4 Beginner Gardening Mistakes to Avoid

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If you're a beginner gardener, avoiding these four common mistakes can help you have a better, more productive garden | ourheritageofhealth.com

Even if you have really good soil and a lot of sunlight, there are still plenty of things that can go wrong with your garden and keep it from turning out the way you had envisioned it would be.

I have rocky, sandy soil and a lot more shade than sun, so my poor little garden is already at a bit of a disadvantage, and my first few years I made plenty of beginner gardening mistakes.

Let’s just say it’s a good thing I’m not trying to depend on my garden to be my only source of food! I can only imagine the pressure that farmers and homesteaders must have felt back in the days when the success of their crops would decide whether they would go hungry that winter or not.

I still make plenty of mistakes now, too. When things get busy, I don’t put quite as much time into properly preparing the soil like I know I should. And there usually comes a point in the summer when it’s just so hot and humid that I basically give up on weeding completely.

Over the years, though, I’ve gradually learned how to make my garden a little bit more successful. It’s still pretty small, and it’s definitely not going to win any prizes for being the prettiest or the most neatly organized garden, but at least it’s better than it used to be 🙂

(And, yes, if you’re wondering, the picture above is one I took of my garden a couple of years ago. It was my second year gardening, and it was early in the season before I had let the weeds take over, so that’s why it still looks pretty neat.)

These four beginner gardening mistakes are all ones that I’ve made, and, if this is your first year gardening, hopefully you can avoid making the same mistakes I did and have a better chance at a successful first garden!

4 Beginner Gardening Mistakes to Avoid:

1) Planting Too Many Varieties of Veggies

When you’re just starting out with a garden, it’s a good idea to keep it as simple as possible for the first year. It’s tempting to want to try a little of everything, but you’ll have a much better chance of having a successful garden if you focus on just a few varieties for the first year and then add in others the next year.

When I first started ordering heirloom seeds online, I went a little bit overboard that first year. I wanted to try them all, and I ordered far too many of them. It was a lot to try to keep track of them all, and I ended up not having the time to really learn about how each type should be planted and what type of growing conditions they needed, etc.

Now that I’ve had a garden for a few years, I’ve figured out what types of plants do well in my yard and which ones don’t, but if I could go back to the year I first started a garden, I would have been better off just trying a few simple, easy-to-grow varieties like peas and beans.

2) Crowding Plants Too Close Together

This kind of goes along with the first mistake. If you’ve tried to plant too many varieties, you’re probably also trying to squeeze as many seeds or seedlings into your garden space as possible.

My first year gardening, I had visions of a huge harvest, and I packed the seeds as closely together as possible, thinking I would have more produce that way. I also didn’t thin out the seedlings properly after the seeds had sprouted because I hated the thought of pulling out perfectly healthy plants.

Instead of a huge, productive harvest, though, I ended with up weak, straggly-looking plants, and I could barely find room to step between them without destroying them (since I had forgotten about planning enough space to walk around them too.)

The moral of the story: less equals more. Fewer plants spaced further apart will end up being healthier and producing more fruit than plants crowded together.

3) Watering Plants Too Often, or at the Wrong Time of Day

I’ve been guilty of this mistake many times. It’s easy to worry so much about whether your plants are getting enough water that you end up giving them too much water by mistake. Some plants do need more water than others, but generally they do better with fewer, more thorough waterings (like they would get if if were raining) than they do with getting a shower from the hose every time you walk by and think they look even a little bit thirsty.

It’s also generally considered best to water in the earlier part of the day rather than in the evening because watering at night could contribute to the growth of fungus, especially for plants that don’t do well in very damp conditions.

4) Planting the Wrong Varieties Next to Each Other

If you feel like you’ve tried everything and you still can’t figure out why your garden isn’t thriving, it might be that you’re planting the wrong varieties next to each other.

Certain types of plants do really well when they are together, helping to keep away insects and pests or by helping to enrich the soil. Others plants, though, may actually inhibit the growth of the plants that they are near.

By using companion planting and planning your garden to keep together the varieties that work well with each other, you have a better chance of having a successful garden.

For more information about companion planting, you can find charts and lists of companionable plants at these links:

Companion Planting (Overview and Chart)

Plant Companions: Friend or Foe?

An In-Depth Companion Planting Guide

Want to Learn More About Starting a Garden?

If you’re a beginner gardener, or even if you’ve been gardening for a few years but want to pick up a few new tips to make your garden even better, Rodale’s Basic Organic Gardening: A Beginner’s Guide to Starting a Healthy Garden  is a great resource for learning how to plant seeds, how to manage weeds and pests naturally, how to get good soil, how to harvest, etc.

(Update May 2016: I’ve just written another beginner gardening post about 4 Secrets for a Better Beginner Garden. You can find that post HERE:)

What gardening mistakes am I forgetting? I’m sure there are others. If you have a gardening tip or something you learned the hard way, let us know in the comments!

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If you're a beginning gardener, avoiding these four common mistakes can help you to have a better, more productive garden | ourheritageofhealth.com

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Further Reading for more resources with tips for growing a garden:

From Beginner to Pro – Top Tips and Tricks for an Amazing Garden  by Nourishing Liberty

 Solutions for Common Problems with Seedlings by Jen and Joey Go Green

20 Perennial Vegetables to Plant Once and Enjoy Forever by Small Footprint Family

How to Check the Viability of Old Seeds by The Homestead Garden

 

60 Responses to 4 Beginner Gardening Mistakes to Avoid

  1. brenda says:

    Make a note! However you want to do it…may a record of what you did in your garden. I have mine plotted on my computer. I can take notes through out the growing season of what worked and what I need to change. YOu’ll appreciate your notes next spring 🙂

  2. JC says:

    I am a seasoned, successful gardener, not an expert, and would like to help you with some good information for easy gardening. It will make you look like a pro~
    *when planting seed or plant, put epsom salts by the tablespoon full into each hole.

    *Continue to use epsom salt through out your growing season for super healthy results~make a liquid but pour slowly to allow liquid to absorb and not run off. Or, if its raining or getting ready to rain, put the dry salts on the ground around each plant and let the rain do its thing.

    *at end of gardening season, wait for cold weather then put down black plastic or rotted hay in thick layer to cover and nourish the ground throughout the winter, rain/snow packing down the straw/hay/wood chips, building top soil. In spring move just enough for planting and recover area. Keeps soil moist and fed. If weeds show up pull and lay down on top to die and feed the soil, or cover with more cut grass or rotting hay or straw or wood chips.

    *If starting with sod or bad soil, the black plastic in the hot month’s will kill all disease or bad bugs and improve soil. Making soil very pliable and no digging needed.

    I hope this is clear, if not, reply and I can explain. juswingit.wordpress.com if you type in at google, growing sweet potatoes, with my blog name, it will bring you to the “how to” from start to finish with pictures. How to start slips etc.

  3. Jamie says:

    Hello, Lori! What a truly rewarding life you live!

    I have been planting a front yard garden, along the city easement, due to problems with shade and have been getting somewhat better results than when I planted inside of my yard. I also put straw down between the plants and rows to prevent weeds and to keep the soil moist between watering’s. So far, it has worked very well. I once had a farmer stop and asked how I keep my garden so weed free and she was shocked to learn that straw was the answer to her weed woes.
    I hope this information might help others looking for ways to keep weeds at bay.

    Please keep up the good works here, Lori. You have no idea how many people are inspired by your gentle way of living life.:)

    • ourheritageofhealth says:

      Thank you, Jamie! 🙂 That’s a great idea about the straw!

    • judith hanses says:

      Yes, just make sure you use straw and not hay. A neighbor of mine bought too much hay for his garden and gave me the excess. What I didn’t know at the time was that hay has seed(hayseed) so I was pulling not only the regular weeds that popped up in my garden, but then the additional weeds from the hay seeds. Lesson learned; us straw, not hay.

  4. Amber W says:

    I planted a spring garden back in March (I’m in Arizona) and all of my plants, except the corn, are stunted! They are taking FOR-EV-ERRR to grow. My beans…tiny, small leaves, and bean-less. My beets, pathetic. My parsley sprouted, but it stayed tiny and turned a little yellow! I’m so sad. I am pretty sure it has to do with the watering schedule. I just made a soaker hose and placed it on top of the soil because I’m pretty sure my beans got a disease from overhead watering. So now I’m going for low and slow watering. Anyway, great post! I can definitely relate to the planting-too-many-varieties one.

    • Deborah says:

      I don’t know what you were planting but try the “Three Sisters” gardening method that will provide shade for the vegetable plants that need it. Obtain a book on which plants need what(when it comes to exposure to sunlight as well as soil conditions)to use as a reference then pick what other people have said grows well in your region to create your own Three Sisters garden. For example, since you have had success with corn, plant corn with varieties of beans and the types of squash that do well in your area and which you like. Build dirt mounds in the garden for the runoff of water so that the squash will not sit in a swamp, plant the corn at the top and then plant the beans and squash below, spacing the seeds or starts as directed in most gardening books. The corn stalks will act like a trellis to the bean vine, and the leaves of the squash will shade the ground and thus protect the roots of both the corn and beans from the blazing sun.

      • ourheritageofhealth says:

        Great advice, Deborah! I love this method of planting. Thanks for sharing with us!

      • Arna Bronstein says:

        I plant lettuce between tomato plants. This helps to “shade” the lettuce, once the tomato plants grow. It helps to keep lettuce from bolting so early in a hot summer.

        • ourheritageofhealth says:

          That’s a great tip, Arna! My lettuce always seems to bolt too early, so I’ll have to give that a try next year.

  5. I made mistake #4 this year. I didn’t check the list first and planted potatoes next to strawberries. I did not get the same return on the strawberries that I have been use to.
    Also didn’t realize how large potatoes grow. They blocked out my cucumbers as the potatoes grew MUCH faster and blocked out the sun.

    • ourheritageofhealth says:

      I’ve definitely made the mistake of not realizing how large plants can grow too! I planted pumpkin one year, and I couldn’t believe how far the vines spread!

  6. […] to it. You can also find some great bloggers who write about typical beginner gardening mistakes. Our Heritage of Health, for example, wrote about what Beginner Gardening Mistake to Avoid and The Prairie Homestead wrote […]

  7. Terry Cathey says:

    Deborah, Thank you for your time. My one problem is ‘snap weed’, Washington state, coast side. Sometimes I get so frustrated I’m tempted to tell my husband to take out all the garden area and let go back to grass. I spend so much time fighting it, I have minimal time for flowers and veggies.
    The other issue is I’m very frieghtened of snakes! I’d like to put plastic cover on the veggie garden through winter but I would have a fit while pulling it off.
    Appreciate any suggestions. Thanks, Terry

    • Arna Bronstein says:

      I am deathly afraid of snakes. I use landscape cloth and cut holes to plant the veggie plants. I slit the paper to plant seeds. Really helps to cut down on weeding, and I have not encountered any snakes. Hope I have not jinxed myself for next summer.

      • ourheritageofhealth says:

        I’ve never found any snakes in my garden either, but using landscape cloth sounds like a good way to keep both the snakes and the weeds away. Thanks for sharing your tips!

      • Lela says:

        If you go to a farm and ranch store look for Sulfur pellets or powder. Pellets last longer. Spread about 2 feet wide and all the way around your garden. Snakes will not cross over Sulfur it burns them.

        • ourheritageofhealth says:

          Good to know! Thankfully I’ve never seen any snakes near my garden, but I’m sure lots of other people probably have.

  8. Lois says:

    Time of day for watering is important, morning is the best. Watering during the heat of the day means water is being wasted through evaporation. Watering in the evening contributes to disease and fungus problems and, in addition, plants do not take up water at night. This applies to lawns as well.

  9. Kevin says:

    Impressive write-up! Great beginners gardening mistakes you have pointed out in your article. That would be of great help. Thanks a lot for sharing your knowledge.

  10. Mary Jo says:

    THE most important tip is soil preparation–loosen, add humus any way you can. Dig and loosen at least 8 inches down. Your soil may need epsom salts, but perhaps not. In fall, add manure, and cover with landscape cloth to prevent grass and weeds taking hold. Knowing your soil is crucial.
    I mulch around plants with dead mowed grass to prevent moisture loss and to prevent weed seeds blowing in. Straw is good–as long as it has no oat seed on it. But straw also let voles (field mice) hid in our plot, then chew through our plants at night. No more straw for me. I am also using dead leaves from a landscaper who left a pile last fall. This amends the soil as we have much clay content. Manure is good for soil – to a point.

    • ourheritageofhealth says:

      Very true, Mary Jo. The soil is so important! These are all great tips. Thank you for sharing with us! 🙂

  11. Rhonda says:

    I have an uncle who lives in AZ. They don’t have many bees there so he pollinates his plants when the first sign of blooms. He takes a long stick and puts a cotton ball on the end with electric tape. He goes from bloom to bloom dabbing each one with the cotton. I tried it and with in days I had a lot of tomatoes forming. That may seem strange but our population is getting smaller. So if you have blooms with no fruit, try this.

  12. […] Worried you might not get that first garden right? Lori has you covered with beginning gardener tips. […]

  13. Nicole says:

    Great post! I really want to get into gardening but I still don’t know a lot of things, so I’m currently learning about the topic. This was a really useful post for me, thanks. 🙂

  14. Lynn says:

    I want to grow melons but the first time I did this the melons were tasteless. Beautiful flesh but no sweetness. can you help with this?
    I live in Hawaii and it is dry. My uncle says that using Lyme in the soil will sweeten the fruits. Can you help?

    Reply

    • ourheritageofhealth says:

      Hi Lynn, I’ve actually never tried growing melons before, so I really don’t have any experience with them. Soil is always one of the most important parts of growing a successful garden, though, so I think your Uncle’s idea of adding lime to help improve the soil is probably a good idea. Good luck with your melons!

  15. […] Beginning Gardening Mistakes to Avoid from Our Heritage of Health […]

  16. adam says:

    i’m starting a pot garden,my plants stragley!i have not thined any of them.should i? thanks

    • ourheritageofhealth says:

      Yes, it’s usually a good idea to thin out your seedlings (even though I know it’s hard to pull them out of the soil!) If you don’t think them at all, though, they might not have enough room to grow properly because they will be too crowded together.

  17. Lady Lee says:

    Great information. I’ve been guilty of making all those mistakes. I can’t help but ordering seven verities of every vegetable, those seed catalogs are hard for me to handle!
    I keep a rain gauge in my garden. A rule of thumb is that your garden needs one inch of water a week. I check and empty the gauge on the same day every week and if we didn’t have enough rain, I water. One inch is approximately 0.6 gallons per square foot.
    Subscribers to my site receive free garden printables like seed ordering sheet, plant spacing, garden journal and so on, if you or your readers are interested.
    Thanks for sharing your experience!

  18. Jessica says:

    I’m planning on companion planting this spring, just curious, I have 2 raised beds I will be planting in. The 2 beds are about 1 1/2 – 2 feet apart. Can plants that are bad for each other still be affected if they are in separate raised beds? How far from each other do they need to be? Thank you for any help!

    • ourheritageofhealth says:

      I would think that should be fine to use the separate raised beds 2 feet apart. It’s possible for the plants to still be affected in separate raised beds (like if one plant attracted a bug that was a harmful pest to another plant, for example), but it’s a lot less likely for them to be negatively affected since they won’t be sharing the same soil in the same raised bed. One thing you could also do to give them a little more distance from each other would be to plant them in opposite ends of the raised beds so that they’re diagonal to each other rather than parallel.

  19. Michelle Bradley says:

    Great tips!!! Especially true about starting with best soil possible. I did this a few years back and despite some other bad gardening choices I have made –i.e. mistakes– it’s my well prepared soil that saves me. Also my added tip: place your tomatoe cages over your little sprouts as soon as you see them, and don’t wait until they need the cages. By then it’s too late and you damage the plant bybtryingto fit the wire cage over the 1-1.5 foot tall plants.

  20. Lisa Tranbarger says:

    Tip# 352
    Don’t plant tomatoes next to jalapeño peppers! Wonder if that’s where the phrase ‘hot tomatoes’ comes from…?

    • ourheritageofhealth says:

      Good to know! I’ve never tried that before, but I’ll make sure not to in the future, lol 🙂

      • Lisa Tranbarger says:

        I don’t understand the science behind this, my mom says this also happens between melons and cucumbers planted next to each other. The tomatoes were great for salsa, but not for the spaghetti sauce I planned to can.

        • ourheritageofhealth says:

          That’s really interesting. I think it’s pretty fascinating that just planting something near another plant can affect its flavor.

  21. Celia Sawyer says:

    Definitely a very helpful post! My best friend just started her first garden and she’ll be very glad to have your ideas on mind. I’m surely recommending this great information to her. Happy gardening!

  22. Ann says:

    On tip number 3 after years of gardening, water only in mornings to mid-afternoon. Not evening because insects love the water left on plants and will be drawn to them. Unless you water the soil and not the plant itself.

    • ourheritageofhealth says:

      Good to know! That’s a great tip, especially for organic gardeners who tend to have an insect problem.

  23. Hi Lori,

    Lovely article with some great info, but I would like to bust a myth I think you are accidentally perpetuating in it. Water droplets do not scorch the leaves of plants. That is a myth. The focal length of the water is too far to make it burn leaves. Don’t believe me though. Here is a link to the puyallup.edu website that talks about it.

    https://puyallup.wsu.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/403/2015/03/leaf-scorch.pdf

    You should also do some more googling yourself to be sure you get the info from multiple sources.

    • ourheritageofhealth says:

      Hi Sean,
      Thank you for posting the link to this article. There’s always something new to learn about gardening, and watering is certainly an important aspect to consider. The old adage is to “never water under midday sun,” although the original reasoning behind that adage may not have even been intended to be because of the scorching of the leaves and that connection may have been perpetuated over time. I have come across mentions of research by Dr. Gabor Horvath at Hungary’s Eotvos University linking leaf scorch to watering plants with small hairs on the leaves (but not plants with smooth leaves,) but then, on the other hand, there are several articles that contradict that, including the one you linked to. For the sake of simplicity, since this is intended to be an article for beginner gardeners, I will update the article to omit the mention of the possibility of leaf scorch and simply state that morning watering is generally considered to be the ideal time of day.

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