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The Beginner’s Guide to Gardening and Landscaping

Gardening has always been one of America’s favorite pastimes. In fact, it’s a multi-billion dollar industry. According to 2012 research, close to half of Americans gardened within the past year. Avid gardeners total at more than 164 million enthusiasts in the US.

If you’re itching to get started on a gardening project, it helps to know what you’re getting into. For starters, one of the most common misconceptions is the confusion between gardening and landscaping. Are gardening and landscaping the same? If not, how do they differ? We’re glad you asked.

Landscaping and gardening share a number of similarities, but they are not one and the same. Landscaping and gardening both focus on
cultivating and maintaining beautiful, functional outdoor spaces. These areas may include large acreages, like parks and golf courses, or small backyard gardens. However, the difference between landscaping and gardening is quite distinct.

The word “landschap” was first used by Dutch artists in the 16th century when painting beautiful scenery. The English word “landschap” takes cues from the original Dutch word to describe picturesque outdoor spaces

By definition, landscaping involves creating a plan or picture for an aesthetically pleasing outdoor area—with the use of grasses, plants, trees, flowers, and hardscapes, like water features, stones, fences, planting beds, etc.

Gardening is similar to landscaping in that it involves design and maintenance. Nevertheless, gardening mainly focuses on cultivating plants or flowers within a space. Landscaping caters to the bigger picture. A landscaper may design and plan for a garden of any size, but a gardener is still needed to do the “dirty work,” including planting, fertilizing, weeding, cultivating, and harvesting in season.

Landscaping and gardening have a long list of benefits

  • Planting in a garden burns 177 calories in 45 minutes, weeding burns 157 calories in the same amount of time.
  • Just five minutes of gardening exercise in the great outdoors can noticeably improve mood and self-esteem.
  • Gardening can support physical rehabilitation by retraining muscles and improving strength and coordination, according to the American Horticultural Therapy Association.
  • One 25 foot tree in a garden can reduce overall heating and cooling costs by up to 10%.
  • High-quality landscaping can speed the sale of a home by an estimated six weeks.
  • A 5% investment in the value of a home for landscaping can yield up to 150% ROI—more profitable than other household upgrades like kitchen remodeling.
  • Large trees can increase the perceived value of a home by 2.2%.
  • Hardscapes can return the investment of landscaping projects at 100%-300%.

Gardening and landscaping have countless health, environmental, and financial benefits.

Even a small garden can increase the appeal and value of your home to prove lucrative in the future. A larger investment in your home, like landscaping, has the potential to increase your return on investment by up to 300%. Here are some other lawn care service tips.

Similarly, the health benefits of gardening and landscaping abound. For many people, gardening provides the opportunity to burn calories, connect with nature, and relieve stress—all without the hassle or cost of a gym membership. When cultivating a vegetable garden, the fruits of your labors can improve your health in the form of fresh fruits and vegetables, straight to your table.

Gardening also protects mental health as it is likened to a “meditative experience” to reduce stress, anxiety, and even depression.

Gardening Tip #1

Gardening with eco-friendly goals in mind can greatly benefit the environment.

Currently, there are more than 40 million acres of lawns throughout the US. It can take 238 gallons of fresh water per person per day to keep our lawns lush and green. Mulching in a garden can help to reduce water evaporation in soil by up to 70%. Gardening can also help to cut down on household waste with the use of a compost bin, instead of sending coffee grounds, eggshells, and vegetable scraps to a landfill.

Turning food scraps into compost is a cornerstone of organic gardening. Whether it’s pit composting on site in the garden or composting in a worm bin, tumbler, or homemade bin, composting food scraps ultimatetely yields rich soil that is full of nutrients and microbes.

Mulch is another organic gardening technique. This blanket buries and protects seeds and can also be spread around larger plants. This gives the plants a huge advantage and also protects the soil microbes around them that form the vital basis of the ecosystem.

You can create or help a healthy soil food web by making sure you have 5% to 10% organic matter in your soils by just adding compost to your lawns and gardens. A healthy soil food web creates the best conditions for soil and plant health and is better for the environment.

If you’re new to gardening, start by exploring where it all begins. You’re probably familiar with photosynthesis from science class.

But how much do you remember about this process integral to plant life? In the process of photosynthesis, plants capture energy from the sun and convert it to chemical energy. This conversion takes place as a plant uses water and carbon dioxide from the air, along with sunlight and chlorophyll, to produce water, oxygen, and glucose.

Within the photosynthesis cycle, plants produce carbohydrates for our nourishment and oxygen for our survival. This process illustrates how humans and plants are dependent on each other for life. Plants use photosynthesis to provide us with the oxygen we need to breathe. We humans exhale carbon dioxide required by plants to start the process all over again.

Save for a small amount of energy derived from nuclear sources, all energy on earth comes from the sun and plants through
photosynthesis. The process of photosynthesis is further explored in the study of horticulture.
Horticulture is best defined by one of the most well-known American horticulture scholars, Liberty Hyde Bailey, as,

“Horticulture is the growing of flowers, fruits and vegetables, and of plants for ornament and fancy”.

Based on its definition, horticulture is both an art and science.

Gardening Tip #2

The average lawn needs roughly 1 inch of water per week to stay green.

Horticulture focuses on plant production and cultivation, for both functionality and aesthetics. Horticulture includes fruits, vegetables, turf grass, and ornamental plants grown in garden centers, golf courses, parks, and fields.

A horticulturist may use their knowledge of plant life to improve plant cultivation regarding quality, growth, yield, nutrition, and insect and disease resistance. A horticulturist may work as a scientist, advisor, therapist, grower, designer, gardener, or landscaper.

Gardening Tip #3

Tomatoes are the most popular vegetable grown in the US in 86% of gardens.

Like gardening and landscaping, horticulture can be a hobby too. A basic knowledge of horticulture can support your love of gardening.

As you get more advanced in your hobby, you can further study horticulture in a number of applications—the use of plants for food and medicine, the cultivation of ornamental plants and trees, the process of landscape restoration and plant conservation, and much more.

But first things first—it’s time to “dig deeper” and determine what type of garden is best for you.

Gardens come in all shapes and sizes, like:

Container Garden

A simplified version of a beginner garden; plants can be cultivated in planters, wheelbarrows, cinderblocks, or barrels in small backyards or urban areas.

Family Garden

A multipurpose, backyard play area designed for families with children; the perfect place to unwind or play on the weekend.

Flower Garden

Cultivated for the purpose of pleasure and beauty; compared to a vegetable garden, a flower garden requires much more care and maintenance.

Herb Garden

An ideal garden style for an avid gardener or cook; can be used to cultivate perennial and annual cooking herbs in a backyard garden or window box.

Japanese Garden

Primarily cultivated for the purpose of art, scenery, and beauty; traditional Japanese gardens contain miniature, abstract gardens modeled after
gardens found in Buddhist temples.

Organic Garden

Cultivated strictly without pesticides or other inorganic materials; an organic garden thrives on compost to reduce waste.

Raised Garden

Plants or flowers can be cultivated in raised flower boxes in areas with poor soil; raised garden boxes can also be used for aesthetic appeal in any garden.

Roof Gardens

Ideal for cultivation in an urban area with limited space; roof gardens are primarily decorative and can provide benefits in sustainability, temperature control, and recreation.

Vegetable Garden

Considered the most common type of garden; the average food garden size in the US is 600 ft.².

Water Garden

Combines the best of both worlds in gardening and landscaping; modern water gardens cut costs with DIY landscaping additions like preformed pools and flexible liners to cultivate water plants.

These types of gardens are not all-inclusive by any means, but they do represent some of the most common garden and landscaping concepts you’ll find around the country. The beauty of gardening is that you can make each concept unique. You can also combine several primary garden styles to create a new landscape, like an organic rooftop herb and vegetable garden.

After you’ve selected your garden type, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get to work. Here are five important guidelines to help you choose the right flowers and/or plants:

  • Decide between annuals and perennials. If you’re growing a flower garden, this is an important distinction to make. Annuals only grow in one season, meaning that you’ll have to replant next year; perennials grow for three or more seasons in a row and may cost more upfront.
  • Select specialty plants wisely. Depending on where you live, you may need to hand-pick plants that will survive in your area. Examples include drought-resistant, deer-resistant, or salt-tolerant plants.
  • Choose the right season. Flowers are best planted in a garden on or after the last
    predicted spring frost date; some bulbs can survive a frost if they are planted in the fall.
    Vegetable planting will also depend on season, unless you plant a year-round vegetable like beets, celery, fennel, onions, spinach, or potatoes.
  • Consider light conditions. A shade-loving plant can’t survive in the heat of the sun, and a sun-loving plant can’t survive in the shade.
  • Consider full growth dimensions. Plot each plant’s full diameter and height before you buy to determine where it fits in your garden plan.

You’re not ready to garden until you have the right tools in your shed.

The DIY Guide to Start a Garden

Here are 10 pro tips to begin planning your garden:

  • Check that your garden plot has enough sun exposure, based on individual plant needs.
  • Get to know your soil. Soil can be fertilized with compost; specific plant types require specific soil environments.
  • Choose between an in-ground or raised gardenbed.
  • Check plant/flower seasons and fall/spring frost dates.
  • Start slowly and plant more year after year. Over-planting early on can undercut your best gardening efforts.
  • Comparison shop plant and flower prices between nurseries before making a buy. For your lawn you can compare prices and learn how much sod costs vs grass seed.
  • Learn how to diagram. Use the help of online garden planners or templates to plot number of rows, distance between plants, and distance between rows.
  • Learn how to plant. Seedlings can be planted indoors or outdoors; if planted indoors first to get a head start on the growing season, plants can be transplanted into a garden bed later.
  • Learn how to fertilize. Research and choose the right fertilizer for your garden location and type—from complete, incomplete, chelated micronutrient, foliar, organic, and slow-release fertilizers.
  • Learn how to maintain. Create a garden care schedule to provide your plants and flowers with what they need to survive—light, water, and food in the form of water-soluble, spike, or granular nutrients.

Gardening Tip #4

Before planting, test soil pH with a soil test kit to choose the right plants for your soil type.


Hydroponics is a method of growing plants without soil. It is the fastest growing sector of agriculture, and it could very well dominate food production in the future. There are many advantages of hydroponics and here are great reasons to start
growing now…

Farmers claim that some hydroponic crops use 90% less water than the same crops in traditional soil farming.

Grown in an inert medium without soil with perfectly balanced pH, nutrient solutions and highly oxygenated water which is delivered directly to the roots.

Hydroponically grown crops can use NO herbicide or pesticide chemical which significantly impact the environment and our bodies.

You can plant 4 times the amount of crops in the same space as traditional soil farming. Some crops can grow twice as fast in hydroponic due to getting exactly the correct amount of nutrient, water and oxygen.

After you’ve mastered your beginner garden, landscaping is the next step.

Upgrade Your Garden with a Landscaping Project

If you have a large project in mind, it may be best to hire a landscaping service. Or, if you’re up to the challenge, you can brainstorm and plot a landscape yourself based on a myriad of design options. Consider a lush garden courtyard; an organized, geometric garden; a mixed foliage backyard garden border; a wild yet tamed backyard garden estate; or a paved garden path in bloom.

Once you’ve nailed down project basics, it time to get planning.

Gardening Tip #5

  • Use a color wheel to choose attractive garden flowers; as the saying goes, opposite colors work best together!
  • Assess the project site realistically and design/dream from there.
  • Research landscaping trends from design websites and specialty project sites, like Pinterest.
  • Create an attainable master plan to encompass your goals, timeline, and budget.
  • Create an action plan to dig, renovate, plant, or paint, and stick to it.
  • Create a budget to match your action plan, and stick to it.
  • Complete the project in phases to stick with reasonable goals and budgetary guidelines.
  • Be willing to spend money where it is needed—cheaper materials and plants can be a waste of cash.
  • Conversely, take the time to comparison shop and bargain hunt—save money by buying discount materials, off-brand fertilizer, and inexpensive annuals.
  • Leave room to breathe—filling every inch of open space is not only displeasing to the eye, but it’s a recipe for disaster as plants and flowers overgrow throughout the season.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for professional help when needed, even if it is just for a consultation.

“What Is the Difference Between Landscaping & Gardening?” Home Guides.
“Messenger’s Landscape, Lawn and Irrigation.” Messengerslawn.com.
“The Benefits of Gardening [infographic].” Daily Infographic RSS.
“What Is Horticulture?”Department of Horticultural Science: College of Food,
Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences: University of Minnesota.