Avoid Common Gardening Mistakes

With these pointers, gardeners just getting their trowels dirty can sidestep six classic food-growing faux pas, such as those related to fertilizing crops, spacing plants, pest control and more.

  • Gardening Mistakes
    Are you a newbie gardener? In your first years, focus on creating a tidy, manageable garden and not falling into the common gardening mistake of taking on too much.
    Photo by iStock/YinYang
  • Bag Gardening
    A nice no-dig option for newbies is “bag gardening.” Simply cut out the top of a bag of soil, make slits in the bottom, and plant seeds. The slits will allow crops’ roots to reach the soil below, as opposed to becoming constricted as they would in containers.
    Illustration by Keith Ward
  • Basket of Vegetables
    Score bigger, better harvests by consistently improving your soil with organic matter.
    Photo by iStock/sanddebeautheil
  • Roots of Crops
    The roots of crops grown in the ground, rather than in pots, can spread out and reach essential nutrients and moisture. Here, each box equals 1 square foot.
    Photo by Elayne Sears

  • Gardening Mistakes
  • Bag Gardening
  • Basket of Vegetables
  • Roots of Crops

Just as there’s no such thing as a perfect garden, there’s no perfect gardener either. We all make mistakes, but, in doing so, we learn which ones never to repeat, and along the way we discover savvy strategies to add to our gardening routines. So, what are vegetable gardeners’ biggest blunders? I’ve made each of the following six common gardening mistakes, and after talking with thousands of organic gardeners, I know I’m not alone. Get a head start by learning from our errors instead of laboring through your own.

1. Tackling Too Much

Spring fever inspires big dreams among gardeners, and it’s easy to forget that every planting requires a commitment to future maintenance. Before you know it, your springtime aspirations will have turned into an overwhelming summer reality — weed, water, thin, plant, prune, stake and harvest, all at once and for weeks on end!

If you’re a novice gardener, you’ll greatly enhance your chances of success by starting small with only a few rows or beds, allowing yourself to focus on each individual crop you’re growing and better understand its needs. Instead of trying out 10 unique tomato varieties and every hot chili pepper under the sun, pick one or two of each and build your plant-care confidence.

Another smart idea is to limit the number of different types of veggies you tend in each part of your growing season (spring, summer and fall, in most climates). Vegetable plants need the most attention during their first month in the garden, so by having only three to four juvenile crops going at a time, you’ll be able to keep up without a hitch. For example, you might grow potatoes, salad greens and snap peas in early spring; peppers, squash and tomatoes in late spring through summer; and cabbage, carrots and spinach from late summer to fall.

To avoid taking on too much, some gardeners start by growing only in pots or containers, assuming this will be easier — but this often isn’t true. A container limits the spread of roots and the plants can easily become water-stressed and quite warm on hot days, while the same plants grown in enriched, mulched beds would enjoy consistently cool roots. The crops that grow best in containers are heat-tolerant plants, such as eggplant, peppers and tomatoes, which can take warm root temperatures as long as they’re given a large pot and plenty of water. But even still, you may need to water container-grown crops twice a day during summer’s hottest stretches, which is a major commitment. Comparatively, you’d only have to water plants in garden beds a few times a week.

Instant “bag beds” are a better no-dig option than containers, because, with this method, you cut slits in the bottoms of the bags so roots can move down into the soil below. Plus, the bags can be mulched to help retain soil moisture.

10/28/2017 10:21:44 PM

Isg, don't complain about the snakes, they will keep many of the other critters away. And since bull and GARTER snakes are harmless, they can just be ignored.

10/27/2017 1:29:55 PM

I have had a snake or two take up residence near my garden. No insect pests would dare munch my veggies. However I am often startled by a bull snake or garden snake sunning themselves near my garden. And I often have to fish dry snake skins out of my pole beans.

10/27/2017 10:44:46 AM

this is a really good article but I think I'd rather see this in the spring than now that I've finished with my gardening season.

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