on the success of your early composting, you might want to apply a packaged fertilizer as needed.
- Enjoy the harvest: Flowers can transform the exterior of a home, seriously upping the curb appeal. If it's vegetables you've cultivated, you can pick them as soon as they look ready. If you've grown too many, arrange them nicely and give them as gifts -- or, if you're crafty in the kitchen, can them for the winter. Many gardens fail from neglect or lack of planning, but growing a successful garden can save money, improve your diet and give you a sense of accomplishment.