How to Avoid the 10 Most Common Gardening Mistakes

Growing a garden is one of the most enjoyable pastimes for many renters and homeowners. There is a better, cheaper and less frustrating way to garden. With proper preparation, your garden will be the one people stop to take a picture of and gardening clubs will ask your advice.

There are numerous books and online sites that give gardening advice. You can also call your local County Extension Office and get advice from them, as well as contact local gardening clubs.

Here are the ten most common gardening mistakes and advice on how you can avoid making them:

Unprepared, Improper or Poor Soil

Plants can’t live in the wrong soil, even cactus. Before you dig up a patch of dirt and start inserting plants or seeds do a soil test. Test kits are available online, in gardening stores and in most gardening departments of big-box DIY stores.

Once the test is done and you know what kind of soil you have plan the appropriate plants for it. Is your soil alkaline? Select plants that grow in your area for that type soil, or dig it out and replace with the proper soil or amend it. For example, Blueberries like acidic soil so adding peat will give the plants what they need.

If nothing has been grown in the soil for years, dig in compost and perhaps well rotted manure. No soil would be hurt by it. Is your soil clay? Dig in sand to help with the drainage. If the soil is too sandy, dig in some topsoil and compost.

Planting in the Wrong Place

Too much sun or too little, too close to other plants or too close to fences or walls is another common gardening mistake that’s easy to avoid.

Before planting, research your desired plants and make a gardening plan that allows for full growth and spread. Plant flowers, shrubs and trees in the appropriate place so two or three years from now your neighbor doesn’t have to saw branches off to protect his or her own garden.

Proper spacing also avoids the common gardening mistake of overcrowding. It may look sparse today to have a couple of feet in between your plants, however, next year when they grow the space will fill in and you’ll be happy, not digging up half dead overcrowded plants.

Knowing plant height at full growth before you plant allows for proper planting to avoid overshadowing. Why plant a 6 inch tall flower in back of a 5 foot tall plant?

Improper Use of Chemicals

According to ABC News Gardening expert Charlie Dimmock, do not use any more fertilizer, insecticide or fungicide than is absolutely necessary. Read the instructions on the package and measure only the amount you need.

Do not allow insecticide, fungicide or herbicide (weed killer) to sit in a sprayer for long periods of time. It may seem like a time saver, but most of these items are only meant to be mixed just before use. If there is any left over, dispose of it properly.

Be careful with herbicides- one annoying gardening mistake is spraying too close to plants you want to keep and accidentally spraying them.

Using the Wrong or Dull Pruning Tools

Make sure all pruning instruments are sharp and undamaged. Dull or nicked blades will mangle and damage the bark or stems of the plant and encourage disease. Use the right cutting tool for the job and use proper pruning techniques at the right time of the year to avoid damaging the plant.

Remove the smaller branches and shoots before cutting down that large limb. Cutting the limb in sections instead of all at once is a safer method of pruning. This will reduce the weight on the cut and avoids damaging the main plant.

Wrong Containers for Chosen Plants

If the roots of the plant are sticking out of the bottom, it’s time to replant it into a larger container. Using a too-small container can make the plant root bound, meaning the roots will circle around the bottom of the container. Cutting the roots to allow them to grow out when transplanting will also help them survive. If this isn’t done the roots will continue to grow in a circular direction and strangle the plant.

Leave a 1-2 inch space between the top of the container and the soil for watering. If the container is outside, mulch to help the soil retain moisture for the plant.

Watering Too Much or Too Little

Everyone knows that watering too little will kill a plant. Overwatering will drown or rot plants roots as well. Knowing in advance how much water each plant needs and watering accordingly will ensure the safety and health of your plants.

There are soil monitors that signal when to water a particular plant. Water globes and other devices are available that purport to deliver just the right amount of water to your plants even when you’re away.

Choosing the Wrong Plant for the Climate

This is an all too common mistake made by gardeners, especially beginners.

Plants that thrive in Canada’s cool weather will die in the San Antonio heat when summer hits. Just because the plant looks nice in a catalog or in an online seed listing, that doesn’t mean it will live well in your garden. Do some research first and find out where the plant comes from. Choosing the right plants from climates similar to your own will give you a garden to brag about.

For example, one of my favorite melons is the Tigger Melon. Many people have commented on the sites where it’s sold that it’s a bad plant. Most of the dissatisfied customers live in the Northern US and in Canada. The Tigger Melon is from Armenia, near the Gobi Desert. It does wonderfully in the San Antonio heat.

Weed Control

It’s true that 6-foot tall corn stalks crowd out weeds, their 1-inch seedling height won’t. You have to get them out yourself.

Weeds will take the water, nutrients and the soil space from your garden plants. Purslane will take over a garden as fast as crabgrass, but diligent weeding will keep both at bay.

Weeding while the plants are still small prevents them from forming seed heads to sprout next year. Taking small weeds now also keeps root spreaders from springing up all over the place.

Planting Invasive Species

This is one of the most garden killing and neighbor annoying gardening mistake anyone can make. Research the desired plant before you put it in will allow you to make a decision that will keep peace and save your garden.

For example, bamboo is a great privacy fence. Growing to over 20 feet tall, it can also over shade part of your neighbor’s yard and prevent them from growing their desired plants in that space. Passionflower is beautiful, but it grows over everything and spreads like weeds.

Not Asking for Help

Too many beginning gardeners make simple mistakes, kill plants and give up thinking they can’t grow anything. They spot the brown leaves, drooping plants or that “funny looking white stuff” on the plants and ignore it.

If you’re unsure about something that’s happening to your plant(s), take a leaf or two to your local garden center for advice. They have experts that can recognize what’s happening to your plants and can let you know what to do about it. Follow their advice for the best success.

Giving up and announcing you have a “brown thumb” is a tragic gardening mistake. Every gardener has their own share of “garden goofs” they’ve made, but through practice and effort, they have a garden to admire. Keep working at it- amend the soil, fertilize and properly, follow the directions on the seed packet and you’ll have the garden everyone wants to imitate.


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