The best books for new gardeners

Daryl Beyers Author Of The New Gardener's Handbook: Everything You Need to Know to Grow a Beautiful and Bountiful Garden
By Daryl Beyers

Who am I?

As a gardening instructor and designer, I've been recommending these five books for years. They were the core texts of the Fundamentals of Gardening course I've been teaching at the New York Botanical Garden for over a decade. Since the publication of The New Gardener’s Handbook, which covers all these topics in a more abbreviated way, I still recommend these five books to my students if they want to dig deeper. These books are what I call “keeper texts.” I own fewer and fewer actual gardening books these days, but it's a fact that a copy of each of these excellent resources resides on my office bookshelf where I refer to them frequently. 


I wrote...

The New Gardener's Handbook: Everything You Need to Know to Grow a Beautiful and Bountiful Garden

By Daryl Beyers,

Book cover of The New Gardener's Handbook: Everything You Need to Know to Grow a Beautiful and Bountiful Garden

What is my book about?

Every new gardener has to start somewhere—and the process can be intimidating. Knowing when and what to plant, how to care for the plants once they’re in the ground, and how to keep pests and diseases away is a lot to take on. Luckily, Daryl Beyers—an expert from the New York Botanical Garden—has written what will be a go-to resource for decades to come.

The New Gardener’s Handbook is a comprehensive overview of the fundamentals of gardening, based on the introductory gardening class that Beyers teaches at NYBG. Readers will learn about soil, plant selection, propagation, planting and mulching, watering and feeding, pruning, and weeds, pests, and diseases. Featuring inspiring photography and helpful illustrations, The New Gardener’s Handbook gives home gardeners a foundation upon which they can grow.

The books I picked & why

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Botany for Gardeners

By Brian Capon,

Book cover of Botany for Gardeners

Why this book?

I’ve been recommending Brian Capon’s Botany for Gardeners to my gardening students for years. Unlike your typical botany textbook, it’s written expressly for gardeners, which means it presents all you need to know about botany if you are a gardener, not a scientist or a botany student. The presentation is clear, concise, and conversational, so it feels like learning about botany from a friend…a really smart friend! This book will either take you as far as you need to go in botany, or it will open you up to the world of botany and inspire you to learn more. 


The Soul of Soil: A Soil-Building Guide for Master Gardeners and Farmers

By Joseph Smillie, Grace Gershuny,

Book cover of The Soul of Soil: A Soil-Building Guide for Master Gardeners and Farmers

Why this book?

Soil is, without question, the foundation upon which every garden grows, and Grace Gershuny’s excellent follow-up to her classic, Start with Soil, is probably the best plain-spoken explanation of how soil works that you will find. I took soil science in college and barely survived. If only I had known about this book, it might have saved me some heartache and a flirtation with a failing grade. The Soul of Soil teaches you soil science in a fun and friendly way, which is exactly what gardening is meant to be.  


The Plant Propagator's Bible: A Step-By-Step Guide to Propagating Every Plant in Your Garden

By Miranda Smith,

Book cover of The Plant Propagator's Bible: A Step-By-Step Guide to Propagating Every Plant in Your Garden

Why this book?

One of the most exciting things new gardeners learn is how to make more plants, either by collecting seeds from the plants in their garden or learning how to clone the plants they own. Plant propagation is part science, part faith, and part plant wizardry, and Smith’s step-by-step presentation is the best I have found. With a recently published new edition, it’s easier than ever to have an illustrated guide at your side, showing you how to start seeds, take cuttings, or make grafts of all your favorite plants. 


The Pruning of Trees, Shrubs, and Conifers

By George Ernest Brown, Tony Kirkham,

Book cover of The Pruning of Trees, Shrubs, and Conifers

Why this book?

Pruning is an easy skill to learn but a difficult art to master, and what better way to learn the trick of the trade than from two renowned English gardening experts. The first edition is a classic, while the second edition brings the techniques presented up to date, based upon all the recent science. It covers every possible pruning technique, from basic cuts to pleaching and making espaliers. The best part of this book is the index of plants at the back which provides a list of every possible woody plant and the right way, or ways, to prune it. This is a book I still carry in my truck today, where I have it handy if I encounter an unfamiliar plant that needs some thoughtful cuts. 


Cass Turnbull's Guide to Pruning: What, When, Where & How to Prune for a More Beautiful Garden

By Cass Turnbull,

Book cover of Cass Turnbull's Guide to Pruning: What, When, Where & How to Prune for a More Beautiful Garden

Why this book?

This book perfectly demystifies the art of pruning trees and shrubs for even the most apprehensive gardener. Turnbull’s conversational style and matter-of-fact presentation of all you need to know to do it right and not wreck your plants, has been a fan favorite for years. I recommend it to my gardening students that may find the Brown/Kirkham pruning book a bit on the dry side. Cass makes pruning sound fun, and important, blending her horticultural knowledge and skill with a keen political sensibility that stresses the ethics of doing things the right way for the health and well-being of your plants.  


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