There is nothing more exhilarating than that excitement that a new gardener displays. Take a few moments and think back to when you first decided to have your very own garden. There was nothing that was going to get in your way to having your very own bountiful supply of every vegetable that you could imagine, and you did it all yourself.  Right?  We all felt this way when we started our journey to produce our own food – at least on some scale.

We often get questions from both seasoned and newbie gardeners about how to create the ‘perfect’ garden.  The first thing that we tell everyone – there is no such thing as a perfect garden.

One of our experiments that turned out great last year - our heirloom Chinese peppers
One of our experiments that turned out great last year – our heirloom Chinese peppers

The real key is to understand that every year is an experiment, and to embrace the harvest and what you learn from the previous year’s adventure.  What worked last year, will not necessarily work this year.

However, with every year of gardening, we continue to learn from what Mother Nature decides for us, what the soil tells us, and what the crops provide for us. If we could go back in time and start over with our first garden, we would almost be guaranteed to have a more productive and satisfying experience.  As with any new adventure, we learn from what we experience, and from what other’s can teach us.

There are a few common mistakes that new gardener’s tend to make, and we hope that this post will help you on your journey to a successful garden season – whether that is measured in terms of a bountiful harvest, or a better understanding of your gardening experience.

1. LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION:

Tomatoes need lots of sun to reach their peak - so avoid planting in shady areas
Tomatoes need lots of sun to reach their peak – so avoid planting in shady areas

We have all seen the tags in the nursery that provides us with the sun/shade requirement.  Just because we find them in a ‘shaded’ area in the greenhouse, don’t expect that you can plant a sun required plant in a partially shaded area.  Sure your plant will live for a while, but your will have late and fewer blooms than you anticipated and you will become very frustrated about the size of your vegetables. Pay attention to the sun exposure recommendations for what you are planting, and plant accordingly.

2. SOIL PREPARATION:

Soil preparation is one of the keys to a great garden
Soil preparation is one of the keys to a great garden

Soil preparation is the key to a good garden! As most of you know – we do not use a rototiller in our garden – in fact, we do not even own one!  See: No Rototiller Needed

No matter what you work your ground with – make sure that the soil is not too wet when you first turn it over.  Wet soil will lead to clumpy soil – which keeps plants from expanding their roots – and absorbing valuable nutrients.  Be sure to add lots of organic matter to your soil – compost and shredded leaves are excellent choices!

Another great practice when gardening is to use cover crops or green manure crops – a valuable way to bring back nutrients and structure to your soil each fall and spring.  Good soil = healthy plants!  See: Cover Crops

3. MULCHING:

Once they are established, mulching is the better option than tillingor between rows. Here carrots benefit from straw mulch - keeping in moisture and keeping back weeds
Once they are established, mulching is the better option than tillingor between rows. Here carrots benefit from straw mulch – keeping in moisture and keeping back weeds

No, this isn’t only for your flower beds.  Mulching with an organic material such as straw, leaves, grass clippings, etc. does several things. It allows the moisture to remain in the soil where you need it and keeps the root area of your plant cooler, causing less stress on the plant. It also decreases the amount of weed growth in the area which will compete with the water and nutrients in the soil, not to mention – less weeding on the gardener. And as a bonus, as the mulch breaks down, it continues to add organic material to the soil, providing additional nutrients that the soil becomes robbed of during growing season. A layer of mulch 2-3 inches deep is recommended around your plants.  See: The Basics Of Mulching

4. WATERING:

A green bell pepper glistens after a rain in the garden. The right amount of water is critical to a plants success.
A green bell pepper glistens after a rain in the garden. The right amount of water is critical to a plants success.

Many new gardeners tend to kill new plants by either drowning them with too much water, or too little. There are a couple of quick hints to make sure you are watering correctly. Know your plant’s moisture requirements. The general rule of thumb is that most plants need about one inch of water per week. It is typically better to water a little deeper every few days rather than to water a little every day. This allows your roots to dig down further in the soil and build a stronger base. Get to know your plants and research what type of moisture that they require – and don’t feel the need to get that hose out every day!

5. FERTILIZING:

Compost Tea: You can make your own organic fertilizer simply by steeping water in fresh compost!
Compost Tea: You can make your own organic fertilizer simply by steeping water in fresh compost!

Again, this is either a too much, or too little problem. Many people start out thinking that if you fertilize once, that more must be better, right?  Wrong! Whether you choose natural or synthetic fertilizers –  more isn’t necessarily better. Although it’s harder to go overboard with natural compost tea, it is possible to provide too much fertilizer, and it is very easy to provide excessive fertilizer treatments using the ‘Miracle-Gro’ methods.  Too much fertilizer can cause fast growth that causes spindly cores to develop and an excessive amount of foliage – all with little vegetable production. This lack of skeletal strength will cause the plant to not support the growth later in the season. Too much fertilizer can also lead to an increase in pest and disease issues. Make sure you know the type and amount of fertilizer that your plant needs.  See: Making Your Own Compost Tea  If you are starting out with no compost – you can make a great fertilizer tea from a purchased bag of worm castings. They are an incredible all natural fertilizer : See: Worm Castings

6. PLANTING WHAT YOU EAT:

Plant what you eat! We love peppers, tomatoes, garlic and onions - so we plant lots of them!
Plant what you eat! We love peppers, tomatoes, garlic and onions – so we plant lots of them!

Brand new gardener’s want to plant every vegetable that they have ever eaten – and many that they haven’t.  Start off with a few vegetables, and know how much produce each plant will provide.  Learn from your neighbors and local greenhouses about what grows well in your area/zone. If you plant too many or too much, you will not only be spending an excessive amount of time in the garden, but also inundated with produce. Then the next problem will arise – what in the world will I do with all of these tomatoes, etc…

We should add this as number one, but the most disheartening mistake that a new gardener can make is to not try and give up.  One gardening season is not enough to determine if you have succeeded or failed.  There hasn’t been a year yet that we knew exactly what we would get out of our own garden. And yes, every year we are faced with an unexpected pest and become part time scientists trying to figure out how to naturally get rid of them.

Happy Gardening! Jim and Mary. This post may contain affiliate links.




13 thoughts on “The 6 Most Common Gardening Mistakes New Gardeners Make

  • April 28, 2015 at 7:23 am
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    Still don’t understand how much to water…

  • June 22, 2014 at 9:40 am
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    We are being attacked by evil beetles, aka Japanese Beetles. We r spraying Neem oil in limited amts- dont want to kill lady bugs or bees, we pick them off and drown them then leave bodies for other beetles to smell, and put out milky spore last year. Any other suggestions? Lastyear they killed 3 butterfly bushes before we realized what was happening! We have been told traps attract them from miles around and make it worse! Thanks for any advice u have

  • May 26, 2014 at 12:49 pm
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    PLANTING WHAT YOU EAT: I’m 56 years old and I love to garden. While looking at seeds to plant this year I was amazed at how much I have never tried in all my years! I am a product of my parents and most likely their parents. So, this year I’m getting bold and I’ve planted new seeds for “new foods” to try. I find myself chatting with more people on how they prepare these foods. It was just 3 years ago I disliked Rhubarb, but I kept nibbling and finally hit a rhubarb crisp at church that was out of this world! I harvested my first rhubarb this spring and made my first Rhubarb-Strawberry-Orange freezer jam! Yum!

  • March 19, 2014 at 2:34 pm
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    Thanks for this article! As a new gardener (2nd year) who had some success, and some failure last year, your post really resonated with me. Particularly, I needed to hear:
    “We should add this as number one, but the most disheartening mistake that a new gardener can make is to not try and give up. One gardening season is not enough to determine if you have succeeded or failed. ”
    Because I have been feeling like a big brown thumb lately. But I’m all excited for my garden now! Thank you!

    • March 26, 2014 at 9:27 pm
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      Glad we could help and yes – the key is to never ever give up!

      • May 26, 2014 at 11:18 am
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        Can you give suggestions for growing garlic and onions? You can’t find them as organic in stores, and we have never been successful in growing them for some reason, even though we can grow everything else.

  • February 19, 2014 at 7:58 pm
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    Food pantries gladly take in my extra bounty! It’s kinda like donating clothes so that you can shop for more!

  • February 18, 2014 at 1:46 pm
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    What a great resource with spring coming up quickly.
    I’d love for you to share this on The Maple Hill Hop!

  • February 18, 2014 at 1:02 pm
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    This is every thing I repeat over and over again to any one who asks and stops long enough to listen. Thanks for putting it in words. I hope you don’t mind, I am going to reblog this.

Comments are closed.

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