12 Common Mistakes Beginner Gardeners Make
And how to fix them.
Gardening has a learning curve, and while new gardeners can, and should, expect to reap the rewards of their early efforts, there are common growing pains everyone experiences when starting out. Learning from the mistakes of others helps us avoid common errors, and because I’ve made my share blunders over the years, you can benefit from what I did wrong. Here’s twelve common mistakes new gardeners make and how to avoid them.
Failing to Find the Sun
Sunlight powers all plant growth. This is especially true when growing edible plants with large fruits, like tomatoes, peppers, pumpkins or pears. Most vegetables and flowers need full sun, which means they require at least six hours of direct sunlight each day. Many do best with all day sun, so before you select a spot to grow your garden, check how much sun it gets over the course of a day.
Starting Too Big
Every plant you grow demands a certain amount of care for the plant to thrive. Start small. Grow just a few plants in a small plot and learn what it takes to grow those successfully. Two or three tomato plants is enough for most folks. One row of lettuce will yield plenty salads. When it comes to beans, a single vine can provide a summer supply, but must be picked daily to keep producing. For your first gardening foray plant conservatively.
Failing to Prepare the Soil
Unimproved soil is less fertile and dries out faster than soil that has been amended with organic matter. Prepare your ground for planting by top dressing the beds with an inch of fresh compost at the start of each season. There is no need to rototill your garden beds. Tilling upsets the microbial balance of the soil and will reverse the benefits of amendments like compost. Lightly rake the top inch or two to prepare for planting and grow from there.
Planting Too Soon
Cool-season-crops can be sown and grown in the early spring, even before the final frost, but most edible plants want warm temperatures to grow best. A spring freeze can kill them before they get started, so be patient. Look up the final frost date for your region and time your plantings accordingly. If starting seeds indoors use the “days to germination” listed on the packet and sow them so they germinate two to three weeks before the final frost date.
Planting Too Close
Crowded plants will compete for water and nutrients, resulting in lots of weak plants when what you want are several strong ones. Follow the spacing recommendations on the tag when planting. If starting from seed, thin the seedlings to their proper spacing once they germinate, selecting the most vigorous prospects. Planting too close results in poor air flow as plants mature, often resulting in fungal infections that can stunt growth or even kill.
Mulch helps conserve soil moisture, regulate soil temperature, and suppress weeds, but too much mulch, or the wrong type, can hurt as much as it helps. Mulch one to two inches thick to allow water to infiltrate effectively into the soil and reach plant roots. Keep mulch away from plant stems to avoid rot and disease. A light layer of an organic mulch like straw will get the job done right.
Overwatering, then Underwatering
Young seedlings and small plants don’t need a lot of water. They need consistent moisture, but not so they sit in puddles. Their root systems are small, so give them just enough but not too much. Later, when fully grown, with lots of leaves and forming fruits, plants need more water. That’s when you must not underwater your garden but increase irrigation. Skip the sprinkler and use soaker hoses to put water right where it’s wanted, onto the soil at the roots.
Proper bed preparation includes amending the soil with an organic fertilizer or a top dressing of compost, however, these nutrients need to be replenished throughout the year when growing heavy feeders like corn, squash or cucumbers. Just a sprinkle of a good organic, balanced fertilizer can make a difference to boost crops through to harvest time. Feed the soil again after completing a harvest and preparing for a second planting.
Afraid to Prune
There are many reasons to prune a plant, such as to remove damaged stems or leaves, or to promote bushy growth for more flowers and fruits. New gardeners are often afraid to clip and trim their plants, but always remember that pruning stimulates growth, so when you cut off a part of a plant, more often than not this will stimulate it to grow even more. Pruning excessive growth also keeps plants in bounds and maintains healthy air flow throughout the garden.
“There is no Garden of Eden without Weeding” and weeds will pop up on any bare, disturbed soil. The trick is to weed early and often. As the season progresses weeds will diminish while desired plants grow bigger. An hour of weekly weeding starting in spring and maintained through mid-summer, will get you through the worst of the season’s weeds. Remember, a small weed is easier to pull than a large one, so yank them before they grow tall, bloom and set seed.
Fretting About Pests and Disease
Pest and disease problems aren’t as prevalent as you think. Vigorous plants are less susceptible to pests and diseases, so by providing heathy growing conditions you can garden many seasons without significant issues. Never spray your garden with pesticides that can kill beneficial insects, like pollinators. Without them your plants will never bear fruit. Diseases can be avoided by rotating crops, ensuring good air circulation, and growing disease resistant varieties.
Expecting Every Plant to Thrive
Disappointment is the ultimate menace to good gardening. Experienced gardeners understand that not every plant will thrive, and indeed many plants may either die or underperform at any time. My advice is to expect the unexpected. One year your tomatoes may disappoint, and the next produce a bumper crop. Good gardeners learn to weather disappointment and celebrate success. Learn that and, make no mistake, every year will be a good year in the garden.