How to Get Going Now with your First Spring Garden

Just like for a first date, if you plan ahead for your first garden, you’ll have a better experience. And don’t try to make everything happen the first time around. Leave some space for your garden to grow. If it turns into a love affair, then your ideas and your abilities will grow with your relationship with your garden. Plan the best you can, because that’s all you can really do. You’re limited by how much you know, the uncertainty of the weather, and the availability of water and sunshine. So after you’ve done your planning, don’t worry about it! Just throw caution to the wind and get busy with Earth.

Your choices are between plants that will keep coming back every year, perennials, and plants that will only perform once for you, annuals, plants that you can consume, and the ones that are pretty, or just smell good. Your standard vegetable garden usually consists of all annuals. Gardeners have abundant natures. It’s easy to look at a seed and forget just how many tomatoes, or cucumbers or zucchinis can really come from just that one seed, and that they really do need a few feet of space around them to produce all that food for you!

The scent of a Peony can change your outlook for the day. It was planted before we moved here, and comes back every year without any maintenance at all…

To lighten your load from year to year, consider what edible perennials you can cultivate. Do you have room for a fruit tree? Find out what kind of fruit grows without too much trouble where you live, and start with that. Fruit trees are difficult, if not impossible to grow from seed. You should just buy a baby tree. Berries are very, very good for you and require practically no maintenance. They grow almost like weeds if they get enough sun, so you have to be careful where you put them. They are also usually thorny, so you will want to place them up against a fence or on the outer edge of your garden. There are a few perennial vegetables too, like asparagus and artichoke. There are also many herbs that will come back from year to year. Some plants stay green all winter long, like parsley, and will add a little cheer to a drab, cold winter scene.

Before my garden is even ready for planting, I get a little potted garden of lettuce going, cuz I like a fresh salad every night…
Parsley stays green all winter long.
Parsley stays green all winter long.

Make your list of what you want to grow, then decide where you’ll place them, and when. It’s best to group together annuals and perennials. This way you can completely turn over and amend the soil in your annual bed every year. If you had perennial plants here and there, that you didn’t want to pull up, it would make the task of turning your soil and adding fertilizer more difficult.


Purple cabbage does better in the cool spring weather than in withering heat.
Purple cabbage does better in the cool spring weather than in withering heat.

The Farmer’s Almanac is your best friend when it comes to figuring out when to start planting your seeds. You can punch in your zip code and find out starting times for plants that you want to grow. This is very important. I found out that my cayenne peppers weren’t mature enough by the end of the growing season, because I waited until after the last frost and put the seeds directly in the ground. This year I will put mature starters in the ground. If you don’t have room to grow your starters then you might buy already mature pepper starters from a nursery when the time comes. On the other hand if you live in a hot climate, you might be able to keep your pepper plant as a perennial. There is no replacement for your own experience. Even what’s true for your area may not be entirely true for your relationship with your garden. From year to year you will nurture and learn, and plan again as best you can.

My husband grows rows of head lettuce, that get eaten by us and the neighbors too. You can only eat so much lettuce.
My husband grows rows of head lettuce, that get eaten by us and the neighbors too. You can only eat so much lettuce. You can try staggering your plantings of lettuce, to keep it coming all summer. I’ve had only moderate success at keeping a steady supply going.

You will most likely use a combination of seeds, and starters. Radishes grow quickly in spring, from seed, and lettuce too, after the last frost. Starters you will buy when you’re ready to plant them. Usually there are all kinds of tomatoes available, squashes and cucumbers. If you only plant those three things, keep them watered, and give them some plant food once a month, your first date will likely be an enjoyable one, leaving you wanting another dance.

Right now is the time to flirt with all the possibilities. When early spring rolls around, when it’s time to start digging, and kneeling and bending over, and paying for seeds, you’ll be making a commitment, and things will go better if you know what you want to get out of it.


  1. Oh, I wish I still could do it with a healthy back, but…….. reading about it in your notes in the next best thing!!!!!!!

    1. I’m glad you brought that up Mom!

      Your physical condition is certainly another thing to be thinking about ahead of time. If you don’t want to let a bad back stop you, then make plans to get around that. If you’re an octogenarian, or a little younger or older than that, you should plan on getting some assistance with the digging and other heavy work that comes with gardening in the ground, or consider some alternatives.

      A few pots to water and aerate and feed can still be very satisfying and much less demanding. Strawberries come to mind as an enjoyable small potted garden that will provide pesticide-free strawberries, with a little loving care. If you’re feeling more ambitious, call a strapping son or grandson or daughter or neighbor or professional landscaper, and ask them to construct a raised bed for you, at a comfortable height, and fill it with organic materials topped off with potting soil. If they do it soon, you could even start throwing your crushed eggshells and coffee grinds on top, for a great spring bed ready to go and easy to tend to without bending. Really, the best gardens are the ones that both create and are created by community.

      Being a true daughter of my mother, I have had to acknowledge my own limitations in the garden these past few years. My husband does the tilling and heavy lifting and it’s his garden that provides the bulk of what we eat. I keep my “kitchen garden.” Right now I have three teen and pre-teen sons who I delegate heavy lifting and bending tasks to in my garden. When they leave me, I won’t need so much food! By then I hope to rely more heavily on tree crops and other perennials that don’t require the annual bending and digging routine…

  2. nice article, Martha.
    we prepared a little spot in our yard to plant a few things.
    Any advice on soil preparation?

  3. Abigail, I imagine it’s pretty darn cold in Santa Fe right now, and the ground is frozen. Come spring time it will be time to aerate and feed your soil. I’ll write a bit about that when the time comes. But if you haven’t pulled all the weeds in your spot, then pull them now.

    You could put leaves and other yard debris on top of your spot to prevent soil erosion. You can also toss your crushed eggshells, coffee grinds and other stuff that won’t attract rodents, on top. It will start breaking down in your soil, and when it is time to start digging, you’ll just turn it under with the dirt to feed your garden.

    1. that’s great – easy thing to start doing now. Maybe if it’s tiny easy steps along the way, we’ll succeed this year…
      thanks 🙂

      1. You’re welcome. I don’t know about tiny steps 🙂 but for me small steps have been the way to master new skills. When a small task becomes a habit that I don’t have to give much thought to, then it’s time for another step. That’s been true both in the kitchen and the garden. I really am a perpetual virgin, always trying something new…

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