by Michael Wight and Tara Dodrill
Despite the wide availability of gardening advice available via blogs, books, websites, informational articles, and even video collections on YouTube, many people fail to take care of their gardens properly. This is largely because each garden is vastly different, possessing different soil types, microorganisms, weather conditions, and crops.
To ensure your garden has a solid, productive yield each year, make sure you minimize any possible mistake. These thirty mistakes are commonly made by beginner gardeners, but are also common among expert horticulturists. For ultimate success, avoid every mistake on this list.
1. Not Considering The Soil Quality
One of the most common mistakes that new gardeners make is ignoring their soil type and quality. Being aware of these two factors is one of the most important parts of gardening, as poor soil can create countless problems and make all of your efforts futile. A healthy soil composition means healthy plants.
To determine your soil type, conduct a simple soil test by collecting containers of soil and mixing them with water. Loamy and sandy soils will allow water to pass through easily, while clay soils will hold water and become a dense, sticky clump. Peat soils will be somewhere in between, as will chalky soils.
If you still have trouble determining your soil type, consider bringing a sample to your local cooperative extension or purchasing an inexpensive test kit online. Once you know your soil type, you can select suitable plants or amend the soil with fertilizers or organic material without any issues.
2. Not Keeping The Soil Maintained
Another mistake that gardeners make is that they fail to keep their soil well-maintained. This require gardeners to spend time and keep checking its properties every few months, or whenever the weather changes.
Heavy rainfall, hurricanes and lack of drainage can weaken the soil, as can planting the same crops in an area year after year. Rotate your crops every year so that the soil has time to replenish itself with necessary nutrients, and add fertilizers if you believe important nutrients are being depleted. Again, you can test the soil composition with a simple test kit.
To increase pH, you can add lime, while adding sulfur-based ingredients can lower the pH. Keep in mind that heavy rainfall or repeated tilling can lower pH levels, so it’s important to monitor the soil levels throughout the growing season as well as between seasons.
3. Planting Way Too Early
It’s vital to know the right time to plant. Plants require very specific weather conditions in order to grow properly. Some folks are so excited to start gardening, they just don’t wait for the right time to do it. Alternatively, you can also plant too late. Know the requirements for different crops, and follow these schedules religiously.
For example, root vegetables like carrots, parsnips, and beets can be planted earlier than warm-season crops like tomatoes and peppers. Cold-season vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, kale, and cauliflower can also be planted early.
That being said, just because your seed packets say you can plant in late April doesn’t always mean that’s the case—if you still have a foot of snow on the ground, or are receiving heavy frosts very night, you need to wait until the weather warms in order to plant. Use your judgment when deciding on planting times.
Typically, each NLOAH article that talks about how to grow each type of plant also tells you when’s the best time to do it. In addition to seed packets and nursery websites, this can be a great resource in planning out your planting timeline. If you’re really eager to plant, consider making a planting calendar during the winter months. This will allow you to feed your excitement to plant, while at the same time keeping you organized by listing exactly what plants need to be planted, and when.
4. Not Watering According To Plant Needs
Different plants require different amount of water. Plus, water consumption in the summer increases due to heat and an increased water absorption rate. Most plants grow well when they receive an inch of moisture per week but some require more.
If the leaves are turning yellow, then the plant isn’t receiving enough water. This can obviously can affect the yield or even kill it. Furthermore, if you wait to water and then play “catch-up” with your watering, this can damage the plant or even permanently stunt its growth.
Rainwater can also become a problem if your soil doesn’t have good drainage capabilities. For example, if you have heavy clay soil, your plants will have a harder time moderating the amount of moisture they take in. Clay tends to hold onto water for a long period of time before drying out entirely, making it difficult for roots to penetrate in their search for water.
Excess water accumulation can also kill your plants, so make sure that you reduce the likelihood of gathering standing water by providing your plants with good drainage (amending your soil before planting can help with this). You might also consider adding an organic mulch, such as hay or wood chips, to help the soil retain moisture between waterings and to better withstand drought-like conditions.
5. Not Giving Their Plants Enough Light
Many people keep their plants in shady corners of the lawn, not allowing them enough sunlight to engage in photosynthesis. Most plants require five to six hours of sunlight each day.
If sunlight is rare or inconsistent, consider gardening in pots or containers. You can move these around to make sure your plants are always in the path of direct sunlight. Keep in mind that cold-loving crops, such as spinach and broccoli, will thrive in shadier conditions.
6. Not Pruning
Most perennial plants require pruning on a yearly basis. While failing to prune won’t kill them, fruit-bearing plants need to be pruned in a timely fashion in order to maximize production.
Pruning is a process where you cut off dead branches, shoots and any part of the plant that is rotten or damaged. It’s a necessary process because if you don’t prune, disease can spread and damage the whole plant. Furthermore, failing to prune can stunt the growth of the plant and prevent it from setting fruit or becoming larger.
When you prune, try to do so in the spring after new growth has appeared. Don’t clear more than a third of a tree in a single season.
7. Not Harvesting At the Right Time
Many gardeners ignore the importance of harvesting at the right time. They may be thinking that the branches would grow more produce if they wait just a little bit longer. Once the branches are full, you need to harvest as soon as possible so more fruits and veggies can grow. This is especially the case if you have plants like tomatoes and a frost is in the forecast. Waiting until after a frost to harvest warm-season crops can spell disaster for your hard-earned fruits and vegetables.
On the other side, harvesting some plants too early can also be detrimental. Root vegetables like carrots and parsnips are sweeter after they have experienced a heavy frost, and can even be left in the ground until snow has arrived. The same rule applies for cold-season crops like broccoli and kale.
8. Picking The Wrong Plants
Now this is a very important point to remember. Not all plants grow well in all spaces. You must be careful and choose a plant that is suitable for your environment. For example, onion typically grows in all weather conditions, but mango does not.
You must make sure you choose the right plant so that you can get results, otherwise there will be little to no yield even if a plant grows well. Check the zone hardiness requirements on your seeds or seedlings, and remember that some crops are not adapted to all soil types, either. Root crops will not grow well in heavy, compacted soil, so you may need to consider raised beds.
Moreover, make sure to pick high quality seeds and plants so that the final result can be as bountiful as possible.
9. Not Doing Regular Maintenance
There are lots of gardeners who poorly maintain their gardens, then foolishly hope for a productive yield. Maintenance includes everything from pulling and controlling weeds, to applying new mulch, and making preparations for heavy rains, wind, or frost.
You can’t leave your garden to magically grow on its own. You must regularly inspect your garden for any kinds of problems. Look out for pests, disease, poor levels of nutrients, and other factors to help keep your plot in tip-top shape.
10. Sowing Seeds The Wrong Way
Many gardeners don’t know that there’s an ideal depth and width when sowing seeds. Sowing them at random and ignoring planting requirements can be a fatal mistake.
The right way to sow seeds is to plant them at least twice the depth of their thickness. For instance, if a seed is 10mm thick then you need to dig a hole of 20mm to plant the seed. Some seeds are so tiny that they can instead be sprinkled lightly atop the soil and then covered by a thin layer of dirt.
11. Planting Big Plants In Small Pots
While container gardening is a great way to increase your yield in a limited amount of space, not knowing the ideal container size for a plant is worrisome. We often sow seeds in smaller pots not considering that with time we will need to re-pot it.
Plants need a good amount of space when they’re growing, especially the roots. Some plants need additional space to sprawl after they have established—for example, pumpkins will produce winding, extensive vines that need lots of room to grow and set fruit.
If there is not enough space in a pot, the roots may eventually come out of the soil and the water may also not get absorbed properly. This may prevent growth and cause the plant to die, a condition known as “root-binding.”
So, make sure you keep checking the roots of the plants. If they’re bulging out from the soil, or if your plant seems larger than the container and has a generally unhealthy appearance, then it’s time to place the plant in a bigger container so that it can grow properly.
12. Mulching the Wrong Way
Plants are vulnerable to weeds unless you mulch around them. Mulching helps keep weeds away, conserve moisture, and ensure that plants remain healthy. However, you must also know the correct way to mulch for it to be truly effective.
Many gardeners apply too much mulch around plants. This can suffocate plants and the roots may begin to weaken. The plant’s position can then become affected, because its roots that hold the plant to the ground become too soft and vulnerable. Adding too little mulch is also damaging, because small amounts of mulch won’t control weeds.
The right mulch is around 3” thick and it must be done in a way that it does not touch the stems or trunks. Make sure you always use mulch that is free of seeds and pesticides so that you don’t risk contaminating your plants or encouraging weed development.
13. Using Pesticides On The Wrong Day
For your garden to be safe and healthy, you must remove all pests. However, pesticides often contain dangerous chemicals that can affect the crop and your overall health. Therefore, you must be careful about if and when you decide to apply pesticides.
Pesticides should not be used just before a rain, as pesticides that come into contact with rainwater can cause damage to the plants. Wind can also cause pesticides to reach undesired plants, causing unexpected damage. Plan your pesticide application around the weather conditions, and only spray on sunny, windless days. Alternatively, consider organic pesticides or alternatives to prevent contaminating your food.
14. Crowding Plants
Try not to seed more than one plant in a pot or planting hole. Experts suggest that putting in a lot of seeds in a small pot can lead to plant crowding and cause various deficiencies in plants. This can cause poor growth and management issues as well.
Many people think sowing more seeds increases success rate, but it actually does the opposite. When you sow more seeds, all the nutrients in the soil are divided among them, and none of the seed may be able to sprout or grow properly. Roots may become tangled with each other, forcing the plants to become root-bound and unproductive.
If your pot is big then you can plant two seeds at most, and allow the plants to grow together in a single pot. However, if you have already planted a large amount of seeds into a small or medium-sized container, then you should thin them. This also applies to plants directly seeded into the ground. Thinning is a mandatory practice for plants such as carrots and parsnips, which have fine seeds and must be initially seeded close together.
Also, remember that plants require sunlight, water and good air circulation to grow properly, and planting them close can damage them before they even have the chance to grow.
15. Not Feeding the Plants
While plants make their own food by processing sunlight and water, you may need to feed them as well, especially if you have poor soil quality. Many people believe that plants only require sunlight and water, but you actually need to provide them with fertilizers as well so that they can get the energy needed to make their own food.
Plants feed on 16 different nutrients from the soil, and not all of them may be present in the soil naturally. This is especially true in soils that have been worked repeatedly.
This is why you should add compost. Good compost will contain a mixture of ingredients such as animal manure, vegetable clippings, and yard waste. You can continue adding to compost throughout the year, and use it each spring as a base soil when you plant.
In addition, you can add compost every other week to your plants. This can be done by using plain compost or by processing the compost into a mixture known as “compost tea.” This will help your plants stay healthy and filled with nutrients. If compost isn’t your style, you can also purchase synthetic fertilizers, but keep in mind that you should always try different fertilizers and only add nutrients that are already lacking. An overdose of nutrients can be just as harmful as a lack.
16. Scaring Pollinators Away
Most fruit and vegetable trees require the help of pollinators to produce and set healthy fruits. However, gardeners often neglect this necessity and use strong pesticides that scare them off.
It’s great to spray pesticides to kill pests, but doing it every day can be harmful. This is because the presence of pesticides will scare and possibly harm pollinators who might avoid your garden when the plants need them most. Use organic pesticides or avoid them altogether to prevent killing helpful pollinators such as honey bees and butterflies.
Encourage pollinators by planting perennial flowers or pollen-heavy plants in your garden. This is beneficial for your garden as it helps to increase yield.
17. Not Digging The Right Sized Hole To Plant
A lot of people miscalculate while digging holes to plant the plants. Many don’t even know the right size they should dig.
If the hole you dig for planting is too small, it may cause multiple problems for your plants. First, small holes fail to keep the roots buried and expose them to air. This stunts the growth of the plant because there is not enough room for the roots to grow as they get older.
The ideal size to dig a hole when you plant should be twice as deep as the size of the plant’s root ball. When you bury the root ball, backfill with some soil and make sure that you level the root ball with the level of the ground. An additional tip to help make your transplanting as successful as possible is to mound soil around the base of the plant. This will help to prevent transplant shock and enable the plant to set sturdy roots.
18. Not Changing the Location of Each Vegetable Plant After a Harvest
The rule of thumb is that you need to avoid planting the same crop year after year in the same spot. This is because many pests are host- specific and love to feed on only one specific vegetable.
Some even lay eggs and have their larvae in the soil waiting for the next batch of the crop to grow so that they can feed on it. These pests can often survive the winter in the same section of soil.
Rotating the plants can end the life cycle of pests and keep plants healthy. Tilling your garden between seasons can also help kill pests and larvae.
Some plants, such as cauliflowers, turnips, collard greens and broccoli are all attacked by the same pest, cabbage worms. Make sure you avoid planting the same family of vegetables in the same spot.
Another important reason to change the position of the plants is to give them new soil. Plants like beans fix nitrogen to the soil, meaning they supply the soil with a new supply of this crucial nutrient that other plants may benefit from the following year.
Different plants have different needs as far as soil nutrients are concerned. If you keep on planting the same crop year after year in the same place, then the nutrients in that spot will deplete completely, leaving your plant starving for good soil.
Make sure you pay close attention to plant rotation if you wish to keep your plants healthy and productive.
19. Not Growing Plants According To Your Zone
The United States Department Of Agriculture has divided plant growing regions into 13 zones. You can use this information to find the right plants for your region, but unfortunately many gardeners fail to pay attention to this aspect. As you might expect, they then have poor outcomes.
Zones are divided based on several climactic factors, including the amount of rainfall and intense sunlight each area receives. In addition, zones are calculated based on average first and last frosts. Once you figure out what zone you live in, don’t attempt to plant anything that isn’t indicated for that zone hardiness.
20. Trying To Grow Everything Altogether
Many people have the idea of growing as many plant varieties as they can in a single season so that they don’t have to buy any produce from stores.
This can be troublesome, especially for individuals who have just gotten into the gardening business and have no prior experience. You may find yourself quickly overwhelmed by all that you need to do. Each plant has specific needs, and it might be difficult for you to remember when it needs to be watered, fed, or when it needs more sunlight. This can lead to confusion and cause you to destroy entire crops. If you’re a beginner, go slow and introduce one new plant each year.
21. Planting Bulbs Incorrectly
Some bulbs used for gardening have a root-growing end and a stem- growing end. However, many people don’t know which end is supposed to go where while they’re planting bulbs. Many new gardeners often make the mistake of planting bulbs upside down.
This causes a delay in root growth because the plants are unable to find the right direction to grow, as they are planted upside down. Bulbs use a lot of energy trying to grow under such circumstances and then fail to sprout at all.
Identifying the right position is simple. The pointy side always goes up while the opposite end is buried into the ground. You don’t need to cover the entire tip of the bulb with soil, either.
22. Not Being Patient
When you’re in the gardening business, you need to have a tremendous amount of patience. Gardeners often face bad climatic conditions which affect their plants. Many people lose their cool during such a time and make mistakes such as harvesting plants before harvesting time. In addition, failing to wait until the proper weather to plant can also cause issues with both growth and harvesting.
23. Neglecting To Protect Crops from Deer and Other Pests
Deer can be the most destructive foe your garden will ever face. Rabbits, raccoons, and birds are other nemeses against which you should protect yourself. In many cases, you may need to put a fence around the garden to protect it from hungry deer and other animals.
This fence must be sturdy and tall in order to protect the garden against an animal that can climb or jump. Chicken wire, hardware cloth, and electric fence or netting are all excellent options for protecting garden plots, containers, or raised beds.
You can also employ natural methods to protect your garden. Sprinkling nuisance-deterrents around your garden can help irritate an animal’s sense of small or even affect where they are able to walk. For example, the following items work well when placed around a garden:
• Chili peppers
• Crushed hot peppers
• Dryer Lint Sheets
• Garlic (this works best when mixed with warm water and sprayed around the growing area)
• Ammonia (also works best when mixed with water and sprayed around the perimeter of the garden)
• Raw eggs (keep in mind that while these repel some animals, like deer, they may attract others, especially scavengers)
• Liquid hand or dish soap (mix with water to form a lather and then spray around the border of the growing area)
24. Neglecting To Protect The Garden From Gophers
Gophers have plagued gardeners for centuries. These elusive varmints are difficult to catch. They are capable of burrowing into the garden and destroying entire rows of plants in a single day.
To protect your ground plot from gophers, be aware of their habits. Gophers burrow, so if you dig a trench around the garden and line it with hardware cloth, you may be able to keep it out. Although a determined gopher could still burrow into a garden, it will have to work far longer and more diligently to dig lower than the trench and the length of the entire lining of hardware cloth to reach the food source.
Most often, when faced with this kind of deterrent, a gopher will give up and search for an easier meal elsewhere.
Both the smell and taste of garlic also deter gophers. Consider mixing up a garlic-based natural pesticide spray to use on at least a weekly basis around the growing areas.
25. Neglecting To Repel Opossums From Growing Areas
Like gophers, opossums love to steal your growing crops before they can make their way to your dinner table. To repel opossums, lather camphor rub along garden fencing, fence posts, and even rocks, to prevent a visit from these varmints.
Opossums, like raccoons, are also prone to climbing trees or fencing to reach food and will dangle above growing crops to munch on the plants. Trim back any tree branches in shady areas of the garden or growing areas and place all fencing at least two feet away from the crops you are cultivating so possums cannot reach them easily.
26. Walnut Trees
At first, it might seem like a treat to have a walnut tree that grows naturally on your property. However, if that walnut tree is within 50 feet of the garden, it will likely substantially damage your tomato and pepper yields.
Black walnuts trees are the most destructive to garden crops. The branches and roots of these trees leach a chemical into the ground that affects nearby crops.
Cut down any walnut tree that is located near growing areas, or plan your garden several yards from the trees. After cutting down a walnut tree, wait at least two months before the spring planting.
27. Growing Herbs and Traditional Food Crops Separately
There is absolutely no need to take up extra space and create additional weeding work by growing herbs and food crops in different plots. Actually, your garden will be a lot better off if you grow medicinal and condiment herbs alongside the vegetable crops.
A vast number of common herbs can help deter insects that want to eat your plants. These herbs can also bolster growth, and sometimes, even enhance the flavor of specific crops.
Thyme is one of the best herbs to grow around the border of the vegetable garden because of its natural ability to ward off insects. Additionally, basil grows well when planted near tomatoes.
Herbs and vegetables can work together to attract pollinators and prevent pests and disease. Always reference an herb companion planting guide or chart before designing a growing area. While nearly all herbs can add value to a garden, some herbs absolutely cannot be planted next to certain plants.
28. Underestimating the Value Of Wood Ash Around The Garden
Wood ash is one of the best, all natural, and free garden cultivation methods at your disposal. Sprinkling wood ash around the base of plants will give the dirt a healthy dose of both potassium and calcium. This can also repel multiple different types of unwanted insects.
29. Thinking All Insects Are Pests
Not all bugs are bad for your garden. There are actually some highly beneficial bugs you want to come visit your garden on a regular basis. Some good bugs to allow to frequent your garden include lady bugs, minute pirate bugs, butterflies, honey bees, ground beetles, damsel bugs, green lacewings, and braconid wasps. Many of these insects increase pollination and help to keep harmful pest populations at bay.
30. Thinking All Weeds Are Bad
Too many gardeners think they absolutely have to remove all the weeds that grow in their gardening plots. They couldn’t be more wrong. Some weeds are actually extremely beneficial to the crops.
Some weeds protect the soil from erosion and fertilize it at the same time. A wide array of weeds enhances nutrients in the soil and in some cases, can help repair topsoil while attracting good bugs to the garden.
Before yanking a common weed out of the ground, learn to identify what is growing in your area and how is impacts the harvest, both positively and negatively.
Some good weeds you want to allow to grow in your garden include:
- White clover
- Broadleaf plaintain
- Lamb’s quarters
- …and more
These are the most common mistakes that are made by beginners and expert gardeners alike. To have a rich garden, one must know all the factors related to gardening and apply them in the right way.
Many people have the right background knowledge, but have no idea how to execute it. This can also lead to a problematic garden in which your plants are greatly affected. To overcome these problems, just be patient and take everything slowly. Growing a productive garden is largely about patience, flexibility, evolution, and adaptation.
Don’t plant a lot of plants on your first try. Instead, go with a few, and learn the gardening ropes as you go along. Do your research, and with a little bit of hard work and a constant willingness to learn, you’ll be experiencing bumper crops in no time.