This advice on gardening for beginners will take you through all the basics of successfully tending to your garden, from choosing planting positions to correct watering and troubleshooting common problems. You don't have to be 'green-fingered' to succeed: only patience and the desire for a beautiful garden. With the knowledge of a few fundamental rules, there are few plants you won't be able to grow and look after.
However small or large your garden, we have tips on everything from layout to maintenance, plus advice on growing specific types of plants.
Ready to become an expert gardener? Check out our dedicated garden ideas page for more tips.
1. Plant planning: where to position plants in borders
The first, and probably most exciting decision, is where to plant what within each border. Planning a garden border can feel like a daunting task when you’re a beginner gardener, but it’s much simpler than it looks. If you want neat garden borders, always plant taller plants at the back and low-growing ones at the front (the plant label will tell you the height and spread of each plant so you’ll know how far apart to plant them, too).
Planning a border next to a garden path? Don’t just think height and colour, choose plants for scent, too: herbaceous perennials, such as lavender, will greet you with not just colour, but a relaxing aroma. Find info on planning a garden path in our practical guide. And find more of the best fragrant gardening plants if this is a route you’d like to go down.
By far the easiest planting scheme is a natural one. Just choose a seed mix – for example, one of our best wildflower mixes – sprinkle liberally over your chosen area, water well, and watch the plants grow.
Use our tips for creating beautiful garden border for lots more info.
2. Full sun plants v shade loving plants: which to choose?
Our top tip is to always be aware of how much sun your garden or individual borders get and go to the garden centre with this in mind. When you buy plants, check the labels: some love sun and some shadier spots. If there’s no information, as a rule of thumb, bear in mind that the vast majority of flowering plants, as well as fruit and vegetables, need to be positioned in full sun, although some will tolerate semi-shade.
This doesn’t mean you won’t be able to grow any flowers if your garden isn’t south-facing: plenty of sun for half the day in an east- or west-facing gardens is perfectly fine, too. If you have a north-facing garden, check out the best shade loving garden plants, which will be happy in your plot.
3. Top soil: improve yours for happy plants
Most plants will prefer moderately fertile, well drained soil. This means a soil that is rich in nutrients but not imbalanced. The structure of the soil should also be open enough to let the water penetrate and then drain freely. The best thing to do in most gardens is to purchase a top soil mix (we swear by John Innes compost mixes), which will give your plants the best possible start.
However, if your garden has particularly chalky or clay soil and plants aren’t thriving, you should start by improving the soil as much as possible before you plant anything else. Ask at your local garden centre for the best soil preparations and composts for your area’s soil type.
4. Watering plants: how to do it correctly
There is nothing more important than watering your plants regularly and correctly. Your plants’ labels will tell you how much water they like (it’s worth keeping a list, even just one that’s in your head). Even if you don’t mulch or fertilise, always water plants appropriately and at regular intervals. Flooding your plants with too much water occasionally will stress them and allow disease to set in. Watering around the roots of your plants, avoiding leaves and stems, is also important. The best time to water your plants? Early in the morning or late in the evening.
You’ll need to be especially vigilant during extreme weather such as a heatwave. Find out how to prepare a garden for a heatwave in our guide.
5. Easy plants to grow: brilliant for beginners
Best easy-to-grow plants for beginners
Planting decent-sized shrubs is generally trouble-free if you follow the directions on the label. Also, picking plants that are native to your area (ask at the garden centre if you’re not sure) will make life easier. Tropical plants look stylish and contemporary but won’t grow happily in cooler climes. Otherwise, choose low maintenance plants that can (pretty much) look after themselves.
Looking for flowering plants? Provided your garden gets plenty of sun, even a complete beginner will find sunflowers, poppies, Nigella, and pansies easy to grow.
Our tip: if you want to grow flowering plants from seed, most will need to be sown after all risk of ground frost has passed (usually after mid-April). This will mean that you get later flowers. If you want the flowers earlier in the summer, you’ll need to raise seedlings in containers indoors, planting them out from May onwards.
Find out how to grow a cutting garden in our guide.
6. Vegetable gardening for beginners
Gardening for beginners can include starting a vegetable garden from scratch. Sounds daunting? The truth is that some vegetables are perfectly suitable for a complete beginner to grow. Radishes are supremely easy – you just sow them directly where they are to grow (after the frosts have passed) and harvest them a month later. Peas are also an easy crop, requiring support (bamboo canes will do), and produce more pods the more you pick them. Tomatoes are also very easy, and make great container plants. Just feed them regularly (every week) with tomato feed. Avoid cabbage, broccoli and aubergines if you are a beginner – they’re tricky to grow and prone to pests.
Find out how to plan a kitchen garden, too.
7. Growing herbs from seeds
Can’t be bothered with veggies? Growing garden herbs is easy – and many herbs, such as sage and rosemary, make beautiful border plants, too, so you’ll be combining a kitchen garden and a decorative garden. The best way to grow more delicate herbs, such as oregano, parsley and mint, is in containers, whether outdoors or in. Want to grow herbs from seed? Patience is key: parsley, sage, and thyme can all take two to three weeks to germinate, so don’t panic if you don’t see any seedlings straight away. Find more of the best garden plants for health in our guide.
For more on how to grow your own, we can help too.
8. Container gardening: where to start
Container gardening is a great way to start growing plants on a small patio – or to grow non-hardy plant species that you’ll then be able to overwinter in a conservatory or bright indoor spot. One of the easiest container plants is the pelargonium – producing lots of flowers throughout the summer, these plants are unfussy and just need sun. You will need to water your containers more often than bedding plants, though, because soil dries out quicker in pots.
Don’t forget that plants need drainage. If you must plant in a pot without a drainage hole, line the bottom with gravel to prevent water-logging in the soil. Discover more tips on container gardening for small spaces.
9. Small garden? No garden? Start with a window box
Just because you have a small garden – or no garden at all – it doesn’t mean you can’t start gardening. Window boxes can be planted out with everything from fruit and veg to perennials and annuals, and relaxed to more formal displays. And, of course, they’re not just limited to small spaces – large gardens will benefit from the added colour and change in level they bring. Use our beginner’s guide to planting out window boxes to find out more.
10. How to grow roses
A rose garden is many a gardener’s dream, but is it a good choice for gardening for beginners? Our advice is not to be put off by roses because of their reputation for being capricious. In reality, roses can be easy enough for a beginner to grow. We advise choosing a David Austin variety, as they are healthier and more resistant to disease than many other types. If you are a gardening beginner, buy a potted rose in spring and plant in your garden. Fertilise twice during summer.
When it comes to pruning roses, opinions differ, but some gardeners don’t prune at all and still have healthy rose plants that flower every year. That’s great news if you’re not entirely comfortable with a pair of secateurs. Get more advice on how to grow a rose garden.
11. How much time will you have for gardening?
When you’re planning a garden, it’s really important to work out how much time you’ll have for gardening. If the answer is ‘an hour a week’ and you have a smallish plot, that may just be enough time to keep it neat, fed and watered. However, if the answer is ‘rarely’, you’d be better off with plants from our low maintenance list. Look for drought-tolerant plants that won’t mind being ignored during hot spells, and if you won’t have time to mow the grass, consider choosing alternatives to laying lawns. Find out how to mow a lawn the right way (there really is one) for a good-looking, low maintenance lawn. Oh, and you’ll need to find the best lawnmower, too. Our guide tells you which are the top picks – or shop for a deal below.
12. Plants to avoid for pet lovers
If you have a dog or a cat, there are some plants you should avoid planting in your garden. While the list of plants that can make your pet sick if ingested is long, these common garden plants are particularly hazardous to both dogs and cats:
- Azaleas and rhododendron: the whole plant is highly toxic to both dogs and cats
- Spring bulbs: the bulbs are the most poisonous part, and are particularly dangerous for dogs who like digging in the garden
- Lillies: deadly to cats and should be avoided completely
- Oleander: highly toxic to all animals
13. Best gardening books for beginners
Two gardening books are invaluable for beginner gardeners: RHS How to Garden When You’re New to Gardening and How to Grow Practically Everything by Lia Leendertz and Zia Alloway. Both contain simple step-by-step guides with images for every kind of gardening task, from weeding to fighting plant disease, and every kind of plant, from vegetables to flowers. Both are suitable for someone who has never done any gardening before.
If you love to read about gardening and gardens, check out our buyer’s guide to the best gardening books.
14. Top garden design tips
Garden design can seem like an arcane art only landscape architects and garden designers understand. But, in truth, a beginner gardener has several simple design layouts to try out that don’t require much expertise:
- The classic garden with perimeter borders: this is a garden with a lawn or patio at the centre, and borders surrounding this central space. Best for small gardens. Find out how to create beautiful garden borders in our guide
- The zoned garden: if you have a large space to work with, try dividing it into three to four different zones. For example, one area can be dedicated just to plants, another used as a dining area, and a third for a water feature
- The container garden: if you only have a small patio or deck, then pots are the way to go. Choose containers of different shapes and heights, and add another dimension with a ladder shelf.
15. Best garden tools for beginners
As a bare minimum, you will need a spade and a trowel, both necessary for creating garden borders and planting. If you have hedges/topiary, you will need a pair of shears, and if you are planning on growing roses or any other kind of bush that’ll need pruning, you’ll need secateurs.
We have all the best gardening tools in our buyer’s guide.
16. Garden maintenance tips for beginners
If you only have time to do two things for your garden (apart from watering), learn how to mulch and weed regularly. Weeding and mulching will ensure your plants have the best chance to thrive by making the most of the water and nutrients in the soil. The only weed we recommend keeping is the dandelion: it’s pretty harmless in your garden and is important to pollinators.
Mulching is easier than you think: all you need to do is cover the root area of your plant with wood chips or leaves. The root is the most vulnerable part of your plant and needs protecting from overdrying and pests. Mulching is usually done in spring, to prepare plants for hot weather, and in autumn to prepare them for frosts. For a complete guide to garden maintenance be sure to read our feature.
17. Organic gardening for beginners
If you are complete beginner and want to start organic gardening and create your own organic vegetable patch, there are a few ways to make the process easier. First, don’t try to grow from seed if you’ve never done it before: buy plug plants from a local farmers’ market/garden centre instead. There’s also a specialist provider called Organic Plants, which will ship you certified organic plants on a monthly basis.
Next, water regularly and maintain good soil quality. The best way to do so is by feeding veggies regularly with fertiliser – of course, the fertiliser will need to be organic, too.
18. Autumn gardening for beginners
An easy mistake to make is thinking that you'll be done with the garden come September. In fact, gardens and gardening have much to offer throughout the autumn months, and it's a crucial time to ensure that your garden is well prepared for winter.
If you want to see some beautiful colour in your garden, see our guide to autumn garden plants. Many of these will be mature trees, but some flowers and grasses also keep going well into the autumn.
Maintenance wise, as the weather gets wetter, you'll want to protect your plants from water logging and root rot. In practice, this means mulching borders and placing pots onto bricks to improve drainage. For more tips and tasks, see our guide to autumn gardening.
19. Garden pruning for beginners
Pruning is essential to the health of many, if not all, perennial plants. It can be a confusing process for a beginner because different plants need pruning at different times of year, but the basic rules to follow are:
- Prune herbaceous perennials such as lavender and rosemary after they've finished flowering, sometime in late summer or early autumn. Thyme should be pruned after the first frost.
- Prune roses, hydrangeas, and other flowering shrubs, in early spring, after the frosts have passed, and when you can clearly see new growth.
- If you're not sure about pruning, pick no-prune plants such as Japanese acers: they don't need you to do anything other than water them.