Are you fantasizing about a life filled with crisp veggie salads? Or bouquets of colorful flowers on your nightstand, coffee table, and kitchen counter? Perhaps it’s as simple as growing pots of basil for homemade pesto. We could easily go on because the thrill of planting a garden—edible or ornamental—still excites even the most seasoned of green thumbs.
But from soil to spacing to watering, there’s a lot to think about before you dig into planting any style of garden. Veteran growers might have their methods memorized, but first-timers will want to follow some trusted advice on how to plant vegetables, flowers, and herbs in a container, raised bed, or in-ground garden. If that’s you, this is your guide.
Work With the Weather
If you live in a cool-weather locale, wait until the chance for frost has passed before planting anything outdoors. Keep an eye out for a stint of sunny days or at least an extended forecast free of extreme weather patterns (spring can be so unpredictable!). Once the conditions are nice and steady, set aside time to plant in the early morning or late afternoon. You and your flora will both be happier when the sun’s not directly overhead, even on a mild day.
It’s also best to avoid planting in drought conditions. If that’s not an option, make sure you can keep a close eye on your garden and water frequently—but responsibly—until your seeds are sprouting or your plants are well-established.
Prepare Your Soil
High-quality soil ensures your plants will get essential nutrients—and moisture—as they settle in and grow. A loose, rich mixture gives roots the ability to stretch out, as well as enough space for air and water to flow down, around and through them. Different gardens call for different types, but Miracle-Gro® soils and potting mixes will get plants off to a solid start since they come loaded with months’ worth of nutrients.
More often than not, the ground that’s already in your yard will need a nutritious boost. To improve the existing soil of an in-ground garden, loosen it with a rake or fork, breaking up any dense clumps and removing any rocks as you go. Then mix in 3 inches of Miracle-Gro® All-Purpose Garden Soil with the top 6 inches of native soil, following the package instructions, until the soil has a uniform texture.
Raised Bed Soil
Because you’re working above ground level, you can start a raised bed garden with ideal soil conditions. Use Miracle-Gro® Raised Bed Soil to establish the garden, matching the depth of the soil to the amount needed for the deepest rooted plant you plan to grow (this chart for how much soil your garden needs can help you determine that). Fill the bed to the top, spreading the soil evenly and into every corner. Gently flatten it with your hands or a shovel.
Container Garden Soil
Before you plant anything in a container, check that it has drainage holes along the bottom. (Depending on the material, you can add them using a drill.) Drainage holes allow any excess water moving through the soil to continue flowing beneath the roots and out of the pot, protecting your plants from root rot. Once that’s squared away, use Miracle-Gro® Potting Mix or Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics® All Purpose Container Mix to fill each container about a third full—don’t worry, you’ll add more soil during the planting process.
Create Enough Space
Resist the temptation to put seeds or plants closer together than what’s recommended on their packages or tags—trust the labels! Use a ruler or a tape measure before you start digging to gauge how far apart they should be. Remember, that tiny seed you’re planting may grow into a plant several hundred times its size! It won’t be long before they’re all grown up, rewarding you with an abundance of fresh veggies, savory herbs, and beautiful flowers.
Proper plant spacing—and for container gardens, suitably sized containers—lets your plants spread their roots while absorbing moisture and key nutrients from the soil. It also prevents overcrowding as they grow. Air circulating through your garden will help your plants avoid disease and pests. Read more about choosing the right size containers for vegetables and other container plants for more details.
Find the Right Depth
Different seeds have different needs, and the same goes for starter plants. However, one aspect remains the same: they need to be placed in ample soil. Covering them in the right amount of earthy goodness will provide the right temperature for seed germination or quality root growth for starter plants. Look at the information that comes on the packaging to know how deep to dig.
Before placing starter plants—like vigorous Bonnie Plants—in an in-ground or raised-bed garden, give them a little water in their temporary pots. Then, rake the bed’s soil surface and check to see that it’s moist. If it sticks to the rake, it’s too wet. Likewise, if it seems on the dry side, add a little water. Once the soil is nice and crumbly, dig according to the recommended depth on the plant tag. You can eyeball it, or check with a tape measure before placing each plant’s root ball into the hole, then fill in around it with soil. Be firm but gentle, making sure all roots are covered and that each stem can stand upright without any support. Next, give them a long drink of water to help remove any air pockets and settle them into their cozy new arrangement.
When putting starter plants in containers, moisten the potting mix in the base of the pot. Place each plant’s root ball in the pot at about the same depth as the container it came in, and fill in around the sides with more potting mix until you’ve covered the roots. Level out the surface by pressing the soil around the base with your hands, stabilizing the stem. Check that the plant is standing firmly on its own in the center of the pot, and add water.
If you’re sowing seeds in raised or in-ground beds, read the package for the recommended planting method and depth. Rake and moisten the soil surface, then go for one of two styles: a trough or a mound, depending on what you’re planting. Mounds work better for plants like melons or squash, while troughs cater to lettuce or carrots.
For troughs, use your fingers to create a long, shallow trench, pushing loose dirt to either the side of it. Sprinkle your seeds down into the trough, evenly, and spread the soil you set aside back on top. The mound method is similar, but you make little hills of dirt about 6 inches tall and poke several small holes into the tops, about 2 inches apart. Drop one seed in each hole, and gently place soil back on top. In either case, pat down the soil and give them plenty of water. (And maybe have some yourself since you’re working hard!) Once the seeds germinate, you may need to thin them—pluck seedlings individually or use scissors to snip them at the surface level—in order to avoid crowding.
When sowing seeds in containers, choose vegetables, herbs, and flowers that grow well in smaller spaces, and containers large enough to hold your plants once they’ve reached full size. Fill your containers with Miracle-Gro® Potting Mix to about 1 inch from the top rim, and follow the same planting techniques as you would for a bed—or just use your finger to make holes for your seeds. How far down do you go? Well, there are always exceptions (so make sure you read the label on the back of your seed packet), but typically the hole should be double or triple the depth of the seed you're planting. Sounds easy, because it is!
Even though they’ve been planted in slightly damp soil, your seeds and starter plants will need more water. Welcome them to their new home with a thorough soaking near their roots—where plants need it most—to help encourage growth.
If you’ve planted starter plants in an in-ground or raised bed, water slowly with a hose or watering can. (Try to avoid the leaves, since wet foliage can lead to disease.) Continue to water until puddles form on the surface of the soil, then take a well-deserved break for a few minutes before watering again. Watch for puddles one more time, and you’re done!
The same goes for starter plants in containers, but instead of puddles at the surface, you’re looking for water running out the bottom. Once a fair amount is flowing out of the drainage holes, you guessed it: take a break and water once more.
Think of newly planted seeds as the babies they are, and lend a softer touch when watering them. Thoroughly—but gingerly—moisten the soil with a watering can or a hose with a sprinkler attachment set to a soft mist. Be careful not to wash away the layer of soil that covers and protects the seeds. Play mother hen against Mother Nature: stay ahead of the sun and wind by watering often, which will keep the soil consistently moist until the seeds begin to germinate. Once they do, you’ll see little green seedlings poking out through the top of the soil. Breathe a sigh of relief and say hello to your new friends!
Now, for the follow-through. Plan to water your in-ground or raised bed garden daily during the first week, then less often after that. Containers will continue to need watering every day—or more often—throughout the growing season. A bit of pot makes them more thirsty!
Get into the habit of checking your soil every day, no matter which garden you’re growing. If you stick your finger into the top inch and it feels dry, or your plants have slowed their growth, lost color, or wilted, you need to water. Doing this early in the day or in late afternoon will help more water soak deep into the soil, promoting even stronger roots. (Read more helpful tips about watering your garden.)
Admire Your Work
Once your garden is planted, prepare to be amazed: It won’t be long before your plants are thriving and producing tasty vegetables and beautiful blooms. Read our articles, Caring for a Traditional In-Ground Garden and How to Care for a Container Garden, for tips on tending to your plants’ needs all season long. Spoiler alert: To keep them growing strong, wait about 30 days, then start them on a steady diet of Miracle-Gro® All Purpose Water Soluble Plant Food or Miracle-Gro® Shake ’n Feed® All Purpose Plant Food. Follow the instructions on the package to add vital nutrients back into the soil—your plants will be happier for it.
Now that you know how to plant vegetables, herbs, and flowers, you’re all set for success. Grab your gear and go have fun!