The Perfect Plants for Beginner Gardeners

Want to start gardening, but it just seems too hard? We’re here to help.

Kaylee Hammonds
Oregano, Sage and Rosemary
Laurey W. Glenn

We get it: You want to start gardening, but you aren’t sure where to start. It can be bewildering and there’s so much information out there—we’ve been publishing garden articles for the past fifty years! And for the last thirty-three, our Grumpy Gardener has solved your garden problems, answered questions no one asked, and generally talked a lot about crepe myrtles. These are all great things, but if you’re just starting out, it can be helpful to have a list of fool-proof plants that are easy to grow. If you’re in the market for a house plant, we’ve got you covered. Beginner gardeners can add beauty, greenery, and get that unbelievably satisfying feeling of being able to say, “I grew this.”

Starting to garden can be intimidating. One of the best things for beginners are fresh herbs. Think about it: They like bright light and well-drained soil. Hopefully, you’ve got a window in your kitchen that can hold a few pots. You have to eat, you’re often in the kitchen, so the chances of you forgetting to care for fresh herbs are small. We like rosemary, sage, and oregano to start with—you’ll love having fresh herbs and when you casually mention that you’ve grown the actual herbs at your next dinner party, people will be amazed at you. You can cook! You can grow things! You are wonderful! From there, branch on out to other herbs. Soon, you can have a whole sill-top garden.

Green Jalapeno peppers growing on the vine
Michael Marquand/Lonely Planet Images/Getty Images

Speaking of cooking and growing things, a pepper plant (I like jalapeño) is a fail-proof veggie for a beginner gardener to grow. Much like herbs, it likes bright light and well-drained soil. One plant will produce a bumper crop. Let peppers redden on the vine for a hotter pepper, or pick when green for a slightly less spicy specimen. While they are, of course, a staple ingredient of salsa, try using them to infuse tequila for a spicy margarita.

Beginner gardeners are often wary of flowers. Not for me, we say. Stick to something green and hardy, impossible to kill (like cast iron plant). Who knew one of the easiest flowers to care for is also one of the most showy?

Don’t be intimidated by the forest of orchids that meets you at your posh grocery store. Go ahead. Take one home. If you stick a finger in the dirt and it is dry, add a little water. Emphasis on “little.” SL flower maven Buffy Hargett Miller—and expert at “easy wow”—recommends simply putting a few ice cubes on the surface of the soil once a week and voila! You’ve cared for your orchid.

Final words of advice to the beginner gardener or those looking to start a garden. First, start with easy plants, not only you’re less likely to kill them, but you’ll get a confidence boost from your success, and then go on to more challenging things. As South Carolina “tomato man” Rodger Winn says, “With tomatoes, start with something easy, like a cherry variety tomatoes. Then work up in size from there.” The message? Start easy, succeed, and then work your way up. You’ll be picking dinner plate dahlias and heirloom tomatoes in no time. And remember, as Grumpy says, “When a plant dies, don’t think of it as a loss, think of it as an opportunity to grow something new.”

Aspidistra elatior (Cast Iron Plant)
Matthew Ward/Getty Images

Don't ever be afraid to ask questions. Ask them at the garden center; ask them on Grumpy’s blog (He loves answering questions! The more the better!) Email them to gardens@southernliving.com. Don’t be shy! We may be biased, but we like our site for garden tips. We’re also pretty excited about our New Southern Living Garden Book, which you can buy here.