One of the most common tendencies for beginner gardeners is, once they finally catch the fever to plant something, they want to plant everything. I'm sure nursery employees can spot these newbies right away. The first time I went to a nursery, the moment I locked eyes with an associate, something in their face changed. The look was similar to, "Please don't eat me." I tried very hard but still ended up buying more plants than I knew how to take care of. And that's how my arugula died.
Blind ambition can be a dangerous thing, like when Donald Duck baked an airplane without checking if the weather forecast called for rain. It's important to do a little bit of planning so you don't throw your money away and get discouraged. "Many people plant the wrong things with good intentions," says Al Renner, Acting Executive Director of the L.A. Community Garden Council. "A beginning gardener will go into a nursery and assume everything there can be planted right now. Sometimes nurseries have sales for end-of-season items that won't grow right, but a beginning gardener doesn't know that."
A safe bet? Start with 3 or 4 plants that don't require you to fuss over them too much. Yvonne Savio, Program Manager for University of California's Common Ground Garden Program, recommends growing tomato, pepper, cucumber, and squash. When given the option, make sure you're buying the dwarf or space-saving variety.
Al Renner would also recommend adding beans to this list. They are easy to grow and you can choose between pole beans, which require a trellis, or bush beans, which take up more space. But because there are more questions to ask and choices to make with beans, it may be wise to stick with the aforementioned tomato, pepper, cucumber and squash. We will cover beans more in depth later.
As far as actual planting goes, Yvonne Savio has three big rules to consider when starting your garden:
1. Choose a container that's deeper than it is wide, and as large as possible for the space the gardener has. This enables more potting mix in the container and therefore more tempering of soil temperature to make the plant more "comfortable."
2. Use potting mix that both drains but also holds moisture -- lots of organic matter will accomplish this, so spend the extra couple of bucks for an organic brand. It's a good investment.
3. Water frequently to keep the soil mix cool and fully moist so plant roots can grow easily and not "fry" due to soil mix being too dry. During spring and fall, water twice a week. During summer, when temperatures are above 85, water every day; when temperatures are above 95, water both in evening and in morning.
For more newbie tips, please check out Grow L.A. Victory Garden Initiative's super wondrous "Vegetable Gardening Handbook for Beginners," as well as these great L.A. Victory Garden Initiative Classes.