6 Common Gardening Mistakes to Avoid

Whether you’re a new gardener or an old hand, avoid these common problems and grow better crops this season.

| May/June 2015

Just as there is no such thing as a perfect garden, there is no perfect gardener, either. We all make mistakes and learn through experience. What are veggie gardeners’ biggest blunders? I have made each of these six classic garden mistakes many times, and after talking with thousands of organic gardeners, I know I am not alone. Let me share these common garden problems with you so you might benefit by learning from my errors.

1. Taking on too much: Spring fever inspires big dreams among veggie gardeners, and it’s easy to forget that every planting comes with a commitment of future maintenance. Before you know it, your to-do list becomes overwhelming—weed, water, thin, plant, prune, stake and harvest, all at once! If you’re a novice gardener, you will greatly enhance your chances of success by starting small with only a few rows or beds, allowing yourself to focus on the plants you’re growing and learn more about their needs. Another smart idea is to limit the number of veggies you grow in each of the three seasons: spring, summer and fall. 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, it’s easy to keep up. For example, you might grow potatoes, salad greens and snap peas in spring; peppers, tomatoes and squash in summer; and cabbage, carrots and spinach from late summer to fall.

2. Too optimistic about the weather: Every climate is kind to some vegetables and cruel to others, which is why heat-loving okra is irrepressible in Memphis but struggles in Minneapolis. Emphasizing regionally adapted crops is an excellent strategy, but you will need to take additional steps to protect plants from wild weather. Spring is especially hazardous because beautiful days alternate with others that are cold, windy or both. Milk jug cloches or row cover tunnels placed over spring cabbage, broccoli or other seedlings keeps the plants’ stress levels low, and they will keep your seedlings from getting shredded by hailstorms, too.

With warm-season crops such as beans, tomatoes and squash, it’s better to wait for warm weather to settle in before planting than to push for an extra-early start. Mostly, you’re waiting for the soil to warm up because warm-natured plants will not grow in cold soil. In this instance, patience will prevent many problems.

3. Misunderstanding soil: Soil is the most mysterious piece of the gardening puzzle. In addition to providing comfortable digs for plant roots, it needs to provide small amounts of trace nutrients. You can get a soil test done through your local extension service for free or a small fee, which will provide good baseline information including your soil’s pH, a measure of its acidity or alkalinity. Most vegetables grow best in soil with a slightly acidic pH between 6.0 and 6.5; extremely acidic soil can be modified with lime, and very alkaline soil can be toned down with sulfur. Enriching soil with organic matter also has a neutralizing effect on soil pH.

The sure path to better soil leads straight to your compost pile. If you dig a 2-inch layer of compost into your soil every time you plant anything, your soil will enjoy constant infusions of organic matter, which supports beneficial soil organisms, especially fungi and earthworms, and its quality will steadily improve. Mulching with grass clippings, shredded leaves or other biodegradable forms of organic matter will passively improve the soil, too.

6/28/2015 7:48:59 AM

Hi I am new here. I am a practicing herbalist ad ski care specialist. I am trying to grow my own herbs as opposed to buying them online but im having some trouble. I live in south east texas and weather here is hot hot hot. some of my herbs are having trouble especially my rosemary. Suggestions please.

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