Every gardener does it at some point – pushes the boundaries, makes a silly mistake, gets caught up in the moment. Here are a few common gardening mistakes and what you can do to avoid them and achieve happier gardens.
Prepare the planting space. Soil is more than just a place holder for plants. Prepare the soil by adding compost and planting mix (garden soil). This will add nutrients to the soil and enable it to retain water while still providing good drainage. Preparing the bed also gives you a chance to control the weeds early on. Believe me, you do not want to plant in turf and try to figure it out later. A prepared bed is really the way to go, and amending with a little compost each year thereafter keeps plants healthy and happy.
Ignoring the needs and wants of plants. I know – you want that plant and you want to put it right there. Remember, though, that if the condition of the soil and the amount of sunlight is not what the plant needs, it’s going to let you know, and neither of you will be happy. A plant that wants shade will burn in too much sun, a plant that wants sun will not bloom if it’s too shady. Too much water will cause some plants to rot, too little will cause others to dry up. Be sure to read the tag and ask your garden center professionals about what particular plants need, and know the conditions of your planting bed.
Water appropriately. It’s a fairly common mistake to love your garden to death. In an attempt to provide the best care, gardeners sometimes over water. Roots need to breathe, and being in wet soil all the time does not allow for air exchange. Stick your finger in the soil to determine soil moisture, and know the amount of water each plant really needs. Sedum, for example, want to be dry, while ligularia want more moisture. Planting these together would not work well since they require different conditions. Watch for signs of under watering as well, such as drooping foliage. Know, too, that in extreme heat, plants will droop even when well-watered, so be sure to check the soil before grabbing a hose.
Design with more than flowers. This is true for annuals and perennials both. Designing with foliage allows you to avoid color vomit and provides interest. Perennials have a specific bloom time, some longer than others, and none that bloom all season, so plant for season-long flowers by mixing plants with varying bloom time.
While flowers are lovely, foliage plays a big role in garden design as well, and is especially important in shade gardens. Play with foliage texture and color to add dimension and interest to your garden. Also, one-of-each-itis is generally not good design, so plant in multiples for the best effect unless you’re specifically planting one plant as a specimen.
Creating a mulch volcano or a mulch sea. Don’t do it. Your plants will be unhappy. They will not thrive. They might even die. Trees are happy when their root flair is slightly exposed and the trunk is not covered. Mulch decomposes, and as it does it will cause the bark of the tree to rot. Additionally, much of a tree’s roots live close to the surface of the soil, so mulching too high will cause roots to grow upward and around the tree, potentially girdling and killing it.
As for a mulch sea – mulch that is too close to the base of plants will not allow for natural and necessary growth. Keep mulch a few inches away from the base of trees and plants for best success.
Spraying bugs without identifying them. Most insects in the garden are good, and it’s hard to know them all. If you see something on a plant, ask yourself if it’s doing any damage. If you see damage, be sure that the bug you see is the culprit.
Finally, be sure that the plant is not a larval host plant for an important bug. Monarch and other butterfly caterpillars will eat the leaves of plants, but it’s worth it to just let them have the plant and know that you are being a good sharer. Do a little research or snap a picture to bring to the garden center for more information before you spray.
Not marking plants. Use name stakes, create a map, or do both! Unfortunately, plants don’t always make it through the winter or other adverse weather conditions. Replacing your plants is much easier when you know what was there before. Write the exact name for plant, such as Echinacea Prairie Splendor, rather than just “purple coneflower,” to give yourself (and your garden center staff) the best possible chance of matching it if you should need to do so.
A little gardening knowledge goes a long way toward success. Here’s to happy gardens and happy gardeners!