Planning and starting a backyard garden for beginners

This guest post is brought to you by Pangolin.Green, helping you engage with the natural world for a sustainable and fulfilling life.

Planning a Backyard Garden


Gardening is expensive, time-consuming, and a lot of hard work, right? Wrong! You’ll be surprised at just how easy it can be. Growing your own food in your backyard or windowsill is great for the environment, too. Most food you find in the grocery store is produced via industrial farming and shipped in from far away, causing greenhouse gas emissions. When you grow food locally, you are protecting the climate and caring for the earth. Not only that, but working the soil with your hands is a rewarding and fulfilling experience. Read on to learn how gardening can be easy, cheap and fun.

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Select Your Crops

To start a garden you must first decide what you want to grow. Radishes, kale, spinach, zucchini, squash, and green onion are all great veggies that are super easy for beginners. Before you rush off and plant these, however, be sure to look up your USDA hardiness zone. Your hardiness zone is a category describing the climate conditions in your area. It determines which crops will survive in your garden without extra protection. Make sure the plants you select are compatible with your hardiness zone before planting.

Additional considerations are sunlight and water. How much sunlight do you have available? Some plants need to be in full shade, others in partial or full sun. Too much or too little water can be harmful as well. Some plants cannot tolerate rainy areas! Tomatoes, for example, may burst if overwatered.

Lots to consider, right? To keep it simple, consider plants that are native to your local area. These plants will be non-invasive and are known to thrive in your climate. Here in Oregon we have lots of native berries that are great for making jams and jellies!

Don’t have much time or energy to spend in the garden? In that case you should think about perennial plants. These are species that survive the winter to give yields year after year. Blueberries and raspberries are great examples. Perennials are a great option if you don’t have the time to re-plant your garden every year.

Finally, consider planting diverse varieties. The more diverse your garden, the more resilient to pests and harsh conditions it will be. Not only that, but diversity is great for the soil’s long-term health.

Select a Garden Site

Now that you’ve chosen your garden crops, it’s time to choose a site to plant them in. When selecting a site, take note of the amount of sunlight falling on it throughout the day. How many hours of sunlight does the plot get in a day? This will determine if the site is healthy for your plants. You might even choose two or three sites for plants with different sunlight requirements. Here's a guide!

Next, investigate the quality of the soil in your desired site. Is the soil dark and rich or dusty and poor? Does it drain well or hold onto moisture? Are there signs of life - worms, bugs, fungus, etc. - in the soil? If the soil is too poor, you may need to add compost, biochar, or other natural amendments to improve it and give your crops the nutrients they need. Soil acidity is another consideration. Every plant can tolerate a certain range between acidic and alkaline. There are inexpensive kits you can use to measure the acidity of your soil at home. If too acidic, or not enough, the soil can be amended until it is just right.



Set up your Garden Beds

Now you’ll need garden beds in which to plant! These can be as simple as a patch of loosened soil. Beds can be as wide as twice your max comfortable reach distance, so about four feet. Plan out how your rows will fit into the beds based on your plants’ spacing requirements. If you have difficulty bending over, consider using raised garden beds. Animal water troughs are often used for this purpose. You can also build your own if you have a little woodworking experience. These planters can take some serious volume to fill, so start filling the bottom layer with large logs and work your way up to smaller material. The top layer of soil should be at least two feet deep.


To till or not to till? (Probably don't)

Healthy soil is teeming with life! One important example is mycorrhizae. Mycorrhizae helps expand the root network of plants and absorb vital nutrients. Tilling soil can interfere with the living organisms in your soil. Leaving tilled soil uncovered is particularly detrimental as the nutrients in the topsoil can dry out and blow away. When preparing your garden beds, consider using no-till or minimal tilling methods.

Get Equipped

You don’t need expensive equipment to garden. You can get started with just a garden trowel and maybe a watering can or long hose if needed. These can be found cheaply at garage sales or used online. You’ll also need seeds or plant starts, of course. Ask around in local gardening groups, friendly gardeners may give you free seeds and seedlings to help you get started! Cheap seed packets can be found in grocery stores as well. You can also grow plants for free just by using your food waste! Lots of plants can be regrown from stems or scraps, including potatoes, beets, carrots, celery, onions, lettuce, garlic, basil, and more.

Know when to plant

Lastly, it is critical to know when to put your plants into the ground. Most are planted based on your local frost dates. Some cannot tolerate frost and must be planted after the last frost of the spring. Some seeds may need to be germinated in time to be planted, while others can be sown directly into the soil. Be sure to find out the appropriate time to plant each of your crops.


Congrats, you’re ready to get planting! Remember that gardening can be an easy, cheap, and rewarding experience. Growing your produce locally has a positive impact on the climate and on yourself. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with information, you’re not alone. Pangolin helps you plan out your garden and keep track of important dates. Check out our free tools at pangolin.green. Happy gardening!



Fight climate change in a way that works for you.

💌 Thinking about sustainability can be overwhelming after a busy workday, so we're here to help. Join over 4,000 other busy people and subscribe to Changeletter, a bite-sized action plan that'll take you 3 minutes or less to read every week.
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Headshot of Ash Borkar (a woman with glasses and a cardigan)
"The info is always timely, actionable, and never stale." - Aishwarya Borkar, Change.org
Headshot of Meghan Mehta speaking at Google with a microphone in her hand
"Making social change always felt so overwhelming until I started reading this newsletter." - Meghan Mehta, Google