10 Common Garden Mistakes

Got garden game? Check your skill set against these very common garden mistakes.

Photo By: Julie Martens Forney

Photo By: Julie Martens Forney

Photo By: Julie Martens Forney

Photo By: Julie Martens Forney

Photo By: Julie Martens Forney

Photo By: Julie Martens Forney

Photo By: Julie Martens Forney

Photo By: Julie Martens Forney

Photo By: Julie Martens Forney

Photo By: Julie Martens Forney

Letting Self-Sowers Go Wild

Plants that sow their own seed create serendipitous splashes of color in the garden, like this pretty combination of self-sown Summerina echibeckia and Tuscan kale. But left to their own devices, self-sowing plants can easily take over desired plantings, even established perennials. Self-sowers include plants like cleome, dill, queen anne’s lace, coneflower, nasturtium and globe thistle. To keep self-sowing plantings under control, pull plants before seeds mature. Use care tossing them into your compost pile, because you may inadvertently spread the seeds around your garden in the finished compost.

Skimping on Soil Improvement

If there’s one secret to having a beautiful, healthy garden, it’s healthy soil. Devote time and energy to improving your soil on a regular basis. Add organic matter, such as compost, bark fines or composted manure. Organic matter improves soil fertility, drainage and water retention and also helps fight pests and diseases that live in soil. How often should you improve soil? Some gardeners do it every time they tuck a plant into soil or after each crop finishes in a vegetable garden. Improving soil once a year is a good way to build quality soil slowly.

Omitting Mulch

Never underestimate the power of mulch. This simple ground cover provides a host of benefits, including suppressing weeds, helping soil retain water and keeping soil (and plant roots) cool in the heat of summer. Organic mulches like shredded bark, compost or fine forest mulch also slowly decompose and help to build healthy soil. How much mulch is enough? Aim for a 2- to 4-inch-thick layer. Refresh mulch as it breaks down so you maintain that consistent covering on soil.

Wrong Plant, Wrong Place

Putting plants in the wrong place never turns out well. This hosta is a shade-loving plant, and when it’s planted in too much sun, leaves get sunburn. Bleached-out spots on leaves eventually turn brown and fall away. Read pot tags when tucking plants into your garden. Make sure you’re matching the right plant with the right place, whether it’s a plant that craves sun, moist soil or lean, rocky soil.

Too Many Plants

Both newbies and seasoned gardeners make this mistake: crowding too many plants into a space. When plants are overcrowded, the look may be lush, but plants can’t reach their full potential. In this garden, two years after planting, the purple coneflower and yellow coreopsis had vanished, overshadowed and elbowed out by the other plants. Always read pot tags to learn how much space each plant needs to thrive. Give plants ample room to ensure the best growth.

Overlooking Pests

Take time at least every other day to walk through your garden and look closely at plants. When pests are attacking, you’ll see signs of their presence. Holes in leaves, small black seed-looking things on leaves, insect clusters and webbing on plants are just a few common signs of a pest outbreak. When you think you have a bug issue, take time to identify the culprit so you can take appropriate action to curtail their munching. Don’t ignore pests. It only takes a few days for insects to damage a plant.

Skipping Staking

Take time to stake plants before high winds arrive. Some plants, including peony, Oriental lily and tomato, need stakes to keep top-heavy stems upright. Choose stakes that are strong enough and tall enough to get the job done. In this case, too-short stakes allowed an early summer thunderstorm to topple and break blossom-laden peony stems. Insert stakes before plants have reached one-third of their final height. That’s the secret to successful staking.

Overwatering or Underwatering

Water plants effectively and efficiently by testing different irrigation methods and learning how well your soil holds water. Don’t judge when to water based on wilting leaves. Some plants naturally wilt under the midday sun, and plants also wilt when soil is too wet. Before watering, shove your finger into soil as far as you can and pull it out. If it comes out dry and clean or you can’t even shove it into soil, you need to water. If soil sticks to your finger or feels moist, don’t water. When watering, deliver water directly to soil to reduce the amount lost to evaporation. Soaker hoses, drip irrigation, micro-irrigation and bubblers all deliver water directly to soil. If using a traditional sprinkler, make sure it’s not watering surrounding grass, sidewalk or driveway.

Underestimating Aggressive Plants

Always read pot tags and consider looking plants up online to confirm just how tall and wide they’ll grow. With living groundcovers like this perennial alpine strawberry, it’s also important to consider how far plants can spread. Groundcovers used as bed edging may need constant attention to keep them in bounds. Read plant reviews online and ask local garden centers to see how aggressively a particular plant grows in your region. A docile beauty in a northern zone with hard winters can often be a garden thug in regions with mild winters.

Letting Weeds Multiply

One of the quickest ways to let weeds overtake your garden is by letting them set seed. If you don’t have enough time to weed, use the time you have wisely by removing any weeds that are flowering and/or setting seed. Each time you refuse to let a weed toss more seed into your yard, you are winning the war on weeds. When pulling weeds with seedpods, skip adding those to your compost pile, or you risk spreading those seeds around your garden in the finished compost.

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