Some of the appeals of gardening lie in the control you can exert over the little universe you create. Because we are not, after all, divine, almost every gardener makes the same mistakes. Here are 10 of the most common gardening problems and solutions.
Wrong Plant in the Wrong Place
Almost every plant prefers sun or shade, heat or cold, moist or soggy soil, drying winds, or protection from wind. Some need morning sun and some need afternoon sun. Know your plant and what it needs. In the fall I have often seen a pretty little aster species growing on shaded east-facing slopes. I bought one and tried to grow it in the nurturing soil of my flat garden, and it died. Too much sun? Too much moisture?
Here’s another example. Pink Lady Slippers are wild orchids, and they grow in certain woods here in New England. However, they are likely to die in your garden. That’s because young plants need a particular fungus to be present in the soil.
Solution: Study up on your plants’ needs.
Corollary to Problem
Lady Slipper orchids are illegal to dig out of the wild almost everywhere in the United States they occur. Do so and you risk a fine. Check your state’s wildlife division for a list of species that are threatened, endangered, or of special concern. Beware the plant police.
Solution: Know your rare species.
Almost all plants have a soil preference: firm or loose; moist or dry, rich with hummus or sandy, acid or alkaline.
When I moved to New England from the Midwest many years ago, I marveled at the miracle of mountain laurel and rhododendrons, which I had never seen before. They love the acid soil out here, and won’t grow naturally in the Midwest where the soil is sweet (alkaline). If you must have them, check your soil first and acidify if necessary. The question is: how much trouble do you want to take with your garden?
It seems to me that almost all soil has something wrong with it, at least for the things I wanted to grow when I first started gardening. It took years to turn what I think of as the non-soil substitute in my yard (glacial till) into a loam that supports garden plants. Bags of peat moss, fertilizer, lime, etc, etc. Today I only take trouble with the peonies and the tomatoes. Everything else needs to be happy in so-so soil.
Solution: If it isn’t happy, out it goes.
Too Large a Garden
A big garden can require almost all your spare time. Before you begin to start your Tasha Tudor fantasy garden by tilling up your entire backyard, decide how much time you want to spend maintaining it. My own garden crept down one side of my drive first, then the other side, and across the front of the house, before I realized I only wanted to work on it for a couple of hours a week.
Solution: Daylilies, groundcovers, and best of all, mulch. Learn to love mulch.
Too Small a Space
You kept bringing home plants, didn’t you, one at a time, and crammed them all into your little garden square. Now they’re stealing each other’s sun, competing for water and breathing space, and you can’t even see that costly little treasure.
Solution: Learn self-discipline.
You Can’t Throw Anything Out
In February, armed with your seed catalogs, you decide to start plants from seed. You order 10 seed packets, which, planted up, become 10 seed trays. You spend the late winter months rotating the trays from window to window to get enough light, and you cheer on the little sprouts when they germinate. Then in June, you make a terrible discovery: you only need a few of each plant and can’t bring yourself to throw away any of the seedlings. They are like your little children now. Do you try to squeeze everything into your little garden? (Problem #4) Or dig up more gardens? (Problem #3) Or give them away? Believe me, life has too many real problems without developing this particular problem.
Solution: Compost them.
Many gardeners have taken on a deceptively shy white anemone, one of the “spring ephemerals”, only to find it rampant in their garden by the next year. Watch out. Bee balm compensates for its easy bloom during the difficult mid-summer months by having monstrous spreading habits. My own mistake is something called aster tartaric, which spreads faster than loosestrife.
Solution: Study up. If you find your invasive plant likes sandy soil, plant it in heavy soil.
Taking Gardening Too Seriously
Your favorite peony blooms one June morning. You pause in awe to take in its perfection, but three hours later an unseasonable heatwave has shattered it and its petals are on the ground. You had waited for this peony all winter. The spring is RUINED for you. Ruined. Ruined. Ruined. This has happened to me three out of every four years. I used to rig little parasols over my peonies, but it didn’t do any good.
Solution: Get over it. I had to. So should you.
Beware of Utility Lines in The Ground
Plants share space in the ground with all sorts of utility lines. In a forum on garden problems on Gardenweb, one gardener cut through a line for the home’s oil tank. There are electrical lines, gas lines, cable tv lines, and telephone lines on the ground.
Solution: Dig safe. Dig gently. If your shovel hits something, it might not be a rock.
Solution: Be careful. Use Round-up