The best plants for your first garden

Gardening can be a challenge, but it’s also a rewarding hobby that can beautify your home and yield a bounty of nutritious foods. If you’re a beginner, however, you’ll need to accept that the first garden you plant may not be worthy of a Better Homes and Gardens cover, but keep in mind that your gardening skills will advance year after year, allowing you to grow ever more vibrant flowers, hardy shrubs, and tasty vegetables.

Before you consider what plants to grow, think about where your garden will be situated. If you have an acre of land that gets great sunshine and plenty of rain, then you can plant as large or as small a garden as you want and you can grow all sorts of different plants. If you have only a few square feet of space on a balcony or patio and the area is usually shaded, you still have options, but they will be limited.

As for when you should start planting, that depends on where you live. The Old Farmer’s Almanac suggests sowing seeds indoors six to eight weeks before the last spring frost. The Urban Farmer lists the different planting schedules based on zones. 

A rather handy home gardener myself (after years of struggle, of course), I’ve put together a list of great plants for a first garden that includes options ideal for full sun, shade, in-ground planting, and planter or pot planting, and we’ve included food plants along with decorative flora. It’s up to you to turn the earth and dig the holes, set up your irrigation system, check soil pH, and provide fertilizer and water as needed. But if you do all of that for one of these easy-to-grow plants, you’ll soon be enjoying your new hobby.

Here are the best plants for your first garden:

  • Best easy-to-grow veggies: Organic Rainbow Carrot Seeds

With a packet of Garden Rainbow Carrot Seeds, you could grow enough carrots to feed a small army. Or at least, a large family. Growing carrots is easy: Once the ambient outdoor temperature stays above 50 degrees (the ideal temperature range is between 60 and 70 degrees), simply plant the seeds a half-inch under the soil and a half-inch apart from one another. Then water them lightly, just enough to keep the soil moist. Just make sure you plant your carrot seeds where they will get plenty of sun.

If it seems like every seed is sprouting, consider thinning the ranks of the seedlings by cutting some of the sprouts at soil level so that the remaining sprouts are a few inches apart. They will let you know when they are ready by poking a portion of the edible root (the orange part) above the ground. Also, consider starting yours early, like I do, in planters under a grow light, then moving them to the soil once the outside temperature is right.

While growing carrots is easy, it does require the right soil. Good soil for carrots is free of rocks and roots and is rich in nutrients. For best results, use a raised planter bed or dig out some earth and turn it with a bag of nutrient-rich soil from a nursery or hardware store. Your carrots should be ready to pull and enjoy in about two months’ time, more or less.

Pros: Tasty and nutritious, easy to grow with little effort, large quantity of seeds

Cons: Requires specific soil conditions

  • Best seedling tomato plant: Better Boy Tomato

According to a study conducted by the National Gardening Association, 86% of American households that have a garden in which they grow food, plant tomatoes. Tomatoes are the first successful food plant, and it’s been planted at least four varieties each year.

The young tomato seedling arrives ready to be put into the dirt right away, and it will thrive in garden beds, large planters boxes, or in individual pots. Within a period of two months after planting, you should begin to harvest your first delicious, nutritious homegrown tomatoes. The plant will then continue producing tomatoes for a number of weeks, easily offsetting the cost many times over thanks to the bounty of food you reap.

Growing tomatoes is a satisfying, relatively easy gardening project, especially when Burpee handles the first part of the process, raising the plant from seed to seedling. But if you’d rather do it all yourself.

To grow the best possible tomatoes, you will need decent soil, lots of direct sunlight, and some supporting hardware, such as a tomato cone or trellis. You will also need to water the tomato plants regularly and will ideally feed the plants at least once or twice during their growth cycle.

Pros: Nutritious and delicious, plants arrive ready for immediate planting, quick and reliable shipping

Cons: Tomatoes require occasional hands-on support to thrive

  • Best flowers to grow from seed: Pansy Swiss Giants Blend

Swiss Giants Pansies add a multicolored splash of natural vibrancy anywhere they are planted, from window boxes to pots and large flower beds.

Usually, one selects decorative flowers for their color above all other factors. Be they red roses, white and yellow daffodils, or violets, we choose a flower that will provide a dose of a certain color to our garden, patio, or planters. With a packet of Seed Needs Swiss Giants Pansy seeds, however, it’s a different story. You plant pansies when you want all sorts of rich, vibrant colors brightening your property. At full bloom, these pansies will burst with different shades of yellows, pinks, reds, whites, and purples.

While the mix of bright and bold colors is the best thing about these Swiss Giants Pansies, their ease of planting and care are almost equally lovely. Simply sow them about a half-inch deep under healthy topsoil, and then keep the soil moist. So long as you plant your pansy seeds after the last frost of the season, you can count on shoots poking up within a couple of weeks and the first flowers blooming within a few weeks more. In the right conditions, you will enjoy colorful flowers for weeks or even months after that. I use them wherever I need extra color, such as between hedges and along the back fence.

Pros: Beautiful blend of colors, easy to plant, grow well in full sun to partial shade

Cons: Highly susceptible to cold temperatures

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