Best Books for New Gardeners

bookshelfOn Saturday, I gave a short talk at The Common Table at the Minnesota State Fair on the Best Books for New Gardeners. Common Table is a network of designers and food people who have come together to promote local food. One of their six principles is to nurture the soil and another is to grow food.

I ended up with a long list of books for new gardeners, but here are a few to consider. Most new gardeners need three kinds of books: The first, is a basic guide —sort of like a friendly, knowledgeable neighbor that you keep on a book shelf. The second kind of book you need is a when to do what book – because a lot of garden problems can appear because things were done at the wrong time. For instance, in Minnesota, when should you plant tomatoes? I never plant my plants out until Memorial Day. The reason is it’s very easy to get a cold snap in mid to late May and the truth is, unless those tomatoes are protected by greenhouse or some kind of covering, they will just sit in the ground and shiver until the weather warms up. The third kind of book you need is an Oh-my-gosh-what-happened book that deals with the kinds of problems most gardeners will have.

Basic Guides

  • growing the midwest gardenGrowing the Midwest Garden by Edward Lyon (Timber Press, 2015) — A new book that we have at the MSHS booth at the State Fair. Ed Lyons is a well-known horticulturist from Wisconsin so this book offers solid advice that is region-specific.
  • Home Outside: Getting the Landscape You Love by Julie Moir Messrevy (Tauton Press, 2009) — This is a great guide if you are designing a new landscape. It’s full of practical advice and ideas. One of my favorite suggestions: Name your garden. It will give you a good sense of what it means to you and what it is about.
  • The Garden PrimerThe Garden Primer by Barbara Damrosch (Workman, 2008) — This is your basic, classic book on how to create and nurture a garden. If you only get one book, this might be it.
  • The Four-Season Farm Gardener’s Cookbook by Barbara Damrosch and Eliot Coleman (Workman, 2013) — In this one, Damrosch and Eliot Coleman take on vegetable gardening. The title says it is a cookbook — and it’s a good one — but the first 100 pages have some fantastic advice for starting and growing a vegetable garden.
  • Minnesota Wisconsin Getting Started Garden Guide by Melinda Myers (Cool Springs Press, 2013) — A great, basic book for beginners with information specific to our region.
  • The 20-30 Something Garden Guide by Dee Nash (St. Lynn’s Press, 2014) — A relatively new book from garden blogger Dee Nash. The illustrations are fun and the advice is solid — good for you or a young gardening friend.

 When to Do What

month by monthThere’s really only one book to recommend here, Melinda Myer’s Month-by-Month Gardening in Minnesota. The book is divided by months, of course, but also by what kind of gardening you’re doing. So, you can check in March and find out that now is a good time to start seeds.

What’s Gone Wrong?

Eventually, every gardener faces some problems. I like books that challenge gardeners to understand what is going on rather than to immediately reach for a chemical solution or worse to just give up on gardening.

  • goodweedbadweed Good Weed, Bad Weed by Nancy Gift and its companion Good Bug, Bad Bug by Jessica Wallister challenge us to think a little about why a weed is a weed – is it just a plant that is somewhere we don’t like or is it an invasive species that is going to crowd out everything in sight and undermine a lot of native plants, insects and birds. The same goes for bugs – most bugs have a role in the environment. Knowing what the bugs are after helps a lot in dealing with them.
  • Deer Resistant Landscaping by Neil Soderstrom offers a sane approach to dealing with unwanted garden visitors. Readers learn why these creatures are in our landscapes, what their role in the environment is, and what you can do to discourage their presence or live peacefully with them. The book focuses first and foremost on deer, including in-depth profiles of nearly 200 plants deer don’t like, but it also offers tips on raccoons, rabbits, voles and assorted other varmints.
  • Deerproofing Your Yard and Garden by Rhonda Massingham Hart is another great option for those plagued by deer. A Master Gardener, Hart focuses on strategies for deterring deer.

Well, that’s the short list. Next week, I’ll talk about some books that are great additions to a gardener’s library whether you are a bird gardener, a vegetable gardener or someone who loves perennials.



  1. […] the Minnesota State Fair, I gave a talk on the best books for new gardeners.  For me, it’s hard to recommend just a few books, so I’ll be posting over the next […]

  2. Jessica on October 12, 2015 at 8:11 pm

    Even though the title is sort of silly, Good Bug Bad Bug actually taught me a lot. Not just about bugs that are actually good that I assumed were bad, but also about bugs that I thought were good that were actually bad!

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