If you’ve just started gardening but can’t seem to get your thumb “green enough,” make sure you’re not guilty of these popular gardening mistakes. If so, don’t fret: we’ll tell you how to fix these common mistakes so that you can be on your way to a productive vegetable garden.
Not enough full sun / bad garden location
Compare how much sun exposure your crops need to how much they are getting (check the back of the seed packet). While some crops (tomatoes, herbs, eggplant) need hours of direct sunlight, some crops may need a sunbathing break. If your sun-loving crops aren’t getting enough light, you’ll need to remove any shade barriers or, unfortunately, relocate your garden entirely.
If you need a mixture of sun exposure, consider two options: (1) create gardens in various locations to support different types of crops or (2) provide shade/sun barriers in a section of your garden. This could be as simple as a fence, small tarp, or a tree itself. Even in these somewhat-shady areas, lettuce and peas will grow just fine.
I once threw a rotten potato in my garden. The next year, I had potatoes. Unbeknownst to me at the time, my garden’s soil had been cultivated for thirty years by a Life Sciences professor. So how can you tell if you have good or bad garden soil?
Plants that fail to thrive might be an indication of poor soil, but the only quantitative way to know if your soil is the culprit is to test it. For a small fee,your local nursery will test and provide recommendations for improvement. If you could also try your local cooperative extension. If you’d rather skip the formal tests, follow these 10 Easy Soil Tests. You might need to add nutrients, raise the alkalinity, or add organic matter.
This process isn’t one-and-done: you will have to continually monitor your soil, as plants suck up a lot of nutrients. If all efforts fail, you can always build a raised bed and rely on the soil you create within it, rather than your garden soil. This is especially true if your soil is especially rocky, sandy, or has too much clay.
Too far away from a water source
In typical suburban lots, this shouldn’t be an issue, since standard garden hoses or sprinklers will likely reach even the furthest garden. However, on rural or large lots, if your garden is not conveniently located near a water source, it is easier to neglect it. In particularly hot climates, gardens might need to be watered twice per day; dragging buckets of water back and forth may drown your motivation to garden.
But remember, over-watering can be just as damaging as under-watering. You want to make sure you water your crop’s roots. If you only water the top of the soil, roots will not grow deeply. You can use a watering probe to determine if your water is reaching the roots.
Making your garden too big to manage
Gardening is rewarding, but also takes attention and effort. You’ll have to remember what you planted where (use visual aids to help), when you planted what, and how you care for everything. Depending on what type of garden you have or how big, it can also be a physical workout. Make sure you are prepared to tend to all nooks of your garden without fatigue, otherwise duties will pile up and become unmanageable.
This mistake also encompasses having lofty goals as a beginner gardener. While the image of abundant, freshly grown vegetables is tempting, remember that your skill and tolerance need time to grow, too. Start with small goals (for example: this spring I will dedicate my time to ensuring one crop grows beautifully) and then increase your ambitions a bit each season.
Planting too closely together
You might find yourself in this position if you planned a too-large garden. It’s smart to make good use of space, but remember that your plants will fight for nutrients, water, and territory. An empty garden bed looks inviting, but even small plants will fill this space.
The key lies on the back of your seed packet. Look for “Spacing” or “Thin to” columns. This will tell you how much room the seedling will need as it grows. It’s common to plant more seeds than necessary in case some never take root. However, in the event that they all do, they will need to be thinned out (a painful sacrifice) to ensure adequate room for growth, otherwise all may die. You can thin by either pulling the plant (be careful not to disturb root systems) or cutting off excess plants.
Growing vegetables you don’t even like to eat
Sure, its nice to share with neighbors and family, so definitely section off a part of your garden for experimental crops or vegetables to share with family. However, garden plans should revolve around what you and your family eat. Vegetable gardens require work, and it will literally feel like work if you continually care for and harvest crops that you give away because you don’t enjoy eating them.
Alternatively, if you prefer growing certain crops that you don’t like to eat, arrange a neighborhood swap in which you can trade your crops for others. If your neighborhood is truly creative, divide your harvest and hold a recipe contest. You may find a recipe that you do enjoy!
Planting everything at once and having too much produce
One sure way to become an overwhelmed gardener is to plant all your crops at once. You’ll find yourself harvesting too much at once, and you’ll also overwhelm your refrigerator and/or countertops. Instead, plant crops several weeks apart. This will free up your time so you can devote attention to struggling crops. It will also result in less wasted food.
Creative Commons Flickr photo courtesy of Zdenko Zivkovic.