Top 10 Mistakes Gardeners Make

There is a saying that one cannot be a good gardener if she (or he) has not killed at least a thousand plants. That said, there must be a large number of great gardeners.

Gardening mistakes can be time consuming and ultimately costly. Correcting some of these mistakes may sound counterintuitive, but understanding and avoiding  very common errors helps create healthier and more attractive lawns and gardens.

Common Mistakes

  1. Overwatering encourages shallow root systems, stresses plants, wastes water and increases their susceptible to disease and pests. Watering every day is one of the largest mistakes. Most plants (including lawns) go dormant during the fall and winter.
  2. Too much fertilizer can cause real problems in the landscape. Fertilizer may kill beneficial microbes in the soil, actually encourages disease, and requires extra water. Additionally, fertilizer runoff is one of the largest polluters of our streams, waterways and estuaries. Chemical fertilizers also contain high amounts of salt, which is deadly to organisms, particularly to the important micro- and macro-organisms that live in the soil. Killing those organisms is a guaranteed way to destroy plants. Additionally, plants cannot intake large amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium present in chemical fertilizers. Instead, use moderate amounts of slow-release, organic fertilizers. The slow release will ensure that the nutrients are available to the plants for a longer period of time. Also, organic, slow-release fertilizers will not kill beneficial soil organisms. Rodale Institute has some exceptional articles on the benefits of organic fertilizers.
  3. Kill all those bugs. The goal is to get the unwanted pests under control and the good ones encouraged. Using too much pesticide also kills beneficial soil organisms and insects that help control harmful insects and diseases. In fact, gardeners can have healthy plants without chemical pesticides.
  4. Misdiagnosing a problem. Know thine enemy. Search the internet for answers or use the local master gardener hotline if you have one in your area to identify the problem and possible solutions. There are probably a number of master gardeners in your area who would be happy to help you as well. Two good books are The Vegetable Book, a Texan’s Guide to Gardening, by Dr. Sam Cotner and Doug Welsh’s Texas Garden Almanac
  5. Non-native or non-adapted plants. Azaleas – yes. Palms – no. One of the best sites available for selecting plants which grow well along the Gulf Coast is  Earthkind Plant Selector. Type in the region (or zip code), flowering colors and other info (flowering times, perennials, annuals, shrubs,whether or not the plants like shade or sun) and the site will provide you with a large list of plants that are either native or adapted for your area. A second source of great information is the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. It provides similar information, but only for native plants.
  6. Right plant but wrong place. Think and plan before planting.A native plant that loves sun will not do well in the shade. One that prefers dry, well-drained soil will not last long in a boggy area. A quick diagram of your garden is always a good idea.
  7. Not preparing soil before planting. Healthy soil = nutrients and beneficial microorganisms = healthy plants. Add compost to soil. Dig it into the soil, or, as many prefer, use the no-till method and simply lay it on top of the existing soil. Use a good organic compost and make sure you know where the compost comes from. If buying from a big box store, check the label.
  8. No mulch. Mulch helps the soil retain moisture, keeps soil at a more constant temperature and discourages weeds. Use good, organic mulch. It’s probably a good idea to avoid dyed mulch. Much of this mulch is made from “recycled” wood. While everyone is in favor of recycling, there are no guarantees to which kind of wood has been recycled. Much of this wood contains chromated copper arsenate, more commonly known as CCA.  Over time, CCA will leach into the soil, or e taken up by the plant into the leaves and fruit. This wood contains chrome, arsenic and copper, which will leach into the soil. If you must use dyed mulch, definitely don’t put it on your vegetable garden. Wood treated with CCA has been banned in a number of countries.
  9. Planting and pruning at the wrong time. Plant trees in the winter when they are dormant. Don’t resod your lawn in the winter. Warm season grasses are dormant in the winter. Sow wildflowers in the fall. Plant spring-blooming bulbs (daffodils, lilies, irises, amaryllis) in the fall as well. Plant fall blooming plants in the spring. Prune trees in the late fall or winter. the best time to prune perennials is in the spring after all danger of frost has passed.
  10. Short-term thinking. How big is that little sapling  going to get in five or 10 years? How much space will the one-gallon esperanza need in a couple of seasons? This goes for irrigation needs as well. That sprinkler irrigating those small plants in the front yard may not do the job when the plants grow several feet high. And it may have watered the plants on the other side, but when the plants closest to the sprinkler grow, will the plants behind it get adequate water? Think about drip irrigation. It is significantly more efficient, helps lower water costs, has almost no evaporation (unlike sprinkler systems), and gets the water directly to the root systems where it needs to be.

Good gardening. If you have any questions, or would like to make a comment about this article, simply go to the comment area below.

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