10 Common Gardening Mistakes: Avoid These

By Jack Mash

Let’s face it: none of us is perfect

Home gardeners are usually not gardening experts. In fact, many are novices. Improve your garden and your skills by learning some of the common gardening mistakes to avoid.I’ve made a list of some of the most common ones. I hope it is helpful.

Common Gardening Mistakes

10 Common Gardening Mistakes

1. No planning

A new garden is virtually a blank slate and it’s foolhardy to plant haphazardly without at least a basic plan. If you want your garden to look attractive you need to start with a plan, an arrangement that is practical and, especially if it’s a flower garden, also has aesthetic appeal.

If you take the time to make a plan and plant according to it your plants are more likely to get an optimal amount of sun or shade, will be suitably protected or exposed, and will not be growing where they grew the previous year. They will be planted at the appropriate time, beautifully arranged, you will have space for the plants you have chosen, and you’ll save money by buying only the plants or seeds you want and in close to exact numbers.

2. Not Properly Preparing the Soil

This  is more common gardening mistake with beginners but is not confined only to them. The soil is where your plants get the nutrients they need to grow. But even more than that, a healthy, well-fed soil will produce food that is high in nutritional value. Why go to all the work of growing food if its quality is mediocre? The same applies to non-food crops.

It’s well known that weak plants attract more disease so if you try to grow plants in poor soil they will be short of nutrients and possibly look moth-eaten or have aphids and their comrades clinging to them. Not a pretty picture, and it’s a waste of your time and money. Be prepared to dig in compost, well-rotted manure, a good organic fertilizer like blood and bone, or whatever organic material you have access to. Once the plants are in the ground, add mulch. All this doesn’t have to cost a fortune.

Learn how to feed your soil (links below) or if you’re a newcomer to gardening, spending a few dollars on a book that tells you how to set up a garden would be a wise investment. Here is one I can recommend.

3. Fertilizers: too little or too much

The question of how much fertilizer to use can be a hard one for gardening novices. If not enough is given you have malnourished plants. On the other hand, if you use too much you can burn them or even kill them with kindness. This is true, particularly of inorganic fertilizers.

Compost is usually safe but don’t overdo animal manure, even if it is well rotted. If you use lawn clippings a one centimetre layer is enough at any one time. Beware of dry organic fertilizers – follow the instructions on the container.

It is better to apply small amounts of fertilizer at intervals, e.g. monthly then to dig it all in at the beginning of the season.

4. Over-watering or Under-watering

Either of these conditions can kill plants. Over-watering can cause the roots to rot and they can no longer take up nutrients. Under-watering will cause plants to wilt and soon dry up. If the shortage of water is severe the damage is irreversible.

Another watering mistake is to water lightly and dampen only the top centimetre or two. This soon dries out. In addition, it can cause shallow rooting, which makes plants more likely to succumb to dryness. Most plants like deep, thorough watering several times a week.

5. Not Rotating Crops

The main reason for rotating crops is to protect them from disease and insect damage. When a crop is grown in the same soil continuously it becomes more susceptible if a disease remains in the soil. Similarly, insect pests can find them more readily.

Crops are usually rotated over three or four years but by alternating cool season and warm season crops in a plot you can achieve a form of rotation.

6. Killing All Bugs

Not all bugs damage our crops. In a healthy garden you’ll find both destructive and beneficial, and perhaps a few pacifists that fight for neither side.

Unless you’re certain that you have some destructive bugs – such as the cabbage butterfly and its hungry caterpillars – it is best to let everything live for the first year or two. If you can recognise the most notorious troops in the enemy army you can remove them by hand. But avoid the use of pesticides, even organic ones, because they will kill the friends as well as the enemies.

The reason that it’s better to leave everything live is to give your garden a change to reach a state of equilibrium. It also gives you time to become familiar with the bugs and find out (research) which side they are on.

7. Letting Weeds Grow Too Large

Amongst common gardening mistakes, this may not seem a biggie at first but weeds are more than just an eyesore. Here are some reasons why you should dispose of them:

They steal nutrient from the plants you have chosen to grow.
• If they grow large enough they can shade young plants, to their detriment.
• They can deprive your plants of room to spread.
• They can harbour diseases or insect pests.
• They are no use to you in the ground but more useful in the compost if they have not seeded.
• If you let the weeds seed you will multiply your weed problems many times.

The best time to pull weeds is when they are small. Pulling larger weeds disturbs the soil and can even uproot your chosen plants.

8. Overmulching

Mulching is good for your garden. It helps to conserve moisture and it helps to keep weeds under control. But don’t let it become too much of a good thing. This is particularly true when mulching around trees. Never pile the mulch, especially wood chips, up against the trunks, which need to be kept dry. The mulch holds water and keeps the bark wet. This can lead to rotting.

The mulch layer is better kept light so that water can get through. Top it up as it starts to break down.

9. Ignoring Light Requirements

Plants need sunlight in order to photosynthesize. However, not all plants need the same amount or intensity of sunlight and a common gardening mistake, especially with beginners, is to place plants in a position that does not have the correct amount of light. It is important to be aware of the light requirements of the plants you are growing so that you can fulfill this need. This important aspect is covered when you plan your garden.

Plants deprived of sufficient light grow long and straggly, as you may have noticed is you have grown plants indoors, leaves can turn yellow and plants will lean towards the light. Notice the difference in growth of the bluebells in the image. The lighter leaves had probably been covered by something that excluded the light.

Their leaves may change colour, toughen or dry out and the plants might die if they are exposed to more sun than they can tolerate. Either way, will not get the results you are looking for.

10. Planting Too Closely

This is an easy mistake to make, especially for beginners. The plants are small and the recommended spacing can seem too much. It isn’t. The plants all need light, water and nutrients to grow and if you plant them too closely they have to compete against one another for these requirements.

It becomes an even more common gardening mistake when you sow seeds. Some seeds are very small and it is impossible to place them singly. In this case you do the best you can and then thin the seedlings to the correct spacing. There may be instruction on the seed packet to help with spacing.


As gardeners, we are learning all the time. It is to be hoped that we learn from our mistakes. But don’t be afraid to enjoy your gardening. Plants are living organisms and science has shown that they react to vibrations that our bodies emit. Happy gardeners make happy plants if you  like. Don’t worry too much if you make any of  these or other common gardening mistakes – I wouldn’t try to list the ones I’ve made over the years. Just aim to learn and improve.

Don’t forget that comments or questions are most welcome. Use the form below.

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