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How To Plant the First Plant In Your Bare Garden

How to plant a plant into the ground

By now, you’ve probably chosen a plant from the nursery or garden center, purchased it and brought it home. But, now you need to actually install it into your landscape. For many beginner gardeners, this is about the time that they start feeling a bit overwhelmed, nervous, anxious… wondering how to do it correctly, if you’ve chosen the right plant, if you’re going to be able to keep it alive.

Learn the exact steps you need to take as a complete beginner to get your plant from its nursery pot into your landscape.

First, I’d recommend that you read over my flower gardening for beginners article to learn all of the things that no one really tells you about landscape gardening as a beginner. This will help you to avoid a lot of the mistakes that beginners make. Once you read that, come back to this article to learn the planting basics.

Materials Needed to Plant a Plant in the Ground

In addition to the plant you would like to plant, you’ll need a few more things on hand to plant a plant correctly:

  • Garden trowel or a shovel
    • You can pick up garden trowels for as cheap as $1 in your neighborhood. It’s nice to have a few different types trowels.
    • If you’re looking for a recommendation, I like this set of aluminum alloy garden tools on Amazon. These also have a nice rubber grip and the whole set is under $20.
  • Shovel:
    • A really good shovel can also cost as much as $30-40. But, purchasing something high-quality will save you a lot of time and frustration in the long run if you plan to do a lot of gardening.
    • My favorite shovel for planting is this Fiskars transplanting spade (buy on Amazon). It’s really great for women because the shovel is narrow… makes it easier to dig. A regular shovel works fine, too.
  • Gardening gloves
    • There are so many gardening gloves to choose from. But for regular hobby gardening, I recommend the little cotton gloves that have rubber on the palm and finger areas. You can usually get a pack of 6 pretty cheap… and I’d rather have these if they get really messed up I can just throw them away rather than trying to save them. Here’s a 6 pack on Amazon you can try out for about $2-3/pair.
  • A watering can or a hose with attachment to reach your plant
    • I like this 2.6 gallon easy pour watering can on Amazon
    • For a hose attachment, I am a big fan of the all metal options with different spraying options, like this one on Amazon. But, the plastic ones will work fine too. Eventually they’ll end up leaking all over on you so be prepared to either buy a good attachment or just replace the cheap one every season.
  • A bucket or small bin (to mix your soil)
    • I really like the Argee potting trays on Amazon. A 2-5 gallon bucket also works fine!
  • Compost
    • You can purchase a bag of this at the garden center or make your own.
  • Mulch
    • You can purchase a bag at the garden center or use straw, grass clippings or leaves.

If you’re looking for the best tools to care for your new garden, check out all of my recommendations in my Amazon Storefront.

How to plant a plant in the ground

Now that you have your materials and your plant on hand, you’re ready to put your plant into the ground! Yay!

1- Prepare your garden bed area

The first step to getting your plant into the ground is to prepare your garden bed area. You will either be starting a brand new garden bed in the grass. Or, planting your plant into an existing garden bed. The preparation for these areas is different so let’s go over each one.

How to prepare an unestablished garden bed area (i.e. a new spot)

If you’re planting in an unestablished bed (a new spot), the first step is to remove the grass and till the soil up a bit so that it’s easy for the plant to grow into the soil.

Option 1: You can remove the grass by hand and break up the soil with a shovel or a pick axe. But, this is really backbreaking work.

Using a pick axe to plant a plant in an unestablished bed.
A pick axe is also a great tool to have if you want to prepare an unestablished garden bed area and you have rocky, hard or clay soil.

Option 2 (recommended): The way that I recommend, which is much easier on your back, is called the “no dig” method. In this method you’ll basically be smothering out the grass using cardboard or several layers of newspaper. By wetting the area and adding compost and mulch, you will attract worms and other microorganisms to the surface of the ground. These little guys will till the soil for you so you don’t have to. Pretty cool, right?

Use the no-dig garden method to plant a plant into the ground with less work.
The “no dig” method is a lot less labor intensive and will also improve the quality of your soil!

You can check out my post about how to create a no-dig garden bed. This is the easiest way I’ve found for creating a brand new flower bed. So, if you follow the steps there you will be on your way to planting.

How to prepare an existing garden bed area

If you already have an existing garden bed at your house but you’ve never planted in it, it’s really quite simple. Instead of tilling up the soil or using the “no dig” method, all you need to do is sweep existing mulch or other debris away from your planting area.

Once you’ve completed the steps to prepare your new or existing garden bed, every other step is the same for both new and existing beds.

When to plant a plant

You don’t want to plant in the extreme heat or cold. It’s recommended to plant in early spring or in the fall. First, head to the Farmer’s Almanac First and Last Frost Dates calculator. When you enter your city or zipcode, it will tell you when you can typically expect the last spring frost date as well as the first fall frost date in your area.

Use these dates as a guide as it can always frost earlier or later. In the spring, I usually wait an additional 2 weeks past the last spring frost date. In the fall, plan to plant at least 6 weeks before the first fall frost date. This will give your plants time to establish roots before it gets too cold. You can also plant any time of year. But planting in the heat of the summer is stressful on your plants. You have to do a lot more watering and give your plants more care than if you wait until fall or early spring.

As far as the time of day, it’s better to plant in the early morning or evening, when the sun isn’t going to dry out your plants.

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2- Dig a hole for your new plant

Edge the flower bed
Use a shovel or a hand trowel to dig a hole for your new plant that’s the same depth as your pot but twice as wide.

It sounds simple enough, right? But a lot of beginners get hung up on actually digging the hole. So, here’s some advice to get you through it.

Make the hole as deep as the plant’s pot, but twice as wide as the plant pot. This will give your plant some room to establish and for its roots to grow outward. We’ll also be adding some nutrient-rich soil to the hole so we need the extra space for that.

3- Prepare your garden soil

adding some compost to your native soil will help your new plant
In a bucket, mix the soil from your planting hole with some nutrient-rich compost.

Next, take the soil from the hole that you just dug, and put it into a bucket or small bin. Mix an equal amount of compost into your native soil. This will feed your plant so that it has enough nutrients to grow strong roots.

4- Place your plant into the hole

Put your plant into the center of your hole. Make sure that the plant is planted in the hole at the same height as it was in your pot.

If your plant is higher than ground level you’ll need to remove it and dig down a little further. If your plant is too deep in the hole, put some soil back into the bottom of the hole until the place where the soil meets your plant in the pot is level with the ground. Planting too deep is one of the biggest mistakes I see beginner gardeners make. This can injure or kill your plant… so take your time getting this right.

5- Backfill the hole around your plant

Once your plant is positioned at the right height, you’ll surround the plant with that nice mixture of native soil and compost that you’ve just made.

So, don’t mound the soil up higher than how it was positioned. You’ll want to push down around the plant to make sure that it’s secure in the hole. But you don’t have to pack down the soil so hard that you can’t move it around.

You may have some extra soil left over in your bucket. That’s ok! Just hold onto it for now!

6- Water your newly planted plant

Once the soil is in place, give your plant a good, long drink. Water from the hose for 30 seconds to a minute on the “sprinkle” setting. Don’t blast the hose at your plant… he’s very fragile right now. You can also water the plant with a watering can.

Water at the base of the plant and keep the leaves dry. If you get the leaves wet, you can introduce different types of fungal diseases.

7- “Firm in” your plant and add extra soil if needed

Sometimes after your plant is watered, the soil will settle a little bit. That’s because the water will weigh down the soil and remove any air pockets that are in the soil. This is a good thing because those air pockets can cause problems for your new plant.

So, after watering, you want to tamp down the soil around the plant again. I just use my hands for this part. Add some more of your compost/soil mix if needed to fill the hole back up so the soil is level with the ground.

8- Mulch your newly planted plant

After you plant a plant, adding a 3 inch layer of mulch will protect it.
A 3″ layer of mulch around your new plants is recommended to retain moisture and prevent weeds.

Then, cover the soil around the plant with your mulch. You can use a 3″ layer and expand it around the area of your plant several inches or even feet. Mulch helps your plant to retain moisture so it doesn’t dry out. It’s also a great way to suppress any weeds from growing in your garden bed.

But…do not put the mulch right up against your plant. Make sure that the stem of your plant is not touching the mulch. This will cause rot and your plant may not survive if the base of the stem is not open to the air. So, leave a gap of two or three inches between the stem and the mulch.

9- Water your plant regularly for the next several weeks

You should remember to water the plant regularly for at least the first 2-4 weeks after planting. It will be very fragile at first even if it’s a tough, drought-tolerant plant. So, you may need to baby it for the first month or so.

If it’s very hot and dry, water your plant in every day in the morning and the evening.

If the weather is moderate, you can probably water every two or three days in the morning or the evening.

After this 2-4 weeks, your plant should be established. Once your plants are established, most need about 1” of water each week… and this amount includes the amount of water from the rain, too.

A rain gauge is an easy way to determine how much rain water your plants get in one week. They are very reasonably priced and take the guesswork out of watering. I use this one from Amazon.

So how do you know how much water is 1″ of water? Great question! A nifty trick is to use an empty 1″ can (like from tuna fish or cat food). Place the empty can next to the plant you need to water. Set a timer and begin watering using the hose or your watering can. When the can fills up, stop your timer. You now know how long it takes to provide 1″ of water using whatever method of watering you prefer.

10- Planting doesn’t have to be permanent

Planting a plant isn't permanent you can dig it up and move it later
If you (or your plant) isn’t happy with the location you chose, you can always move it later.

Lastly, I want to point out that this does not have to be permanent. So if you are worried about making a mistake, it’s best to plant a plant as soon as possible. Don’t leave your plant in its plastic plant pot from the store any longer than you have to. Choose a location for your plant and get it planted in the ground as fast as possible.

If you don’t like how it looks, you can always dig it up and transplant it later (in the spring or fall is the best time). You can move most of your smaller plants and flowers without any trouble at all. Even if they’ve been in the same location for years! So, don’t get nervous. Just pick a spot, plant it and see how it goes.

However, if you are planting larger shrubs or trees you should try to site them correctly the first time… they can be a bit more difficult to move later (although it can be done).

Wrapping Up

Well, I think we’ve covered just about everything there is to know about how to plant a plant in the ground for your very first time. I hope this the first of many plants that you will plant.

To learn some more great gardening tips, please head over to this page to grab one of my free guides — this will also add you to my email list. I sent out free weekly emails that will give you lots of tips and tricks to help you grow as a gardener!

And, if you’re looking for some more information, you should definitely read my flower gardening for beginners post! It has tons of tips and tricks so that you can succeed at flower gardening.

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