The first step to successful gardening is to remember that gardening is about connecting to nature, and nature is unpredictable. That’s according to Rebecca Sears, the chief gardening guru for Green Garden Products, owner of Ferry-Morse Gardening. Many people begin gardening as the weather warms up in the spring, whether that means planting flowers or growing vegetables and herbs. But gardening can be intimidating to first timers or people who’ve had bad experiences in the past. When it comes to gardening best practices, there often is no “golden rule and every plant is unique,” Sears said. “Enjoy the learning process and the highs of the harvest, and learn from the lows.”
Having said that, the right tool can go a long way in helping your gardening despite its curve balls. To give you an idea of where to get started on your own gardening toolkit, we consulted garden experts for beginner tips and recommendations for the best gardening tools to keep on hand during the growing season.
Best indoor gardening tools
You can plant seeds directly in your garden, of course, but some may benefit from starting off inside, according to Erin Benzakein, founder of Floret Flowers. Starting seeds is much easier than people think, she added. Here are a few items experts recommend.
Sears said these lights help indoor seedlings get the light they need to grow healthy and strong without becoming “leggy,” or floppy to the point that they’re falling over. Grow lights also prevent plants from reaching for a light source that’s far away. This grow light has a 4.7-star average rating from over 24,000 reviews on Amazon. It clips onto tables and countertops, and you can program it to automatically turn on and off at certain points throughout the day. It utilizes a red and blue LED light combination. The light comes with a control panel that allows you to choose between three time modes, nine dim modes and three switch modes.
A heat mat is the secret to speedy seed germination, according to Sears. Place planters on top of a mat like this one from Vivosun, which has a 4.6-star average rating from over 5,300 reviews on Amazon. The mat gives off heat, signaling to seeds that it’s time to start growing. This heat mat is flexible and water-resistant, and it comes with a digital thermostat that you can use to adjust the mat’s temperature.
You can start your seeds indoors in Jiffy Peat Pots, which are made from organic peat, and plant them in the ground with the seedling it holds. Sears said this reduces shock to the plant when it’s moved, and prevents damage to the roots. Jiffy Peat Pots have a 4.6-star average rating from over 580 reviews on Amazon.
Best outdoor gardening tools
Over time, you’ll develop a collection of tools that work best for you and your garden. But to start, Benzakein, who’s authored multiple books on flowers and gardening, suggested keeping a few basic tools on hand, like a shovel and hoe. To store gardening tools, Sears recommended using beverage coolers. She said they’re weather-proof and come in many different sizes, and you can put them next to your outdoor garden, in your garage or on your patio or deck.
Benzakein said she tried different pairs of floral snips after experiencing wrist pain, and found these to be the best option. They boast a 4.8-star average rating from over 140 reviews on Amazon. They’re lightweight and have thin, pointed blades, which she said work well for harvesting delicate flowers, as well as cutting thick stems. Benzakein noted that the snips also stay sharp over time and are shaped to fit in the palm of your hand.
This soil knife boasts a sharp wide blade, which Benzakein said is useful for transplanting young plants and weeding. She said a soil knife is one of the most versatile garden tools, as you can also use it to divide perennial plants, open plastic bags and cut twine. This soil knife has a 4.8-star average rating from over 3,300 reviews on Amazon.
This gardening tool is a hoe and three-prong cultivator in one, and it has a 4.3-star average rating from over 2,000 reviews on Amazon. Benzakein said you can use a hoe to weed, while Sears said a three-prong cultivator can be used to clear away leaves, spread mulch or compost and break up dirt. This tool also has an extendable aluminum handle that adjusts in length. The tool features a hanging ring for storage, too.
While not essential, Sears said knee pads “can quickly become a best friend in the yard for comfort,” especially when you’re first planting or while weeding throughout the season since you have to get close to the ground. These knee pads are made of soft dense foam and they wrap around your knees. The adjustable straps fit knees up to 20 inches, and they have a 4.4-star average rating from over 3,300 reviews on Amazon.
Sears recommended adding a hand trowel to your collection of gardening tools. She said you can use it to dig small holes and mark rows to plant seeds. The head of this hand trowel is made from cast aluminum, a lightweight and rust-resistant material that’s strong and won’t bend if you hit a rock while digging. It also features a soft ergonomic handle and has a 4.6-star average rating from over 200 reviews on Amazon.
A round head shovel like this one is useful for digging large holes and moving soil, or adding soil to pots and gardening beds, according to Sears. It has a 48 inch handle made from fiberglass, making it sturdy and giving you plenty of room to grip. Its head is made from tempered-steel and it has a 4.7-star average rating from about 1,000 reviews on Amazon.
Best plant nutrients
Beyond sunlight and water, Sears said it’s important to remember that plants are living organisms — they need nutrients to support their growth just like we do. Benzakein noted that “you get what you put into your garden.” When the time comes to plant in the ground, that might mean adding nutrients to the soil, whether that’s in the form of vitamins or compost. Benzakein suggested staying away from weed killers and other chemicals so as to not add toxins to your soil.
Benzakein said you can make your own compost at home, but brands also sell pre-mixed compost. Black Gold Organic Garden Compost is made from natural ingredients like bark and moss, and it has a 4.4-star average rating from about six reviews on Amazon.
To keep plants healthy, Sears recommended using a vitamin solution made with kelp like this one from SUPERthrive, which has a 4.7-star average rating from over 7,900 reviews on Amazon. The kelp in the formula boosts plants’ ability to perform photosynthesis and promotes root growth, while the vitamin solution overall adds nutrients back into soil. Sears also uses SUPERthrive Organic All-Purpose Plant Food.
Best gardening apparel
It’s important to be comfortable in the garden, especially if you’re spending a lot of time planting, weeding and watering. Experts suggested investing in a high quality pair of boots and gloves you can use for multiple seasons.
Boots may be less necessary in dry climates, but Benzakein said they’re essential to keeping her feet dry and warm in the garden. She said Bogs has been her go-to brand for years. These slip-on boots are water-resistant and they have a cushioned sole to keep feet comfortable. They come in women’s sizes ranging from 6 to 11, and they’re available in colors like Mocha, Sage and Black. Bogs also sells clogs, Chelsea boots, ankle boots, rain boots and more for gardening. On Zappos, 59 percent of 279 reviewers gave these boots a 5-star rating.
Sears said your hands are your most important gardening tool, so you always have to protect them. Benzakein recommended these gloves for their durability and breathability. They also have a 4.8-star average rating from over 230 reviews on Amazon. She said they’re easy to clean — you can throw them in the washing machine. The gloves are available colors like Black and White, and they come in sizes ranging from XS to XXL.
Outdoor gardening: Tips and where to start
While it can be tempting to spontaneously start digging and planting seeds in your backyard, Sears said it’s important to first consider what types of plants will grow best where you live. She said factors like light, temperature and space all play into how well plants grow. Before purchasing seeds or seedlings, Sears recommended consulting the United States Department of Agriculture’s Plant Hardiness Zone Map, which can help you figure out the best times to plant. Also, be sure to survey where you plan to place your garden and consider factors like shade and access to sunlight.
If you don’t have a yard to garden in, opt for a portable stand planter. Sears said they’re great to add to patios or balconies, and allow for drainage and root aeration while also managing plant temperature. Since the planter is portable, you can move it around to find a spot with the best sunlight, too.
Benzakein recommended trying to grow flowers from seeds, although it can be a tricky process. She recently created a mini course to help gardeners learn how to grow flowers from seed, which she said gives you access to hundreds of specialty varieties seedlings may not offer. It’s the most affordable way to fill a garden quickly, too.
“Don’t despair if you kill a few plants,” Benzakein said. “Even experienced gardeners accidentally kill plants. It’s all part of the gardening process.”
Alternatively, Sears said, you can plant seedlings, which are live baby flower, herb and vegetable plants that have an established root system. Using seedlings allows gardeners to skip the seed germination process. You can plant seedlings directly into the ground or in pots with soil.
For beginner gardeners, Sears suggested starting with easy-to-grow flower varieties like sunflowers and marigolds. Edible plants like basil, zucchini, beans and cucumbers can be grown by gardeners of any skill level, too. Benzakein recommended first time gardeners grow zinnias, cosmos and globe amaranth from seeds as well.
If you’re not ready to plant in the ground yet, Sears said to opt for flowers or herbs in planters. You’ll have more control of a plant’s water intake and sun exposure. She said herbs like basil, oregano and rosemary grow well in containers, as do flowers like petunias, zinnias and marigolds.
Catch up on the latest from NBC News Shopping guides and recommendations and download the NBC News app for full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak.