11 Irish gardeners share their top tips for beginners

Getting down into the soil can be a new and foreign experience to those who have never had a gardening inclination but with gentle encouragement from these Irish gardeners, we’re sure that you’ll be able to kickstart your journey.

Now is the perfect time to get down and dirty and get your hands stuck into our Irish soil.

Whether you’re a total beginner or are just looking for more information on who to maintain your newfound love for growing, all of these tips from Irish growers will certainly add to your knowledge bank!

Barry Flinn from GIY Ireland on just going for it

The first and best piece of advice is this: just start.  Don’t wait until next month or next year.  You don’t need green fingers (they are a myth) or a degree in Latin.  Don’t be afraid.  Get yourself some seeds and put them in some soil.  The good news is that all seeds want to grow, and they already know how to do it and what they want to become. So more than likely, with just sunlight and water, they will grow.  Sowing a seed is an act of profound optimism and your attitude should be no different.

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Margaret Leahy on starting well

When you start seeds inside it’s important to harden off the little plants before planting them in the garden to allow them to acclimatise to the harder conditions outside. I call it the hardening off dance as I pop them all outside to a sheltered sunny spot in the morning and bring them indoors in the evening (music optional)! This should be done for a week up to 10 days before they are to be planted out. Have patience planting out as just as one swallow does not make a summer and a few fine days doesn’t make it ideal for tender plants.

Sam De Buitléar from Gardening Well on growing potatoes

First, you to get a decent-sized container with holes in the bottom. You can use any old container like a bucket, a trug or even an old chicken manure tub. You can use a pot, of course, but if you are using something else you might need to drill holes into the bottom if it doesn’t already have drainage holes. Put 4 – 5 holes in the bottom.

The key tip about planting potatoes is you can just plant any non-cooked potatoes to make potatoes so you don’t have to go to the garden centre to get special seed potatoes and that’s good because we have to avoid unnecessary trips! Next fill your container with 1/3 of compost, or soil. Put the potatoes in and make sure that they are spaced out and the eyes are facing upwards.

Once you’ve done that you can cover the potatoes with some more compost. Now water them well, leave in a sunny spot and then leave them to grow. When they start to grow out of the compost just remember to add more each time until the container is full. You get more potatoes that way! Water when the compost gets dry. In Ireland, you might not need to do that much watering because you know – the rain! Harvest time is 90-140 days after planting and after the potatoes flower. Almost anybody can do this so get off your couch, get out and plant some potatoes.

Carol Connolly on being ok with your failures

No-one has a green thumb. The amazing gardener you admire has killed many, many plants. Like, so many. I once killed 90 courgette seedlings in a row. But I learned from each of those failures and that 91st seedling thrived. There are no green thumbs, but there is research, experience, and when that fails sheer stubbornness. So when your plant dies, you haven’t failed. It’s the first step to being an expert.

Grow what you love… or what someone else loves.

I have no interest in salad leaves. So often the advice for beginner gardeners is to start with the easiest things like radishes, or salad leaves, or peas. But if you aren’t actually excited to eat the end product, it’s hard to maintain the motivation to keep caring for the wee plant-y during the weeks between sowing and harvest. So pick things you actually like, or that you have never eaten and are excited to try. But then why do I have a tray of lettuce leaves sprouting right now? Because my Mum loves her salad. Growing things for other people, and seeing them eat what you grew, can often provide all the motivation anyone would need.

Caitríona Redmond on keeping plants alive

I was a scourge for plants and flowers before I started growing my own food. There’s nothing like the added incentive of having to feed yourself from what you grow to help you keep your food alive!

I could give you a thousand top tips but I think the best is to get three trays that fit on your windowsills. Sow the first tray with mixed leaf seeds today and keep watered and in sunlight. In 3 weeks time start the second one in the same way. In 6 weeks time, start the 3rd. By the time you start the 3rd tray you should be able to cut and come again from the salad leaves in the first.

By the time you finish eating from the first tray, you can clear it and start all over again. You’ll never buy a bag of lettuce leaves again. It’s the most cost-effective way to grow your own food at home when you don’t have a garden and all you need is a windowsill or two.

For me my starter plants were peas. We grew them in the front garden (I have a postage stamp of a garden). The beauty of peas is that you can eat them at every stage of growth – the seedlings, the pea pods while still tender and young, then the peas themselves. They’re a great starter plant to work on with kids. Above all else enjoy the magic of seeing your seeds germinate and grow. It is an absolute wonder to me still, many years from when I first sowed my own food!

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Gerard Slevin on using egg boxes!

Try egg boxes instead of buying plastic seed trays. When you’re ready to plant outdoors, simply cut the box into modules place directly in the ground. The cardboard will break down in the soil as the plant grows. Broken eggs shells also work as an eco-friendly way of keeping the slugs from eating your delicious leaves.

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Dee Sewell from Greenside Up on seed planning

Avoid planting all your seeds at once. Remember that every seed is potentially a plant. Do you really need 1000 lettuce plants at the same time? If not, Plant One for the Slug, One for the Snail, One to Thrive and One to Fail. The rest of the seeds can be stored in a cool, airtight container ready to be sown again in a few weeks or next year.

Una and Michael Byrne on berries and drip feeders

You’re not the only one who likes berry bushes! Make sure to cover your bushes as the fruit ripens to deter any hungry garden visitors. I diligently checked my gooseberry bush every day to see when I should pick them. I finally decided one more day should have them at the perfect ripeness but the wood pigeons got there before me and the whole bush was cleared out early the next morning!

You can recycle water bottles by cutting off the ends and turning them upside down in your soil and filling with water. You can buy drip feeders that fit a standard bottle that stick into the ground and help keep your plants fed but if you can’t get your hands on a drip feeder, you could 3d print one, or poke a few holes in the bottle cap.

You will need to bury the bottle a bit with the cap method to make sure the water is where the roots will find it and stop your bottle falling over! Once in place at the base of your plant, fill about halfway and it’ll water your plants over time for you. We usually use this method once the plants are well established in the greenhouse. If you don’t have a bottle you could bury some old plastic of the plant pots your plants came in about halfway, though the holes will be a bit bigger so it’ll release the water quicker!

Máire Liath Ní Bhrádaigh on foraging nettles

My Mum’s favourite this time of year was when the ubiquitous nettle was about. Tastes like spinach, but richer in nutrients. To forage, take with you long-sleeved rubber gloves and pick the top third for tenderness. Shake the nettles upside down to remove dust.

With a gloved hand grasp the stem and drag down letting the leaves fall in your bag. This way you fit more in! Good in soups, tea, however, try this: rinse in a sieve, shake out the water. Drop into a frying pan with a bit of garlic. Mum fried in butter, I fry in olive oil. Let it wilt until shiny. Heaven on a plate!

Many thanks to all of these Irish gardeners for sharing their tips and tricks. If you would like to discover more things that you can do with your spare time, check out our Irish film list here or our podcast list here.

Dan Nickström on making use of YouTube

Take a look at ‘No Dig’ gardening by Charles Dowding on YouTube. It’s an amazingly simple method of gardening that gives amazing yields, fewer weeds and as the name suggests, requires no digging of the soil. All you need to start is compost and cardboard and you can plant seeds in it immediately.

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I'm a freelance content creator and a journalist who has a strong desire to do as much as possible in the time I've got left on this planet. I got a taste for storytelling when I interned in Storyful many moons ago and since then have worked for places like WorldIrish (now Irish Central), Her.ie and Lonely Planet. I am constantly curious.

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