Gardening Mistakes And How To Avoid Them

Gardening Mistakes And How To Avoid Them

Overwatering to planting too tightly, are some of the most common gardening faux pas which are born from the best intentions; however, these mistakes can lead to plant stress or its demise. If you are like me you maybe making these common gardening mistakes.

Wrong Plant, Wrong Place

Solution: Choose plants suited to your climate (check plant tag and hardiness zone); plant them in the right sun exposure and soil type.

If you plant a shade-loving fern in the hot sun, there’s just no way it will thrive. The same goes for putting a sun-loving plant in dark shade or planting a dry-climate shrub in an area with heavy rainfall. While this may seem obvious, planting the wrong plant in the wrong place is one of the most common gardening miscalculations. If you make this mistake the plant will show signs of distress, such as yellowing or burnt leaves or little growth.

Choosing the right plant is important but can be challenging for beginer gardeners to get right.

A good place to start is to look up your climate zone. Look at the sun and shade pattern of the area you would like to plant as well as the soil type and moisture level. Cross-check with plant tags at your local nursery. A well-chosen plant, whether native or exotic, suited to your climate and site will need little care to thrive. A landscape designer can help choose plants that will grow well in your climate and garden. Use the expertise of your local nursery.

Forgetting About Soil Health

Solution: Enrich soil with compost before planting, and adopt practices that build healthy soil long term.

While we only see what happens aboveground, it’s what’s below the surface that feeds your plants.  Spend some time and effort into creating a rich, well-drained soil before putting any plants in the ground.

Do a basic soil test before planting to check soil pH and for the presence (or lack thereof) of essential plant nutrients and minerals. Then enrich the soil with high-quality compost and organic fertilizers to address any nutrient deficiencies.

To build healthy soil long term, avoid practices that strip the soil’s top layer and kills the beneficial organisms that help plants grow. Leave leaves below shrubs and trees or use high-quality mulch to keep soil protected. Avoid chemical-based fertilizers and pesticides that, if used incorrectly, can kill soil organisms.


Solution: Water according to plant needs. Allow soil to dry out between waterings.

Most plants don’t like sitting in water-logged soil, and overwatering, particularly if soil does not drain freely, can lead to root rot and plant death.

Overwatering is the most common mistakes gardeners make: too-frequent watering leads to lazy root growth. Overwatering makes plants too dependent on water and doesn’t allow them to establish deep roots. There is one exception to this rule: new plantings do need frequent consisten watering.

Check on plants regularly and give water when plants show signs of needing it.


Solution: Monitor plants’ water needs. Water young plants frequently; trees deeply.

Equally, little to no watering is a common problem. Signs of underwatering include wilting leaves, drooping branches and dry soil. Seedlings and young plants that have yet to establish root systems are the most vulnerable to drying out; water them often.

Large shrubs and trees require a good soaking when it is hot or windy. Set a hose on very low dribble and move it around the drip line of a tree for up to an hour.

Neglecting Weeds

Solution: Weed regularly, use mulch and choose plants that cover soil.

Weeding is always on a gardener’s to-do list, and it’s a rookie mistake to fall too far behind — particularly if you’ve recently planted a garden. Be vigilant in pulling weeds, especially when your plants are young, as weeds compete for both water and nutrients in the soil.

Weed by hand instead of using herbicides that can damage surrounding plants and soil microorganisms. Decrease weed spikes by covering bare areas of soil with bark mulch or choosing plants that fill in to form mats, which will naturally suppress weed growth.

Planting Too Closely

Solution: Space plants according to plant tags; estimate for three to five years’ growth for larger plants.

Overplanting and plants too close together is a common issue. Plant larger anchor plants for the garden with three to five years growth in mind (checking the plant tag for mature size and working backward to determine spacing) so the plants get correct light exposure and air circulation.

Overplanting and planting too close together can lead to plant diseases, uneven growth and the need to potentially pull out overgrown plants a year after planting.

Planting Too Far Apart

Solution: Space plants according to plant tags; avoid big empty spaces between larger plants, fill in with perennials and ground cover plants.

Planting plants too far apart raises different issues than planting too tightly. Plant plants so they grow next to each other like in nature. This suppresses weeds and keeps the soil cool. In short, plant close enough that there are not huge empty spaces. Or, fill in around large plants with perennials and low-growing ground covers.

Overpruning Shrubs

Solution: Start with the right size plant for your space; then, prune gently.

Overpruning by shearing the top and sides of a shrub can weaken the plant overall and make it more vulnerable to disease. It also leads to a dead, twiggy center, which can be difficult to rectify. Instead, prune gently and selectively, opening some areas to facilitate air flow.

Most overpruning stems from starting with a wrong-size shrub for its placement and use in the garden (think: wrong plant, wrong place). If you’d like a low-growing border hedge, for example, choose a dwarf shrub that will naturally stay small and you’ll run into fewer challenges than if you try to force a shrub that wants to be 8 feet tall to stay lower than 2 feet.

Mowing Lawns Too Short in Summer

Solution: Raise lawn mower blades to 3 inches in warm seasons; skip mowing during heat waves.

Mowing too short in the summer months and scalping the lawn to dirt is a misjudgment. Mowing when it’s too hot or dry and mowing too short are the most common problems. Allow the lawn to grow longer between mowings, skip mowing when it’s hot and dry and avoiding cropping too short can boost lawn health. Lawn mower blades should be raised to 3 inches high during the warm season.

Making Mulch Volcanoes

Solution: Keep a mulch-free ring (think moat, not volcano) around the trunks of trees and mature shrubs.

While mulch can be helpful at keeping weeds at bay in bare areas, it should not be piled up around tree trunks to form what some people call a mulch volcano.

When the mulch gets wet, it can lead to decay in the bark, which then exposes the plant to diseases. Instead, keep mulch pulled back from the trunks of trees, shrubs and woody perennials, avoiding contact between mulch and bark.

Reaching for Pest Sprays Too Quickly

Solution: Allow beneficial insects to arrive; use sprays as a last resort.

Seeing a cluster of aphids on your favorite rose may have you diving for the insecticide spray. But intervening too quickly doesn’t allow time for beneficial insects to arrive and intervene. Ladybugs, for example, make short work of aphids.

Instead of relying on pesticides, try to establish strong, healthy plants, that can withstand a nibble, and grow companion plants that attract bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects.

If you do want to use pesticides, always follow the instructions on the box and use protective gear.


Solution: Follow instructions on the box; stick to organics; prioritize soil health.

It’s natural to think that if giving some fertilizer can help plants grow, giving more will make them thrive. This isn’t the case with synthetic-based fertilizers. Overdoing it can have harmful effects, such as giving chemical “burns” to plant roots or leaves, killing soil microorganisms and causing spikes in plant diseases.

Enhance planting beds with compost and organic fertilizers before planting and you’ll have little need for fertilizing.

For lawns, focus on improving soil quality. If you want to use fertilizers, use organic.

Leaving Trees Staked Too Long

Solution: Remove tree stakes after one or two years.

Some trees are planted with stakes to help them grow straight. While stakes can be helpful for the first few years, after that point, it is unnecessary at best and potentially detrimental to the tree at worst. Stakes are really only necessary for trees growing in exposed, windy sites.


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