But just because I have a “brown thumb” doesn’t mean all hope is lost. Gardening is both a science and an art. And since I happen to be the creative type who sucks at science and often excels at art, I take that as a challenge.
What I’m trying to say is, you can still grow things if you were innately born with two brown thumbs. Gardening may be a science, but it isn’t rocket science. There are steps you can take to improve your gardening game and rehabilitate that brown landscape you call a backyard — with guidance from a few experts.
Here’s the answer to the question you’ve always wanted to know: What are people with a green thumb doing right?
1. Take on only what you can handle
I know, I know, Rome wasn’t built in a day. But I want my beautiful garden now, and I hate waiting for flowers to bloom in season. Grow Journey, “seed of the month” organic gardening company, explains why impatience may be my gardening downfall, “A lot of people make the mistake of taking on too much too fast. Then they get overwhelmed. Then they quit. The most effective gardeners we know (and the approach we take) are akin to ‘agile development’ in the software world. Basically, get started fast and small and make changes constantly and iteratively as you learn more and interact with your garden.”
2. Quit procrastinating
On the flipside, it’s tempting to put off plotting and planting until you reach “green thumb nirvana” (whatever the heck that is). But as Grow Journey explained, small and fast wins the race. Grow Journey encourages, “If you wait until you know everything before you start your garden, you’ll never get started. Sure, you need to read information and watch videos from organic gardening and permaculture experts to get the best possible results, but the best education you’ll get is from doing.”
3. Learn to multitask
Image: Edible garden designed and maintained by The LaurelRock Company in Fairfield, CT
Maybe you’re short on space. Maybe you have no flipping clue what you’re doing. Either way, mixing it up is a common habit of highly effective gardeners. “Don’t be afraid to mix vegetables or fruiting woody shrubs in with your annuals and perennials,” says Audrey Rotax, garden and property manager for The LaurelRock Company in Wilton, Connecticut. “Pair kale, for instance, with Lenten rose or with other early spring bloomers, like Alchemilla or Moss Phlox. Blueberries can hold their own in a mixed border with other shrubs. Not only do they have fruit, but the fall color is outstanding! Just be sure to provide for their needs: Blueberries, for example, prefer a more acidic soil, so add pine needles in the fall.”
4. Learn to water
Watering a garden is easy, right? That’s where you’re wrong. Watering a garden takes precision and attention to detail to toe the line between dry brush and soggy swamp. Chris Lambton, host of Yard Crashers on DIY Network, explains, “If you overwater or water at the wrong time, you will risk the possibility of mold or rotting out your plant or lawn’s roots.”
5. Learn to mulch
What I love so much about gardening is that sometimes you can do really weird stuff that yields beautiful results. KLB, skilled organic gardener and member of an award-winning husband-and-wife reggae/world band and record label, keeps her garden lush by thinking outside the box beach. She advises, “Collect and crush shells to apply as mulch. I used leftover clam and mussel shells from dinner. The shells provide calcium and other minerals for your vegetable garden, which will leach into the soil over a long period of time.”
6. Garden with purpose
Image: Buff Strickland for laV Restaurant & Wine Bar
One of the best ways to prevent gardening burnout is to see the fruits of your labor in sight. For this reason, Executive Chef Allison Jenkins of laV Restaurant & Wine Bar in Austin is a big fan of edible gardens. Her restaurant even features an adjacent walking garden, where produce and herbs are grown for the menu. She says, “Growing my own vegetables gave me the same appreciation I have toward whole animal butchery. There’s a use for almost every single sprout, leaf and flower.”
7. Stay in your lane
Image: Tower Garden
Before you plot an exotic garden with plants you can’t pronounce, it’s important to master the basics first and know what you can do best. Tim Blank, CEO of Future Growing and Developer of Tower Garden, agrees that successful gardening is all about staying small and planting only what you will use. “Consider what you use currently or what you typically bring home from the supermarket and how much your family will eat. For the average family, just one of each type of herb is usually sufficient.”
8. Explore new seasons
How will you ever harness that green thumb if you give up after one season? Grow Journey tells SheKnows that, for most of the U.S., gardening provides near-limitless growth opportunities that can be enjoyed year-round, “Every state in the contiguous United States has distinct seasons where you can grow and enjoy different varieties of fresh, delicious foods. Contrary to popular belief, gardening is not just a warm-weather activity. Some of our favorite, most nutritious foods are cool/cold weather plants: kohlrabi, beets, chard, kale, spinach, etc. These foods thrive in cold weather seasons, and gardeners as far north as Maine grow them under easy-to-make polytunnels, cold frames and hoop houses throughout the winter months.”