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Everything you need for a thriving garden

Looking to start a garden this summer? I've put together a list of everything you'll need to get started growing flowers, vegetables, and herbs.
Written by Taylor Clemons, Staff Writer
Reviewed by Allison Murray
Home Complete 4-tier mini greenhouse | A roomy greenhouse
A Home Complete 4-tier greenhouse on a grey background
Home Complete 4-tier mini greenhouse
A roomy greenhouse
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Grampa's Weeder | A reliable garden tool for weeding
A Grampa's Weeder garden too, close-up of the claw, and dandelion plant on a grey background
Grampa's Weeder
A reliable garden tool for weeding
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Style Selections 19.3-in indoor/outdoor planter | A container for plants
A Style Selections barrel planter with a lush Chinese Hibiscus planted in it.
Style Selections 19.3-in indoor/outdoor planter
A container for plants
View now View at Lowes
Sta-Green blood meal | A nutrient-dense fertilizer
An open bag of Sta-Green blood meal nestled in some tomato plants
Sta-Green blood meal
A nutrient-dense fertilizer
View now View at Lowes

When folks find out I grew up on a farm, one of the first questions they ask is: Can you help me with my garden? And really, what is farming if not a more intense version of gardening?

Also: The best indoor garden you can buy

While everyone's growing situation is different, there are a few key basics to keep in mind while planning for patio containers, raised beds, or in-ground planting. You'll want to make sure your soil is good enough for growing healthy plants with testing kits and add fertilizer as needed to create the perfect balance of nutrients for whatever you're trying to grow. 

So if you're thinking of growing a few herbs for your kitchen or a full-blown vegetable garden, I've put together a checklist of everything you need to get started -- from greenhouses and fertilizer to raised beds and hand tools, you'll be growing beautiful blooms and tasty veggies in no time.

A greenhouse 

Whether you're just looking to grow a few bins of tomatoes and kitchen herbs or tropical flowers and greenery for landscaping, a greenhouse can help jumpstart seed germination by giving you almost total control over temperature, humidity, and airflow for optimal growing conditions.  

This four-tier greenhouse is sized just about perfectly for most suburban gardeners, with enough room for seed starting trays, and potted plants up to 14 inches tall. The clear PVC cover helps let in light while allowing heat and humidity to build optimal growing conditions for flowers, herbs, and vegetables. 

Each shelf measures 27 inches wide and 19 inches deep with a tubular steel construction capable of supporting up to 24 pounds, which is great news for anyone looking to try growing tropical plants like hibiscus, which can be hefty when fully grown. The entire unit also disassembles easily for off-season storage in your garage or garden shed.

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Gardening tools 

I inherited most of my gardening tools from my great-grandmother, and my favorite is the 8-foot, razor sharp garden rake (that I'm fairly certain she made herself) that is good for everything from removing errant weeds and encroaching grass to removing rocks and dispatching garden pests. But if you can't get your hands on a bespoke antique, turn-of-the-20th-century garden tool, store bought is fine. Hand tools like pruning shears, trowels, rakes, and weed pullers are essential for preventing unwanted plants like wild grasses from taking over your garden beds and ruining all your hard work. They also help you shape plants for healthy growth and harvest fruit, vegetables, and herbs without damaging new growth. 

Removing weeds can feel like a constant battle, especially if you prefer in-ground gardening over raised beds and bins. This weeding tool has a century-old design for pulling weeds out by their roots: a 46-inch wooden handle and a four-pronged steel claw that helps you get rid of unwanted plants like dandelions and errant grass without having to stoop or kneel. 

It's also great for anyone interested in organic gardening, since it allows you to remove weeds and their roots without harsh chemicals and herbicides that can damage your lawn or contaminate your garden beds.

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Bins or raised beds

If you don't have the space, energy, or know-how for large-scale or in-ground gardening, containers and raised beds are a great option. Planting pots are available in a wide range of sizes and materials, letting you garden on your patio, balcony, deck, or otherwise difficult ground. I use raised metal and cedar bins in our backyard garden since we have mature trees with extensive root systems which make it difficult to till the ground and grow healthy plants with consistent harvests.

Barrel planting pots are a popular option for container gardening, since they come in a variety of sizes and materials. The Style Selections 19-inch pot is made of UV-resistant resin that helps protect against color fading as well as from being broken down by UV radiation from the sun. They're lightweight and easy to fill and empty, with no-drill drainage holes for proper water retention in the soil. 

We have a rather fussy Hibiscus in one and it seems to like being in there, and we've had great luck with various annuals and herbs like marigolds, nasturtiums, petunias, and lavender when we've planted them in this pot. It's also much less expensive than a cut-down, wooden barrel planter, making it great for beginners and budget-conscious patio gardeners. 

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Whether you plan on going fully organic and pesticide/herbicide-free or want a blend of techniques for growing beautiful flowers, lush greenery, and tasty fruits and vegetables, there's a fertilizer out there to suit your needs. But vegan gardeners beware: some fertilizers get their nutritional elements like calcium, phosphorous, and nitrogen from animal sources, so be sure to research before buying.

If you're having trouble with leafy plants like basil, zucchini and other squash, and roses from having their leaves turn yellow and die, it's a sign that there isn't enough nitrogen in your garden soil. Fortunately, you don't need to worry about adding unnecessary nutrients with Sta-Green organic blood meal. 

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You might also need...

While a few of these items aren't necessarily essential for gardening basics, they're nice to have for experienced growers or year-round herb gardeners. 

What is the most important tool every gardener should have?

Aside from a watering can, a good, sturdy garden trowel like the Fiskars ergonomic trowel is a vital tool. Not only does it allow you to dig around in the soil for transferring seedlings and repotting plants, but the pointed tip is great for digging out weeds and removing rocks and stones.

What is the best fertilizer for raised beds?

Miracle-Gro all-purpose plant food is a great option for providing balanced nutrients for your plants, whether you choose in-ground or bed gardening. Just be sure to follow instructions for proper application to avoid over fertilization. 

What type of greenhouse is best for year-round growing?

If you want a permanent greenhouse or conservatory, it's best to contact a local contractor as well as your city office for permitting and construction. Permanent greenhouses require poured concrete foundation slabs as well as sturdy steel-and-glass construction to trap heat and moisture. They also require HVAC systems for proper ventilation, temperature control, and to prevent mold and mildew from moisture build-up. Costs will vary wildly depending on size, location, materials, and labor. 

Do I need a permit to start a garden?

If you want to grow a few vegetables and kitchen herbs on your patio or in your backyard, you shouldn't need a permit to do so. However, you may want to check with any apartment complex or HOA regulations so you don't come home to find your mint and poblano pepper plants have been confiscated.  

If you're looking to start a community garden, contact your city office for guidelines and permitting questions. Do be aware, though, that community gardens require time, effort, and money to operate; so make sure that everyone interested in the project is aware of rules and regulations for planting, maintaining the garden, and harvesting. You may also need to petition appropriate non-profits and organizations for sponsorship; If granted, sponsorship usually requires your garden to display the organization's logo as well as an acknowledgement of their funding.

Can I grow herbs indoors year-round?

Absolutely! And you don't even need a fancy hydroponic setup to do so. As long as you have a good, full-spectrum grow light for seedlings and to supplement low-intensity winter sunlight, consistent temperatures and humidity in your home -- and no pets that will eat your plants -- you'll be able to grow kitchen herbs and even some varieties of vegetables like tomatoes indoors year-round. 

What plants are toxic to pets?

If you're a pet parent, you know that they'll get into anything and everything -- especially if it's bad for them. If you have cats, you'll want to avoid: garlic, onions, oregano, marjoram, rosemary, lavender, tarragon, and all varieties of mint except catmint/catnip. If you're not sure how to tell a plant is in the mint family, check the stem: plants in the mint family have a distinctive, square stem. 

If you have dogs, you'll want to avoid planting these in your garden: chives and garlic, lavender, oregano, marjoram, mint (two varieties are toxic and most others cause GI issues), flat-leaf Italian parsley, and thyme. 

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