Gardening can be a fun and easy way to put food on your family’s table. But it can also be frustrating when things don’t grow as you expected. Here are 12 gardening tips to help you avoid common mistakes made by novice and experienced gardeners alike.
1. Planting too early.
All seeds have an optimum temperature at which they sprout. Seeds that sprout at warm temperatures won’t do well if sown too early in the spring. They may rot. They may sprout and then the seedlings freeze during the next frost (as would also transplants set out too early). Or the seeds may go dormant, in which case you might forget about them and later replant the same spot to something else and be surprised when the first sown seeds sprout along with the second ones. The best ways to avoid planting too early are to get a good soil thermometer and know the average last frost date for your area.
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2. Planting too late.
Everything you grow in your garden as a certain maturation time, which is the number of days between first planting and first harvest. If you sow seeds, or set out transplants, too late in the season, the plants may freeze before their fruits have time to mature. Unless you plan to cover them with floating covers or some other method of frost protection, know the average last frost date for your area and calculate backward to determine the last reasonable date to plant a specific variety based on its maturation time.
3. Not amending the soil.
Unless you’re blessed with loamy garden soil — which consists of a balanced mix of clay, silt, sand, and organic matter — you’ll need to know how to improve garden soil by adding some amendments. For soil that is heavy in clay, you’ll need to add sand and organic matter to relieve compaction. For soil that is sandy, you’ll need to add compost or well-rotted manure to improve retention of moisture and nutrients.
4. Adding too much nitrogen.
Plants need nitrogen for chlorophyl production, but too much nitrogen can cause plants to become leafy and leggy. All that extra foliage takes its toll on the roots, which won’t grow and spread at their normal rate. As a result, the plants will produce little or not fruit and will be susceptible to disease and insect damage. Excess nitrogen also can cause an excess of mineral salts, resulting in plants that look sunburned. A good gardening tip is that, unless you grow plants that specifically require lots of nitrogen, go easy on the nitrogen.
5. Planting too close.
Transplants look so small, and seeds are even smaller. It’s awfully easy to plant them too close together. But crowded plants suffer from nutrient deficiencies, poor air circulation, and competition for moisture and sunlight. A gardening tip for success is to pay attention to the spacing recommendations listed on seed packets or seedling tags, and if necessary thin as the plants grow.
6. Planting too deep.
All seeds need contact with moisture in order to sprout. Large seeds, such as peas, beans, and corn, need to be planted deeper to maintain the proper moisture level for sprouting. Smaller seeds, such as lettuce and some herbs, require light to germinate. These seeds shouldn’t be covered, but sown into loosened soil and then pressed in. Similarly, some transplants should be planted at the same depth as they are in the pot to prevent the stems from rotting, while others (notably tomatoes and peppers) should be planted somewhat deeper to encourage more root growth. Each plant has unique requirements that are usually specified on the seed packet or seedling label.
7. Using too much mulch.
Mulching is great for controlling weeds and enhancing moisture retention. However, adding too much mulch can have the same effect as planting too deep. And if you use compost as mulch, it also serves as a source of nitrogen. If you plan to mulch with compost, it may be all the organic matter you need to add to your garden each year. How to mulch a garden involves knowing the right amount to use.
8. Using too little mulch.
Most of us who keep a garden love to work in the garden — except when it comes to pulling weeds. Using too little mulch around your growing plants won’t deter weed growth. And if you live where the weather is warm and dry, or where water is scarce, using too little mulch won’t help retain moisture. Generally, I like to add about an inch of compost as mulch when seedlings are a few inches high, and then add another two inches or so when the plants are about half grown. If you’re not constantly tilling your soil and turning up weed seeds, a total of two to three inches of mulch should suppress most weeds.
Neglecting to water the garden can be a problem where the climate is hot or dry or both. Underwatering is especially a problem for sprouting seeds or new transplants. A great gardening tip is the finger test can tell you whether or not your garden needs to be watered. If your garden is loamy, stick your finger 2 inches into the soil; if it’s moist, it doesn’t need water. For sandy soil, check 4 inches down. With clay, if you can’t easily get your finger 2 inches into the soil, it needs water.
Worse than underwatering is overwatering because waterlogged roots can’t get enough oxygen. As well as being a possible sign of underwatering, wilting can be an initial sign of overwatering. On the other hand, many types of garden plants wilt in the daytime heat and revive when the temperature cools in evening. If plants revive, they don’t need water. A gardening tip to avoid overwatering, as well as encourage deep root growth, is to water deeply and less often.
11. Planting in the wrong spot.
Every garden has microclimates where the conditions are slightly different from elsewhere in the garden. In some spots the temperature might be warmer or cooler than usual. Some areas might get less sun and more shade during the day. Differences in soil type or soil level could create areas where the soil is drier or wetter, or where drainage is either poor or too rapid. Some sections could be more or less susceptible to frost. Knowing your garden and knowing the needs of the plants you grow is a good gardening tip that will let you match plants to your garden’s microclimates.
12. Choosing the wrong plants.
Some plants will simply not grow well in your area. Plants that thrive in limited gardening zones won’t do well in a much higher or lower numbered zone. Plants that need a lot of moisture may not grow well in a drought-prone area, and conversely, plants that don’t like to be wet won’t be happy where the climate is rainy. Plants that have a long maturation period won’t produce well where the gardening season is short. Luckily, for nearly every fruit or vegetable you might want to grow, usually at least one variety has been developed to thrive under your specific conditions. Plant those varieties, and your garden will flourish.