When spring arrives, it’s natural for your thoughts to turn to gardening, especially if being part of a green, sustainable world is something you aspire to. Visions of butterflies and bees flitting around your yard, pollinating your plantings, dance in your head like sugarplum fairies. The only problem is, you’ve never grown so much as a sweet potato on a windowsill. You wouldn’t know a trowel from a weeder. Whether you want to grow veggies or flowers, before you start, there are a few beginner gardening mistakes you need to avoid.
Mistake #1: Starting Too Big
For your first garden, it’s always best to start small. Remember that a 10-foot by 10-foot vegetable garden, planted properly, can feed a family of four. While you’re learning, pick a small spot for flowers or vegetables, and concentrate on growing that limited space well before you dig up the entire yard. If you make major mistakes, it’s much easier to fix a tiny space than a huge mess.
Mistake #2: Not Choosing the Right Plants for Your Area
Garden catalogs are so tempting, with their perfect plants springing in glowing color from the pages. They are also deceiving. For example, a plant that thrives in zone 10 in California, which is warm and dry, may just rot away in zone 10 in Florida, where it is hot and humid. The best way to find out what grows best in your area is to find a locally-owned garden center and let them help you choose the proper plants. Drive around town and see what is planted in neighbors’ yards. Do your research and you won’t end up with a bunch of dead plants and an empty pocketbook.
Mistake #3: Not Knowing Your Plants’ Growing Requirements
Plants need the proper amount of space, sun, air and water to survive. If you have a sun-drenched yard, and you fill it with shade-loving plants, you will soon have a bed full of fried foliage. Choose plants that need the conditions that you have available, or create the conditions they need. If you want shade plants, but you have no trees, consider building arbors to shade the plants during the heat of the day. Want a vegetable garden, but have no full sun? You may have to take out a few trees.
Mistake #4: Not Testing Your Soil
Have no doubt, soil is the most important thing in your garden. Without healthy soil that has the proper balance of nutrients, organic matter and pH, nothing will make your plants grow well. Soil tests are easy to perform and can usually be obtained for free or for a minimal cost from your local extension service. Your soil test results will tell you exactly what to add to your soil to enable your desired plants to grow to their heart’s content.
Mistake #5: Improper Watering
The #1 cause of plant death is over-watering. Running a close second is under-watering. Plants are living things, and just like people and animals, they need water to survive, but very few like having wet feet all day long. Planting varieties with similar water needs in proximity to each other will save you a lot of headaches in the future. If you have low-lying areas that hold water, you may have to build them up or create a bog garden for that area. Similarly, a hot, sunny, dry area may be a great place for drought-tolerant and succulent plants.
There are many more nuances to gardening, but these are the 5 major gardening mistakes to avoid for beautiful flowers and healthy fresh vegetables. Take it slowly, learn one thing at a time, and soon you will have a yard full of wonderful things to show off to your neighbors and friends.
Personal Knowledge and over 40 Years Gardening Experience
USDA Cooperative Extension Service Offices
University of Florida IFAS Extension Service: Soil Testing
Clemson Cooperative Extension: Right Plant, Right Place