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Green leaves with ladybug lady beetle on them in the garden

PLANTER BOX GARDENING 101:
CHOOSING WHAT TO GROW

How to Know What to Grow

Welcome to Planter Box Gardening 101 ~ and the first topic in the series! That's because choosing plants is a really great place to start on the gardening journey.

Choosing plants is one of the most exciting parts of gardening. Most of us start by browsing beautiful seed catalogs or the colorful displays in the nursery stores. We dream of having lush, fruitful harvests *just* like on the seed packets. The seed packets make it look so easy! Unfortunately, any honest gardener will say that there's so much more to think about when selecting what to grow. 

So let's have some fun and explore how to select exactly what to grow

woman holding a fresh organic radish from the garden

One of the reasons I garden - pure joy! Here's my reaction to harvesting my very first radish ever
Variety:
Purple Plum Radish from High Mowing Organics

Simply put - why do you want to garden? Your "why" is the most important guiding force in choosing what you should grow in your garden. 

That's because there is a very wide world of gardening out there. Hydroponics, planter box gardening, aero gardens, xeriscaping, organic gardening - scratch the surface of gardening, and you'll see the subject gets very complex, very fast.

I suggest starting by reflecting on and writing the answers to the following questions. Consider writing them in a Garden Journal; or keep it simple and write them anywhere you please.  

1. Why do I want to start a garden? Passion project? Hobby? To beautify my home? To have a cut garden for fresh flowers indoors? The health benefits of eating local or organic produce? To save money? Share a project with a loved one such as a parent or children?

2. How much time do I really want to spend on this activity? Fifteen minutes a day? An hour? A weekend? Am I looking for something small or large?

3. How much money do I want to spend?

4. How much work can I do? What amount of gardening will my body support? 

5. What's one small and attainable goal I have for myself in the garden?

I garden because I am a survivor of a serious TBI and I feel better when I eat lots of fresh food from my garden. (You can read my story here.) I also bond with my mom over our shared love for growing flowers. I love the joy of watching every step of a plant as it grows, from a tiny seed to a mighty sprout. And harvest day is a triumph! I garden because I love every step in the wonderful process. I hope you will, too! 

Step One ~ What are your goals?

Step Two ~ Grow What You Love

I suggest that you start with growing something that you genuinely love, whether that's vine-ripe tomatoes, cute little mini pumpkins, fresh lettuce for your straight-from-the-garden summer salad, lavender to make your own sachets, or whatever makes your heart happy. 

When you love what you grow, you're more inspired to tend to it, to research it, and to strive for its survival. In my first vegetable garden, I grew tomatoes from starts that I bought at the local hardware store. The truth is, I don't really love tomatoes. They're not the mouth-watering treat that I reach for when I have fresh fruits and veggies to choose from; not even in the top 5 for me.

However, broccoli is something that I do love. Whether raw or steamed, it's packed with nutrients, flavorful, and always something I enjoy eating. That first summer, my tomatoes definitely didn't survive, because I wasn't interested in them; there wasn't much at stake. As I watched my tomatoes struggle in the elements, I didn't do much to rescue them. But the broccoli did get my attention, and I worked hard to see those plants to harvest. I cared about its success and I wanted to learn how to grow it. So I did. 

That summer taught me the importance of growing what I love. Year after year, I have proven this small fact to myself - when I love what I'm growing, I take better care of it. 

So I suggest making a "wish list" of those things that you absolutely love - fruit, vegetable, herb, or flower. Consider making that wish list in a Garden Journal. I have kept a Garden Journal for many years and I have always been so grateful to myself for using it to record my goals, observations, and plans.

 

As you dive into planter box gardening, you'll be so happy you chose something that creates joy for you. And as you get further into gardening, surely you'll expand your interests and experience. But for now, at the beginning just start simple with those things you love. 

Step Three ~ Consider Your Climate

When choosing what to grow in your planter box garden, it's important to consider what will do well in your region - and what will simply set you up for disappointment. 

For example, I live in the high desert of the United States. Our humidity is always relatively low and sunshine abounds - especially in the late days of summer. Therefore, I've learned the hard way that moisture-loving tropical plants do not do well in my area. 

I've tried to grow citrus trees indoors, wisteria flowers on a trellis outdoors, and several family favorites from my mom who lives in Minnesota.  They were all very high maintenance; in fact, too high maintenance for my taste.  After many frustrating months of trying to keep them alive, I surrendered. 

There are some plants that are simply too difficult to grow out of their comfort Zones. 

How can you tell what will do well in your climate? 

1) Listen to the locals.

When I moved from the East Coast to the Western US, I spent time asking questions and listening for trends in what the local gardeners were talking about. At work, at the grocery store - I heard people talking about their tomatoes, pumpkins, cucumbers, and onions. I didn't hear them talking about their corn, their watermelons, or their lemon trees. 

 

There is excellent local wisdom to help guide you to what will do well - and what will simply break your heart. 

2) Visit a nearby nursery. Whether it's a visit to Home Depot or to the locally-owned and operated nursery, there is wisdom to be gained wherever plants are sold. 

I am a huge advocate for shopping at the locally-owned nursery. I have met several "gardener friends" at places like this - and many of them are the employees! They're both passionate about gardening, and about you growing your plants with success! 

Every time I visit a local nursery, I find someone whom will answer my questions and point me in the right direction. I've gained a ton of information through these chats - including what grows with ease. 

A word of caution, though. Depending on where you live, stores like Home Depot or Lowe's may not be the best place to see what grows well in your climate.

 

You see, in my state, there is a "wet side of the state" and a "dry side of the state". Plants are grown in greenhouses and outdoors where there is lots of precipitation, then shipped to my area for sale. Depending on where you live, you may not find this stark contract in your stores. I encourage you to be curious about where nursery plants are grown and ask yourself if they're ready for your climate, too. 

3) Explore the native plants. If you want to know what grows well in your region, look no further than to native plants. Once established, these plants require nothing more than Mother Nature to meet their needs.

In my backyard flower garden, you'll find a range of native flowers that thrive in my part of the state. Though they needed a little extra water and protection from trampling dogs at the beginning, they now return year after year with ease. 

To find native plants, simply search your area for a native nursery. (Ex. Google "native nursery near me") These are often small but mighty nurseries that help with local restoration projects. 

4) Join Facebook groups for local gardeners. This is my favorite tip for learning all there is to know about growing in your area. Over 50,000 people strong, my region has a huge membership on our gardening group. Most people are passive readers of what others' post - and for good reason. I have learned a ton from simply reading the questions, celebrations, and teachings on my local Facebook gardening group. 

So join a local Facebook gardening group - and turn on the Notifications. Within one year, you'll have gained a ton of knowledge, and perhaps a few friends, too. 

Step Four ~ Just Start!

The only way to truly know if you're going to enjoy gardening is to just get started! Perhaps you'll decide to read the rest of Planter Box Gardening 101 and follow many of the suggestions. 

Perhaps you're going to start small with a simpler project, just to try your hand at growing. If that's the case, let me share a suggestion from a family member.

AeroGarden® is a popular options for those who want to enjoy fresh herbs and vegetables, but don't want the fuss of a larger garden.  My mother-in-law loves hers and has had great  success having freshly-grown tomatoes and herbs all year long. They also run sales all year long, so these incredible units are affordable and fun.

aerogarden with fresh herbs on a green background
Pink aerogarden slim on a counter in a modern kitchen

Happy planting!

RETURN TO 

PLANTER BOX GARDENING 101

NEXT:

CREATE A GARDEN JOURNAL

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