The Most Common Gardening Mistakes

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Experienced and novice gardeners alike will make a few gardening mistakes along the way. The key to a successful and healthy garden is to start with a plan, choose your plants wisely, spend time in the garden and never give up on your garden. Here are some tips to help you avoid making some common gardening mistakes and to help make gardening fun.

A Failure to Plan

Every new garden and every garden re-model starts with a plan. A plan does not have to be complex. It can be as simple as a sketch on a piece of paper with a list that describes your vision of the garden. Also include a list of the plants to be purchased and a material list for any garden features such as decks, walkways, birdbaths and plant containers. A plan helps in many ways:

  • A plant list and list of garden features is a useful tool for creating a garden budget.
  • A sketch showing the plants and features in place can help you decide if everything will fit within the available space without being crowded.
  • A sketch of the proposed garden space can help determine if the garden will be manageable. Save time by planting low-maintenance plants and plants native to the local area.

Not Preparing the Garden Soil

The foundation of a healthy garden is healthy soil. Before planting anything in the ground, do a soil test to help determine what amendments need to be made to the soil for the plants that will be growing there. The best way to maintain healthy soil is to continually add compost to the soil and to mulch around plants. Here are some of the benefits:

  • Compost makes an inexpensive fertilizer that releases nutrients to plants.
  • Compost improves soil drainage. Compost makes clay soils lighter and improves drainage. In sandy soils, it makes the soil denser and improves the ability to retain water.
  • Mulch inhibits the growth of weeds and helps the soil retain moisture.
  • Mulch and compost deter the growth of soil borne diseases and attract earthworms. Earthworms are beneficial and help aerate the soil making it easier for roots to grow.

The Most Common Gardening Mistakes

The Wrong Plant in the Wrong Place

Before adding any new plants to a garden or in the landscape, first check to determine if the plant is appropriate for the area. Here are some plant characteristics to look at when selecting plants:

  • The growth habit, mature size, light requirements, tolerance to sun and wind, soil preference, water needs and other care needs of the specific plant.
  • Whether the plant will thrive in your USDA Hardiness Zone. Plants that require a warmer climate may need to be brought indoors during colder weather.
  • The health of the plant. New plants brought into the garden should be healthy. Inspect plants for insects, yellowing leaves, sickly appearance and healthy roots.

Over-watering and Under-watering

A majority of plant problems occur when plants receive either too much or too little water.

  • Too much water prevents oxygen from reaching the roots and the plant will die. Sign of over-watering include wilting, yellowing, dry foliage, leaves dropping off and twigs withering.
  • Not enough water causes to roots to dry up. When a plant does not get enough water, the plant begins to wither.

Most plants thrive when the soil around the entire root zone is saturated and then allowed to just dry out before the next watering. The amount of time between watering depends on the type of plant, the size and if the plant has been recently planted. Plants require more water during the first year after planting to help establish the root system.

Mowing the Grass Too Short

Maintaining an attractive lawn can be accomplished by mowing at the correct mowing height and at the right frequency. When the grass is cut too low, it requires more water, becomes thin and is susceptible to weeds. Taller grass has deeper roots and better access to water. Here are a few tips to mow your lawn at the correct height:

  • Mow when the grass is one-third taller than the desired height.
  • Mow cool season grasses such as bluegrass, tall fescue and perennial ryegrass between 2.5 and 4 inches.
  • Mow warm season grasses such as zoysia grass at 1.5 inches in the spring before the lawn begins to green up. During the summer, mow at 2 inches. In the fall, leave the grass taller, around 2.5 inches.

Neglecting Container Grown Plants

Container grown plants require constant care. Containers may need to be watered more frequently, fertilized more often and plants need to be re-potted every few years. Here’s some quick help for when a container plant dries out:

  • Submerge smaller containers in a tub of water until the bubbles stop.
  • For large containers, poke deep holes in the soil and water until the water comes out of the drainage holes.

Running Away from a Weed Invasion

Weeds are an inevitable part of a gardener’s life. When tiny weeds begin to appear in a flower bed, get out the hoe and lightly chop the tops off the weeds. In areas that are prone to heavy weeds, consider a groundcover or scatter wildflower seeds to smother out the weeds.

Being Afraid to Prune

Many plants grow better when pruned regularly. Continually harvest the ends of herb plants to keep the plants busy and productive. Prune roses and hibiscus to encourage flowering on the new growth. Hedges and shrubs can be pruned to maintain a desired height and shape.

Destroying All of the Bugs

Not every bug that makes a home in the garden is a bad bug. Many of the insects that wander through your plants are looking for bad bugs to eat. To maintain a balance of beneficial insects that will help keep your plants healthy, try these:

  • Identify the bugs in the garden.
  • Avoid the use of pesticides. Use insecticidal soaps and horticultural oils to deal with problem pests.
  • Plant flowers and shrubs that attract beneficial insects.

Giving Up

And, most important, never give up on your garden. Not everything will be a success. Learn from your mistakes and build on those plants that thrive in your yard.

Last Updated: June 14, 2012
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About Coletta Teske Coletta Teske has 25 years' experience in tech journalism, as well as home and gardening topics. She has freelanced for Fortune 500 companies such as Boeing and Microsoft, published more than two dozen computer books for Prima Publishing and Macmillan, and worked as a freelance correspondent for West Hawaii Today. Coletta has been an avid gardener since she was 2 years old. While living in Hawaii, she achieved a lifelong dream of becoming a certified master gardener.

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