Every new gardener is bound to make some mistakes, such as planting mint and geraniums together in a window box (who knew that mint would bully everything in its path?) or choosing the “perfect” planting spot in early spring, only to find that it is covered in shade after the trees leaf out.
Don’t worry if you’re just starting out gardening and make mistakes. It’s natural, and we’re here to help you learn so you can avoid future frustration. Keep reading to learn about some of the most common mistakes made by beginner gardeners.
- Starting without a plan
When doing a Google search on how to plan a vegetable garden, the number one result should not be deciding where to plant your garden.
You are missing a lot of key elements if that’s where you start because it’s not taking into account growing food that’s going to take you through a year. Elements that are missing that need to be considered in your planning:
- Need to pick crops that your family eats the most of on a regular basis.
- Pick crops that will actually grow well in your gardening climate and gardening zone.
- Of the crops you want to grow, pick varieties that are best suited to the number of growing days you have in your warm-weather growing season.
Decide on quantity
Determine how many crops you need to plant to feed your family for a year, based on the size and needs of your household.
Based on your family’s weekly and monthly consumption of a certain crop, you will need to plant a corresponding number of crops. For example, if you need 18-20 tomato plants to last your family an entire year, then you will need to plant that many tomato crops. This includes enough tomatoes for all tomato-based products, such as sauce, salsa, marinara sauce, pizza sauce, and stewed tomatoes.
- Unrealistic expectations
One of the most common mistakes gardeners make is thinking about production too early on, rather than taking the time to appreciate nature and the process.
You usually have a process where you complete various steps and achieve your desired result at the end.
Gardening can be unpredictable since there is so much biodiversity in nature. Even if you do everything right, something can still go wrong due to the sheer magnitude of diversity in the natural world.
- Having the idea you need a lot of land
The next step after deciding what crops to grow and the amount needed to feed your family for a year is choosing the varieties of plants that will do best in your climate.
You can usually fit more plants in your garden than you think.
Even though my family has 14.96 acres of land, most of it is used for pasture for our livestock or wooded areas. We only grow our produce on half an acre in our backyard.
On that half-acre we have:
- High Tunnel (AKA unheated off-grid greenhouse)
- Perennial vegetable garden
- Perennial fruits
- Medicinal and culinary herb garden
Maximize the space you have
There are several steps you can take to maximize the space you have. The following are some great options to consider:
- Sometimes all it takes is picking a slightly different variety that allows you to grow a lot more.
- Vertical gardening makes it possible for you to grow more in less space.
- Sneak food crops into your landscaping. Utilize spaces like a back deck, patio, or cooking area.
- If you have fruit trees, create a fruit tree guild that will not only feed you but the tree as well.
There are four grapevines growing on the arbor, two on each side. The plants take up about one and a half square feet each.
Even if you don’t have a lot of space, you can grow plants vertically, which takes up less space.
- Putting your garden out of sight
Planting your vegetables and herbs in a corner of your backyard that is not visible from the street may help you avoid getting in trouble with your homeowner’s association (HOA), but it will also make it more difficult for you to remember to check for droopy plants that need water, to notice the early signs of pests, or to remember to harvest regularly.
It is better to plant your garden in a place where it is easy to see, such as near the kitchen door, along a walkway, or near the back patio. This way, you will be able to see if the plants need water or if there is bug damage before it becomes a big problem. Also, it is more convenient to have a garden that is easy to get to so that you can grab a few basil leaves to add to your meal or eat some cherry tomatoes as a snack.
- Planting too much
After spending the winter creating elaborate gardening Pinterest boards, thumbing through seed catalogs, and dreaming of fresh veggie flavor, it’s easy to overestimate how big your garden should be—and underestimate the time and effort it will take to care for it. Experienced gardeners know that a big garden equals a big commitment, one that’s too much for most new gardeners to handle.
It is better to start small when you are new to gardening. Make a list of your five favorite vegetables and herbs, and take some time to research their growing needs before you buy them. Gradually add more plants and more growing space each year, and eventually you will have plenty of homegrown produce to share!
- Planting too soon (or too late)
The biggest mistake that new gardeners can make is planting on the first warm day after being cooped up all winter. The plants will stresses and require more effort to get them to harvest.
Use this guide to find out when the estimated first and last frost date is for your region so that you can plan your garden accordingly. This way you won’t have to worry about wasting time and money by planting too early and having to replant after a frost. If you’re anxious to get started on your garden after a long winter, keep yourself busy by building a raised bed, adding garden paths, or improving your garden soil until the threat of frost has passed.
- Planting where there’s not enough sun
If you want to successfully grow tomatoes, you need a spot that gets at least 6-8 hours of sunlight each day. Trying to grow sun-loving plants in shaded areas is a waste of time, money, and effort.
If your yard doesn’t get direct sunlight, try growing sun-loving plants in containers and placing them in sunny areas. Another option is to choose vegetables and herbs that can tolerate partial shade.
- Crowding your plants
It’s tempting for new gardeners to try and grow lots of plants in their garden to get a big harvest, but too many plants in a small area is bad for the plants. They will have to compete for water and nutrients, and diseases will spread more easily.
- Not understanding soil needs
If your leaves are turning color or if you have pests or diseases present, it is most likely due to your soil health.
A common error is to use the wrong type of soil for the planned usage. For example, using potting mix in an outdoor garden, or using soil from the garden in containers. Another common mistake is to grow in straight compost or manure, thinking it is soil and not just a soil amendment.
Too much of a good thing isn’t always good!
Do not automatically assume that if your plant is not doing well that it is because it does not have enough of something. Sometimes plants have issues because they have too much of something.
For beginners, I recommend asking yourself several questions. In the example of the yellowing leaves ask:
- Does it mean that I’m watering too much?
- Or does it mean that there’s a deficiency?
To water your plants less, start by turning the water off a bit and seeing what happens. You can also check the moisture of the soil by touching it. If the soil is always moist, it needs to dry out somewhat. Soil shouldn’t be kept moist all the time and actually benefits from being dry every now and then.
If adjusting the watering schedule does not alleviate the yellowing of the leaves, investigate other potential causes. A common culprit of yellowing leaves is a nutrient deficiency, which is often nitrogen-related. Be judicious with any additions to the soil; a little at a time is best. One possible method is to use a seaweed fertilizer and monitor the results.
Go at a moderate pace and don’t get too far ahead of where you are.
It is also important to group plants together that have similar soil requirements.
For example, it is easier to group together plants with similar growing needs, such as planting blueberry and raspberry bushes next to rhubarb plants since they all like acidic soil. This way, when amending the garden beds, you can amend them all the same way.
- Not adjusting your plans
I used to make the mistake of only planting what I had done the previous year or what we had always planted.
Our pantry cupboards would be full of 15 or 20 jars of preserves from two years ago, if we didn’t pay attention to how much we were making.
The author is wondering why they are still planting the same amount of crops even though it is not profitable.
Even if you have been gardening for many years, it is still important to plan your garden each year so that it meets your family’s needs.
- Planting far from a water source
Water is one of the biggest things plants need, but lugging heavy watering cans or dragging a long hose across the yard to give the garden a drink is not very exciting. Usually this means that your plants don’t get all the water they need.
If it is possible, try to position your garden near a water source. This will make watering easier. If you cannot position your garden near a water source, then consider installing a rain barrel near the garden. To know when it is time to water, check the dryness of the soil by sticking your finger in it. When the top inch is dry, water the plants deeply and thoroughly. Water the base of the plants to avoid getting water on the leaves which can cause disease.
- Not keeping records
It is essential to keep records when you first start gardening, including notes on what you did to address problems and the results. This will help you remember what worked last year when you encounter the same issue.
You’re more likely to remember things if you write them down, even if you don’t look at your notes later. Just the act of writing things down increases your memory of them by 50%. So it’s a good idea to keep a journal and take photos.
The value of records increases significantly when crop rotation is taken into account, as the seasons begin to blur together. In addition, data on microclimates and micro-zones specific to where you live is extremely helpful.
- Misunderstanding garden zones & climates
Gardening zones have nothing to do with planting dates. They are determined by the average low temperatures in the wintertime. This also pertains to which varieties of perennials you can plant. Some perennials cannot withstand certain temperatures without taking protective measures.
But planting your garden has nothing to do with the weather.
Here’s to your best garden plan, and garden, ever.
Gardening is good for both our souls and our bodies. It provides us with food and helps us to relax.
- Plant spacing & row direction
berries and fruit trees need space to grow and get enough sunlight, without being shaded out by neighboring plants. The row direction of these plants should be considered to ensure maximum sunlight during the growing season.