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.

| June/July 2015

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

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.

5/14/2016 12:35:20 AM

Concerning pests such as rabbits and deer. I surrounded my garden with 24" chicken wire at ground level then put monofilament fishing line (12-15 lb) three lines roughly equally spaced from the wire to approximately 5 feet high. The chicken wire keeps the rabbits out and the deer will not cross the fishing line. The theory is they cannot see the monofilament line and when they bump against it they are confused and so won't try to jump it either. Don't know if that explanation is correct but the fishing line fence works for me. Incidentally when the line gets brittle from exposure I collect the long pieces and cut them into short pieces to avoid possible problems with an animal getting wrapped in it.

5/18/2015 10:48:27 AM

Testing the soil is a great way to make things easier and guarantee that things will grow. It takes a bit of time, but better than wondering why some things grow great and some do not. There is info on how to test without a kit....save your pocketbook, http://preparednessmama.com/testing-your-soil-ph-without-a-kit/

5/15/2015 9:06:41 AM

I'd say some are more misunderstood rather than mistakes. Eggplant, tomato and pepper in water reservoir containers have out produced garden bed plants 3 to 1 for me. Any brand works but I use Earth Boxes. Once the tomatoes get 6 feet tall (in New England and I have photos to prove it) I have to fill them once a day. If I go away I set up a drip waterer into the fill tube. Their design makes it so you can't over water in these boxes. More productive and lower maintenance than any bed. Want a garden bed that waters and feeds itself? Look into hugelkultur. Crowding crops? Intensive polyculture vegetable gardens harvest the most produce possible from a certain space. The plants are spaced so close the ground isn't visible. Less weeding, less watering, less work. And no mono-crops. Nature gardens in a diverse mixture for healthy plants and so should we. This polyculture will also keep pests from finding a mecca of their favorite meal laid out plant after plant in a row. And yup include flowers, even if you let some greens go past harvest, flower and go to seed. It's ok to let a few go on to do work for the greater good. I agree with taking on too much, but if you look there are lots of gardening ideas like the ones above that make a garden easier. Our conventional gardening methods of evenly space plants with lots of bare soil to weed and loose water have created a lot more work for ourselves. Definite good points, pick plants that want to live where you do. Compost (to mulch with too). A good fence can be a simple one for the big critters.

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