5 Common Mistakes Made by New Gardeners
New to the gardening game? Don’t let these frequently-made farming flubs put the kaibosh on your crop this summer!
Gardening mistake 1: Planting in poor quality soil.
The quality of the soil means everything to the health and vitality of the veggies and herbs growing in it. Your garden beds should be filled with dark, rich and loamy soil, formed from mountain rocks that have broken down and are rich in minerals.
Depending on where you live, your soil may be already be loamy, or it may be made of mostly clay or sand. If the latter is the case, purchase some quality soil from a local nursery before getting started with planting. You should also be composting a balance of green and brown matter, to fertilize your garden with throughout the growing season. This is the best way to assure a nutrient-rich place for your plants to feed and thrive.
Gardening mistake 2: Over- or under-watering.
Too much water, whether delivered by nature or by way of your garden hose, can result in plants that develop mold, rot and disease. Too little water will parch, and eventually kill, your garden plants. You can also make the mistake of watering on an inconsistent schedule, which can result in things like funny-shaped cucumbers. Work with the weather patterns to ensure that your plants are getting just the right amount of H2O.
Some people say “no more than an inch of water per week” but that’s difficult to gauge. Your best bet is to watch to see if the plants look droopy and check the moistness of the soil by digging a little patch in the garden bed. The hotter it gets, the thirstier your plants will be. Also, water-rich vegetables like cucumbers and melons need more water than Mediterranean natives like oregano and lavender. Check the seed packet instructions of any plants you’re not sure about.
Gardening mistake 3: Poor drainage.
Gardens that grow on flat soil cause the roots of the plants to spread out along the surface in search of water. This weakens the plant, and exposes the roots to uneven amounts of water depending on what the weather is doing. Roots that run deep are more likely to find water and nutrients below the ground despite what may or may not be coming out of the sky.
Your NJ garden will grow best in beds that are mounded into a high plateau of rich, fluffy soil. Raised garden beds do a perfect job of retaining just the right amount of moisture. The rain sinks deep into the prepared beds, and any extra water drains away via the sloped sides. Also, raised beds with sloped sides permit you to be less diligent in watering on a routine basis. The garden “saves” the water in the deep beds, and your plants take what they need when they need it.
Gardening mistake 4: Overcrowding the garden.
Those of us who tend a garden in a smaller space are typically guilty of this. Each nursery plant or packet of seeds that you buy contains specific planting instructions that include spacing between plants. You can choose to ignore the recommended spacing, but if you do then you invite problems as the season progresses.
A tender eggplant that has been placed too near to an indeterminate tomato plant will probably not get all the sunlight that it needs to produce fruit. A row of onions, or carrots, planted too close for comfort, can emerge oddly shaped, or smaller than they would have been had they been given some room to grow. A low-growing herb such as thyme will not thrive if shaded by a large kale plant. If you do screw up and try to cram extra plants than is good for your garden, you can always relocate them. Just be careful to avoid damaging the delicate roots as you dig them up, and give some extra water and compost fertilizer after the move.
Gardening mistake 5: Planting too early, or too late in the season.
Some plants, such as kale, are hardier than others. Here in NJ Zone 6, you can grow kale in spring, summer, fall and even winter, where it survives happily beneath a blanket of snow. But other, more delicate plants, may have a short window of time when the climate is just right, for them to sprout, mature, bear fruit and then harvest.
Tomatoes, for example, will probably become damaged or even perish, if planted in the garden prior to May 15, which is the expected end of the frost risk in our planting zone. But it’s also important to remember that if you plant tomatoes from seed on May 15, it will take too long for them to mature and bear fruit, before the cold snap of September kicks in. So, you must follow the instructions for starting tomato seeds indoors, well in advance of garden planting day. Or, purchase mature tomato plants with lots of flowers on them, to place in your garden beds on May 15.
Most lettuces go to seed by the time the temperature hits 80 degrees. So, if you have a lettuce cultivar that matures in a month and you plant it on June 1, you will have to wait a full month for the plant to mature, and by the time July arrives, the weather will be too hot and you may miss out on enjoying those tender lettuce leaves due to the plant having bolted. So, for this reason, a diligent gardener will pay close attention to the planting dates, as well as the days to maturation, for every vegetable or herb he attempts to grow.
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