Common gardening mistakes are made by new and experienced gardeners alike. Whether you are starting a new garden bed or picking up from where you left off, there are certain habits to avoid for your garden’s prosperity. Monitoring your garden consistently will keep you in touch with any issues your plants may be experiencing.
It is important to start on the right foot or correct improper methods before they become habitual. Here are our top ten picks for common gardening mistakes you might be making:
1. Lack of Soil Prep
After determining your garden location, it is important to note the type of soil in which you will be planting. Soil comes in three main textures: sandy, silty or clay-like. Each texture contains certain sized particles which determine aeration and water retention.
To determine what type of soil you’re looking at, you can do a simple soil test or observe how your soil retains and drains water. For example, clay soil will drain slowly as the fine particles tend to compact easily. Some hardy plants, trees, or shrubs grow well in clay soil. However, the majority of flowering plants do not come equipped with strong enough root systems to thrive in clay.
Improve a clay soil garden by mixing in a layer of organic material such as compost. As compost is great for soil fertility, this is a great step regardless of the type of soil in your garden. Adding organic material will promote proper water retention and drainage. It is also a great way to keep pests and diseases at bay!
2. To Mulch or Not To Mulch?
Consistently mulching your garden throughout the season is fantastic for your soil. You can use anything from straw to ripped up fall leaves spread over your garden. These natural materials prevent soil compaction, which causes water retention and drainage issues. Spreading mulch also keeps the soil and root systems of your plants cool during hot summer days. Your soil will thank you as beneficial organisms decompose the mulch over time, adding to soil health.
Forgetting to mulch is not the only issue. Forming mulch mountains around the base of a plant is another common gardening mistake. While it may seem beneficial to surround your plants, it is best to provide a 2 to 3-inch layer of mulch, leaving space around the stem like a donut. The extra space between the mulch layer and your plant will prevent moisture buildup against the stems. Prolonged moisture here will only breed decay, increasing insects and disease.
Mulch consistently, avoiding buildup around the stems for garden success!
3. Ignoring Plant Tags
Ignoring the information provided on new plant tags can be fatal to your garden babies. These tags provide important instructions for water and light requirements, as well as spacing needs. Planting in the dark risks improper plant placement and overcrowding in your garden. For example, a shade-loving hosta’s leaves will burn when planted in direct sunlight.
You may also overcrowd your garden if you do not pay attention to the planting and space requirements. Plants and trees need air circulation for proper branch and root growth. You may notice a reduced harvest or disease spread in your overcrowded garden.
Likewise, planting the same type of tree or plant in a single row is also a common gardening mistake. If one plant catches a disease it is likely to spread down your entire beautiful row.
4. Pesty Pests
Pests find their way into our gardens whether we choose to turn a blind eye or not. It is best to sort these guys out immediately before they cause widespread damage to your plants. Looks for signs such as holes in leaves, insect clusters, and webbing to alert you of a pest invasion.
Take appropriate action depending on the type of pest. Some pests only enjoy inhabiting certain types of plants. Thus spraying your entire garden down with pesticides is more harmful and wasteful than anything. Use organic pesticides when possible, remembering that it is highly important to support the natural ecosystem found in your backyard garden.
5. Watering Issues
Under or over-watering your garden is perhaps the most common mistake on this list. Though it may seem correct to water your plants once the leaves begin to wilt, this doesn’t always signal a water need. Leaves may wilt from overwatering or as a result of the midday sun.
The time of day you water your garden is crucial. The best time is in the morning before temperatures rise and you lose most of your garden water to evaporation. Watering at this time will keep your soil cool and hydrated throughout the hottest part of the day.
Watering your garden in the evening is another common mistake. Your plants and their roots will not appreciate soaking in cold water overnight!
Avoid overwatering your garden by placing cans or shallow containers around the surface. You can determine the quantity of water your garden is receiving by measuring the amount collected in your containers after watering. This is also ideal for under-watering issues as it will tell you whether or not the water is being equally distributed.
6. Underestimating Plant Growth
This common gardening mistake takes us back to those handy plant tags! Avoid overcrowding your garden by researching the height, width, and expected spread of a new plant. Determine which USDA hardiness zone you live in, as this also impacts plant growth.
Neglecting the growth of your top-heavy plants is also a common mistake. Two common examples are tomatoes and peonies. It is crucial to insert a tall stake for top-heavy stems before the plant reaches 1/3 of its growing height. Get your stakes in the ground early before you expect any heavy winds. Otherwise, your tomato plants are likely to bear less fruit while your peonies lie face-down on the ground.
Note which plants in your garden are self-sowers to prevent overcrowding. These plants sow their seeds and need to be pulled before their seeds mature. At that point, they begin to take over, dominating even well-established perennials.
7. Allowing Weeds to Seed
Along with allowing self-sowers to dominate, weeds that are left to seed create major issues for your garden. Regular weeding is beneficial, albeit time-consuming and strenuous. If you can not weed regularly, ensure you are at least pulling the weeds that are flowering or setting seed. It is important to pull out the entire root system as opposed to chopping weeds. Avoid adding weeds with seed pods to your backyard compost.
If you are not into the back-breaking work required by regular weeding, try implementing the no-dig garden method to improve soil health and decrease weed growth.
8. Ignoring Pollinators
Here we will take a minute to remember some basic science. Plants require pollination to produce flowers and fruit! This means that you need to create a pollinator-friendly environment for your garden to thrive. Pollinators include bees, wasps, butterflies, moths, beetles, and hummingbirds.
Depending on the creature you are looking to entice, there are a plethora of flowering plants that attract pollinators to your garden. Brightly colored, tubular-shaped flowers are loved by hummingbirds and butterflies. Many fruit and vegetable plants also encourage pollination by attracting pollinators. Regardless of the plants you choose, planting a pollinator garden is key to the prosperity and longevity of your garden space.
9. Planting Too Deep
How far do you dig down when inserting a new plant into your garden bed? This information is crucial to the plant’s long-term health. Planting too deep is a common gardening mistake, that can result in premature plant death. Insert your new plants into a hole 2 to 3 times as wide as the potting container. Only dig as deep as the potting container itself. If you are mulching (and please do!), let the plant sit an inch or so higher than the surface.
Remember to fill the hole with the soil you pushed away. Do not use potting soil to fill your hole. This is a common mistake resulting in drainage issues. Potting soil also dissuades roots from growing past the hole you create, creating a weakened root system.
10. Pruning Issues
The last common mistake on our list involves pruning aggressively or prematurely. As winter weather dissipates, you might find yourself wanting to go trim down and shape all your flowering shrubs. However, you may end up cutting off this year’s blooms by pruning prematurely.
Flowering shrubs bloom on old wood, meaning last year’s growth, or new wood, meaning this year’s growth. If you know your shrub is blooming on new wood it is ok to lightly prune in early spring. Patience is key. It is best to allow your shrubs to flower and fade before pruning.
To Sum It Up
Gardening mistakes can happen whether you are an amateur or experienced gardener. Starting your garden off with proper soil preparation is key to long-term success. Observing your garden throughout the season will alert you to pest issues and water needs. Be mindful of the instructions on plant tags to determine where and when to plant.
Space your plants out accordingly and mulch regularly to keep your soil healthy and weeds at bay. Remember to include flowering plants that will attract pollinators to your yard. You are well on your way to gardening success!