Every homeowner (or renter!) can always use tried-and-true gardening tips that take a lot of the work and stress out of gardening. These are the tips that have made my gardening life easier and I know they will for you, too!
This article is sponsored by Fiskars, whose gardening supplies I use and love.
I didn’t grow up gardening with anyone in my family other than the times my parents decided to plant a vegetable garden in the grass. They’d till it under (maybe add soil or something?) and then plant seeds. Which would be taken over by little sprouting weeds in just a week or two. Then we’d have to go weed. Later we’d have to go pick lettuce for dinner.
These were my only gardening memories and I really didn’t enjoy either of them. Some of my other family members planted flowers or shrubs and they were pretty, but no one was a ‘gardener’ passing on knowledge, if you know what I mean.
But when you get a house of your own, and you like the cottage style, and you look at magazines with all the pretty flower borders and baskets of vegetable harvests…you suddenly think gardening might be your thing.
That’s what happened to me – but I couldn’t even go there with the whole till-up-the-grass-and-planting thing. I had seen that just not working. So I started devouring all I could in magazines and library books about easy gardening. Guess what I discovered?
The easiest gardening techniques are often organic. No tilling, no back-breaking digging, no hours and hours spending weeding. And it’s cheaper – no arsenal of herbicides, fungicides, or pesticides to buy. Which frankly scared me anyway.
I found I loved the clean look of permanent vegetable beds that help prevent compacted soil that comes from walking on it (good for soil health) and how neat and tidy my flower beds looked with their annual layers of paper and compost (which also feed the soil).
Over the years I have learned that there are some tried and true gardening tips that help to make our gardening lives easier – I promise. Some include laying a good groundwork, others include things you can do during the season, and some are specific tips to help your plants grow best.
Want to see me talk about some of these tips in my garden? Check out the video below and then read on for all twenty-one tips:
21 Organic Gardening Tips
1. Know your zone, which helps you know your gardening season – the first and last frost dates for your area. (Click here to find yours if you need.) Knowing your zone and planting dates will help you plan and plant at the right times for your area so your plants will thrive.
2. Know your sun & shade areas. Mark out the areas in your yard where it’s the sunniest, part shade, and shadiest. You’ll want to plant vegetables in the sunniest place you have, a minimum of 6 hours of full sun a day, but more is better (8-10 hours) for the healthiest plants that will bear the most for you.
Once you know your yard’s light pattern, then match plants to your growing conditions. Using the information on the plant tags, put sun-loving plants into a sunny spot, part-day sun plants in partial sun areas (3-5 hours a day), and plants that do well without sun in your shadiest areas. Deep shade and dry shade are some of the toughest areas to garden in, but it can be done – here are the best plants I found that did well in shade and dry shade.
3. Learn about plants. When you’re just starting out you’ll want to figure out the difference between an annual plant and a perennial, plants that deer won’t eat, plants that grow in the shade, and more. There are heat-tolerant plants for warm climates, plants that tolerate standing water, and plants that will come back even after sub-zero winter temps.
Shrubs can be evergreen or deciduous and can bloom in spring, summer or fall (there are even a few that bloom in the winter). You’ll want to know how tall vines grow and if it’s better to grow them on the ground (like pumpkins and melons) or on a trellis to be trained or climb (like clematis or cucumbers).
4. It’s all about the soil. Adding organic amendments such as compost and well-aged manure to your soil is probably the #1 principle of organic gardening, both for natural feeding and to improve soil quality. (Note on using manure: if you get manure, make sure you use it on a bottom layer if you think there’s any chance for weed seeds – this is especially true with horse manures).
Mix compost into your vegetable garden soil with less work by either of these ways:
- Spread the compost over your garden bed in late fall and cover with a winter mulch such as hay or chopped leaves. If you live in an area with a lot of rain that may wash through the soil, use black plastic. In spring the bed will be ready for planting, simply use your hand trowel to dig only the areas to be planted.
- Lay black plastic right over the debris-filled beds in the fall or winter (1-3 months before spring planting). A week before planting, pull plastic off, rake up all the dead, dried debris and use a shovel to layer with compost. Let settle for a week before planting. This how-to will show you all the steps of this no-till method.
The best soil structure is crumbly, easy to dig, accepts water easily, and offers oxygen for plant roots. Laying a layer of compost every year will provide most, if not all, your shrub and perennials needs (I never added extra fertilizer to the flower beds you can see in this tour). Vegetables will need an extra feeding at planting time and sometimes mid-season – you’ll want to use a balance organic fertilizer with nitrogen, phosphate, and potash.
5. Don’t till or dig large areas to be planted. Tilling vegetable gardens brings up weed seeds that sprout all season long and also hurts the soil composition. Here’s a better way to prep the soil for vegetables – it’s easier AND will result in little to no weeds all season long.
For flower beds, you can layer cardboard, soil, and compost when creating a brand new bed right over the grass – it’s SO wonderful.
6. Plant at the right time. In addition to knowing your last frost date, you’ll also want to look at your soil at planting time. If it’s wet and holds together in a ball when you squeeze it, then you’ll want to avoid digging or planting until it dries more, as it can damage the soil structure. Wait until the soil is crumbly and no longer forms a ball in your hand to dig (though not bone-dry).
7. Transplant right. When planting container grown plants, dig a hole larger than the soil ball to help encourage root development. Use a shovel for plants in gallon containers or larger and a planting trowel for smaller perennials and annuals.
Adding a trowel full of compost or good soil into the hole and mixing it with the existing soil will encourage the roots to grow in their new place. Water the plant in, adding more soil if any settles and then layer garden compost around the plant base to provide nutrients throughout the growing season.
8. Get aggressive with root-bound plants. Many, if not all, of the potted plants we buy are root-bound, which means that the roots are circling the pot, forming tight circles. If you plant these as-is, the tight circles of roots actually don’t allow the roots to grow into the new soil. I know this first-hand, as I’ve lost shrubs like azaleas after a few years and when I pulled them out, their roots were still the same shape as the pot I had transplanted them from!
To help the roots grow out instead of continuing in a circle, use your hands to gently pull the roots apart at the sides and bottom. Don’t be concerned if some tear – they are hearty. If you run into really tough roots that don’t move with just your hands – often shrubs that have been growing at the nursery for awhile – you can make careful vertical cuts in the root-ball with a knife. This is one of the places where I like Fiskars Multipurpose Garden Snips (shown above with their sheath) – they can help cut through tough roots as well as trim off any brown growth often found on nursery plants.
9. Give plants enough room to grow. Oh, this is the hardest, especially when building new shrub and flower beds! The plants are often so small that it’s hard to imagine how big they will become. But DO check labels and plant accordingly, even if it seems like there are not enough plants for the space.
Perennials need 3 years to fully grow, shrubs even longer, so if you really need to see the space filled, use annuals for the first few years until the other plants are more mature.
10. Learn simple pruning rules:
- Cut off old blooms, dead branches and tips of summer blooming shrubs in early spring (the hydrangea shown above being pruned in spring is a good example).
- Prune spring flowering perennials and shrubs after flowering.
- Cut off the fading flowers of annuals and perennials (called “deadheading”) all season long after the flowers fade to tell the plants to keep producing instead of setting seed.
11. Plant bulbs right for a set it and forget it beauty. Plant spring-blooming bulbs, such as tulips, daffodils, crocuses, and hyacinths, in the fall before the ground freezes, placing the bulb in a hole two to three times the depth of the bulb. Cut the spent flowers so the plants send energy to the bulbs instead of making seeds, BUT leave the foliage until it turns brown to provide nutrients needed for the bulb to bloom the next year.
12. Water the best way. Most garden plants need about 1 inch of water a week. Water deeply once a week at ground level with soaker hoses or drip systems, which also combats weed growth. Deep watering encourages the roots to grow deeper for healthier plants more able to handle times of drought.
Water your garden in the early morning to conserve moisture loss and to help avoid fungal diseases like powdery mildew. Over watering is actually worse than under watering – it is easier to revive a dry plant than try to dry out drowned roots.
13. Discourage weeds easily. Besides not tilling the soil, layering paper and mulch in flower beds and vegetable paths to reduce weeds is probably my favorite thing ever! After removing any large or perennial weeds like dandelion, there’s almost instant gratification as you cover all the remaining little weeds with paper and compost. It will keep weeds down all season long and build with each season to give you less and less weeds over time.
14. Choose plants that are known as easy. This is a great tip for both beginners and advanced alike – make your life easier by picking plants that do well for most everyone.
- Vegetables that do well for most include: tomatoes, peppers, onions, chard, basil, and bush beans.
- Easy to grow and maintain flowers include clematis, sunflowers, dahlias, foxglove, roses, petunia, zinnias, marigold, cosmos, and black-eyed susan. Go for anything labeled “hardy.”
Need more plant ideas? Here are the perennials and shrubs I would always have in my garden and here are the best plants I’ve found for shady areas.
15. Don’t forget about herbs. They are some of the easiest plants to grow, they are useful in the kitchen, and many are naturally repellent to insects, deer, and rabbits. Both culinary herbs like rosemary and oregano, and more decorative herbs like lavender and catnip are wonderful for all areas of the garden.
I’d recommend growing the culinary herbs as close to your house as possible to make it easy to go out and snip stems for your recipes. Keeping a pair of small snips (like the Fiskars Herb Snips shown above) handy in the kitchen will also make this easier.
16. Succession sow for continual vegetable harvests. With vegetables like lettuce, snap peas, and corn that mature in a set time, you can make two sowings 2-3 weeks apart to extend your harvest season. You can also plant two varieties with different maturation times on the same day (that’s what I like to do with corn, especially).
Use transplants instead of seeds for quicker succession harvests. For example, replace bolting lettuce in June with warm weather varieties, spring spinach with fall broccoli, or cucumbers with fall snow peas sprouted indoors.
17. Combat insects without pesticides or try a homemade solution. Try interplanting strong smelling plants like garlic, onions, chives and chrysanthemums between other plants. A classic combo is to plant garlic in a rose bed. Try an easy homemade garlic-mint garden insect spray. Also, choose plants that are bred to be more resistant to pests (by hybridization, not GMO).
18. Use organic insecticides and herbicides, but sparingly. Diatomaceous earth and Neem Oil are two organic options to consider when things tried in #17 aren’t working. Diatomaceous earth is an abrasive white powder that damages the cuticle, skin and joints of insects – making it a great slug barrier, too. Neem Oil is a safe, natural control for many insects, mites and diseases like mildew and black spot.
19. Keep lawns green. The easiest way to keep your lawn green all summer, besides watering deeply once or twice a week, is to never cut it lower than 2 inches. When you do cut it, use a mulching blade and leave the clippings in the grass to naturally feed it. You can get more summer watering tips here.
20. Leave debris in your fall garden. Let the leaves and seed heads of grasses and perennials such as coneflowers to feed the birds. Leaving the dried stems, such as garden mums, also increases the plants chances of surviving a harsh winter.
BUT, if you know that certain plants are susceptible to diseases if last year’s stems are left alone, DO cut them back. For example in my yard, peonies have to be cut back to the ground in the fall to combat botrytis.
21. Use the right tools for the right job. While you can make a garden using only a shovel, the job will be much easier if you use tools and supplies that work best for you. One thing I’d recommend highly is a garden tote to carry your small tools. I don’t go anywhere in my garden without my garden tote anymore – I learned this the hard way after many trips to-and-from the garden shed or garage.
The basic tools and supplies that are good to have in your garden tote are:
- Gloves – I prefer the type with nitrile palms. I always keep an extra pair in my tote for times the pair I’m using develops a hole – or if anyone wants to help me in the garden!
- Trowel and or transplanter (a trowel with marking for planting depth on it).
- Pair of pruners for regular pruning.
- Pair of small garden snips for harvesting herbs and pruning delicate ends of shrubs and flowers.
- Scissors for cutting twine and bags.
- Jute garden twine for tying up plants.
- Kneeling pad.
- Zip ties (good for holding trellises and fencing together, training wooden vines, and more).
You’ll also need a long-handled shovel and a metal garden rake for sure, and I don’t know where I’d be without multiple 5-gallon buckets. They’re good for hauling compost, water for far-off trees, carrying weeds and debris, holding harvests, and even using as a stool sometimes!
The one tool I don’t use? A hoe! I’ve had a couple, but I used them only rarely and haven’t missed them since they broke. Why? It’s because you don’t need one with raised beds and I use this method for planting bigger areas of vegetables, which doesn’t need it, either. Also, when you use the paper and mulch in tip #13 you won’t be needing a hoe, either. So let’s all say goodbye to our hoes!
Once you have your tools, make them work better and last longer by using these steps to care for garden tools.
So there are some of my best organic gardening tips that have saved my sanity many times over (covering up weeds is probably #1 in that area!). I’d love to know yours – are there some the same or do you have some to add to the list?
Disclosure: I received product and/or compensation for this post. As always, the opinions, thoughts, and projects are all mine and I will NEVER promote something I don’t love and think you will find helpful – promise! For more info, you can read AOC’s entire disclosure page here.
Subscribe & Make This Year's Garden A Success!