Top Six Mistakes New Gardeners Make and How to Fix Them

If you spend any time on social media, chances are good that at some point you’ve seen memes that talk about the role of mistakes in personal growth and success.

We agree that mistakes are great teachers, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t value in learning from the errors of people who’ve come before us.

This is particularly true in gardening, where beginners tend to make many of the same mistakes, from watering incorrectly to crowding their gardens. To spare you from these missteps, and their potential repercussions, we’ve listed them here.

And, in case you suspect you’re already making some of these mistakes, we’ve included tips for overcoming them.

Common mistakes new gardeners face | Vego Garden
Common mistakes new gardeners face

Selecting the wrong plants

As tempting as it is to pick plants for sheer beauty, or cravings for certain fresh veggies, you need to consider whether your plants are good fits for your local climate, light exposure, and soil conditions.

Mismatches can lead to poor growth, a lack of produce, and even plant death.

Fixing it: If you've already planted and are noticing that your plants are not thriving, try to pinpoint the reason. Seek help from another gardener or your County extension service if necessary. Are your struggling plants lacking sunlight, or are they in a spot that's too sunny? Are they cold-hardy, or do they require a warmer setting? Once you've identified the issue, there may be a few corrective measures you can take.

  • If possible, transplant struggling plants to a more suitable location. This could mean moving sun-loving plants to a brighter spot or relocating heat-sensitive plants to a shadier area.
  • You can also try to modify the existing environment to better suit your plants. For instance, use shades to protect plants from too much sun, or add mulch to insulate against cooler temperatures.
  • Sometimes, pairing the wrong plants with the right companions can alleviate the stress on them. Companion plants can provide shade, improve soil nutrients, and, in some cases, deter pests.
  • Tailor your watering and feeding schedule to the needs of the struggling plants.
  • If a plant is clearly unsuitable for your garden's conditions and cannot be easily rescued, the best course of action may be to replace it with a more suitable variety.

Planting at the wrong time

You’ve researched tomatoes that thrive in your region (very good!) and found a variety that does well there. The only problem is, since you’ve planted the tomatoes in June, you’ve been watching your baby plants languish under the harsh summer heat.

While researching which plants are best suited for your region is important, when you plant them matters, too.

Most plants prefer specific seasons - or portions of the season (early spring versus early summer, for example). Do your research on each plant species you consider for your garden.

Fixing it: If you realize you’ve already planted at the wrong time, there are steps you can take to increase your plants’ chances of doing well.

If you planted too early (risk of frost or cold damage):

  • Cover your plants with frost covers, heat frames, or even overturned pots to protect them at night or during freezes. Remove or open the coverings when temperatures are above freezing to provide sunlight and air circulation.
  • Add mulch to insulate the soil and keep root temperatures more stable.

If you planted too late (risk of heat stress or not enough growing time):

  • Provide shade coverings.
  • Apply mulch to help retain soil moisture.
  • Extend the season for plants that need more time to mature by providing cold frames or moving the plants into greenhouses/shelter.

Overcrowding plants

Plants that are too close together compete fiercely for sunlight, water, and nutrients. That can lead to an increased susceptibility to diseases and pests, underdeveloped growth, and reduced vegetable yields.

Overcrowded plants can also struggle with air circulation issues, which can foster fungal diseases like powdery mildew or blight.

Fixing it: Try thinning out seedlings or transplanting some plants to another area of the garden or into containers to give them the necessary space to grow.

Another possibility could be to stake or use trellises for plants that can benefit from vertical growth. This will increase air flow and can help prevent diseases while also making better use of the space you have.

Watering at the wrong time of day

When gardeners base water times on their schedules, instead of when it’s best for their plants, the results can be wasted water and declining plant health.

If you irrigate during the heat of the day, for example, a lot of the water is going to evaporate, posing the risk of wasted water and less moisture being absorbed by your plants’ roots.

And you water at night, there’s a chance that water on foliage won’t evaporate quickly enough, creating optimum conditions for mold and disease.

Fixing it: Water during the morning. This is the coolest time of the day, so your risk of excess evaporation is minimal. At the same time, water on foliage will have the entire day to evaporate. Another plus: Your plants will have the water they need to sustain them through the heat of the day.

Surface watering

It’s easy to assume that spraying the surface of your garden’s soil gives your plants the water they need without waterlogging them, but this approach is not doing your plants any favors.

Water absorption is a slow process that progresses through one layer of soil at a time. When you surface water, you probably aren’t providing enough water to fully saturate the layers of soil in your garden, meaning the moisture isn’t reaching your plants’ roots. That makes your plants susceptible to root shock, stunted growth, and poor health.

Fixing it: Instead of giving your garden daily surface waterings, wait until it needs a drink (feel for dry soil about 6 to 8 inches down) and provide a nice long soaking. A good rule of thumb is to apply about an inch of water. You can use a water gauge to help you bypass another common beginner’s mistake: overwatering.

Misreading signs of overwatering

That gets us to another easy-to-make false assumption, that yellowing — even wilting — leaves on your plants mean they need more water.

While these symptoms could point to underwatering, they also could also mean that plant roots are drowning in oversaturated soil. It’s very common for gardeners to see yellowing leaves, conclude their plants are parched, and give them more water to try to save them. This only exacerbates the problem, putting plants at risk of root rot and death.

Fixing it: Again, check your garden’s soil before watering, either by feeling it or with a moisture gauge. If the soil’s soaked, give your plants time to absorb the water. Keep in mind that watering needs will vary, depending on your plants’ species and environment. Make sure you check your soil regularly, so you don’t overcompensate and underwater your plants.

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