How to prepare the garden for growing plants
Prepare your outside space for plenty of plants
A garden bursting with seasonal colour and rich greenery offers a view to enjoy. And the good news? You don’t have to be a planting pro, own acres of land or a shed-full of tools to create one. Gardening is a fun outdoor hobby that can be enjoyed by all. It’s a great way to get the whole family outside, be at one with nature and learn about the world around you.
Gardening also boasts health benefits – reducing stress, encouraging relaxation and giving the body a bit of a workout (though only as much as you fancy).
And the result of all this outdoor creativity? A beautiful space to take pride in that can even add value to your home. So, if you’re looking to get into gardening, we’ve got some expert advice on how to transform your outdoors into a stunning sanctuary.
How much space is available?
Consider your available outdoor space and decide how much will be given to growing. Don’t worry if you don’t have a huge garden – with careful planning and the right tools, anyone can enjoy gardening as a hobby. Even certain trees are available in dwarf versions that will fit neatly onto a balcony or courtyard. To make the most of your space, pots and planters are the way forward. Ideal for balconies, courtyards or even if you just want to have flowers on your patio, pots allow you to quickly and easily update your garden year after year.
If you have a large garden to enjoy, sketch a garden design. Take precise measurements to help maximise your space and include everything you want to. For more on creating a garden design, check out our helpful guide.
What type of soil is in your garden?
With the scale of your gardening project settled on, now’s the time to learn more about its soil.
Not all soil is the same as there are different types, such as chalk, clay, sand, peat and loam. These all work differently, so it helps to know which one you’re working with to ensure that your chosen plants will thrive in these conditions. See the table below for more information on soil types.
|Soil||Appearance||Fertility||Drainage||When to work it||Improving it||Acid or alkaline|
|Sand||Gritty and unwilling to stick together||Not very fertile||Drains freely and isn't prone to water-logging||Spring||Fertilise regularly and work in plenty of organic matter||Can be either - soil needs testing|
|Clay||Dense and smooth: holds together without crumbling||Fairly fertile||Slow-draining: hard and prone to cracking when dry, turns muddy after rain||Autumn||Dig in horticultural grit and plenty of organic matter||Can be either - soil needs testing|
|Chalk||Pale in colour: often contains white chunks of chalk||Not at all fertile||Very free-draining||Any season||Add lots of soil improver||Alkaline|
|Peat||Rich, dark and moist||Not very fertile||Prone to water-logging, but will not re-absorb moisture easily if allowed to get too dry||Any season||Feed regularly and work in plenty of grit; consider raised beds if water-logging is severe||Acid|
|Loam||Rich, dark and crumbly||Highly fertile||Holds moisture yet drains easily||Any season||Add plenty of organic matter||Can be either - soil needs testing|
As well as the type of soil you have, it helps to know how acidic or alkaline it is. To find out, pick up a pH tester kit. They’re simple to use and you can test different areas of your garden to see if there’s a difference.
And don’t worry if you find that your preferred plants aren’t recommended for your garden’s soil. Either alter the soil’s conditions by using a suitable product (for instance, lime rebalances soil that’s too acidic) or plant in pots with an appropriate compost (such as ericaceous compost for plants that want a more acidic home).
What is the climate of your garden?
The climate of your garden will depend on where you live as well as its positioning. So, the growing conditions of a seaside garden will be very different to a rural one. Also, country and city gardens are very different too – city gardens tending to be a lot warmer and more sheltered. Have a chat with your neighbours and look at their gardens to see what’s flourishing.
And look out for your garden’s micro-climates. All outdoor spaces have them as each individual area enjoys varying levels of sunlight and shade – both of which constantly change throughout the day. Some areas will always be in shade, while other parts will get full sunshine, so you’ll want to plant accordingly.
Create your growing area
Garden’s growing conditions sussed? Let’s start preparing your gardening area. And while this might take a bit of work, we believe it’s worth it as it’ll save you time and effort in the long run.
Mark out the beds and borders if you’re adding new ones. Then clear them as you would an existing plot - by removing any unwanted plants, turf and weeds. Read our guide for plenty of tips on how to rid your garden of weeds.
Rake through the earth and remove any rubble or rocks from the soil (save these to use as crocks in the bottom of pots). You may want to bulk out your existing soil by adding topsoil – a great tip if your home is a new build, which are known for having little decent soil. Ideally, topsoil should be 30centimetres(cm) deep for a bed or border. Lastly, finish your new border by digging in plenty of organic matter.
Select the plants
The exciting part - picking your plants. We recommend that your garden should be made up of a mix of annuals (plants that last one year) and perennials (plants that last for over two years). Most bedding plants are annuals so will need to be re-planted regularly. But if you add a few perennials and shrubs, you’ll always have something to tend to – plus your beds won’t look bare when winter comes. Start with trees and shrubs first as they're the framework of the garden and finish with perennials and annuals.
Choose plants in a range of sizes and shapes to create interest at different heights. And if your garden has a theme, look for colours that work with it, as well as complement each other to create a harmonious balance.
Remember that plants grow at certain times and work best when planted at particular times of the year. Some may even need a season or more to settle in. Because of this, plant spring and summer perennials and shrubs in the autumn before. Simply do your research and you can have flowers, or at least greenery, all year round.
Get the right tools and equipment
Before getting into gardening, make sure you have the right tools. Trowels, spades, and watering cans are just some of the hand tools you’ll need for planting. Remember to get knee pads too – planting your beds and borders can get a bit painful after a while.
But rather than stock up on every tool available, we suggest starting with a few essentials. You can expand your collection as you garden more and more.
And if you fancy pottering around in your garden for as much of the year as possible, consider a greenhouse. They offer a warmer climate for plants, so you can germinate seeds ahead of schedule and grow plants suited to tropical temperatures.
Read our buyer’s guide to greenhouses to find the right one for you. And if you’re new to gardening, check our article on how to sow seeds for some help getting started.