If you are thinking about starting a garden for the first time, here are 9 common gardening mistakes to avoid.
When starting a garden for the first time, it is very easy to get hung up on the details. But it can be helpful to take a big picture view before honing in on the specifics. Things in a garden will not always go according to plan. But it can be helpful to look at some of the most common pitfalls in order to avoid them yourself.
As you get started and tend your garden, the things you do, and often, the things you do not do, can make or break your efforts. There are of course many other small mistakes that you can (and likely will) make as you go along. But here are some of the most common big picture mistakes that you should be sure to avoid:
Not Considering Your Garden
I am a garden designer and gardening consultant and in my work, one mistake stands out for me above all others. It is a very common mistake. New gardeners will often fail to take into account the specifics of their particular garden. They will not consider the fact that what works very well in one garden might be an abject failure in another.
Of course, a sheltered garden in, for example, the far south east of England will be very different to one in the Welsh hills or the highlands of Scotland. Even in the UK, there is a huge range of different climatic conditions.
Micro-climate conditions also need to be taken into account. Surrounding terrain, vegetation and even the built environment can have a profound effect on the conditions in a particular garden.
In certain cases, a garden can be very different even to a neighbouring space to. This might be due shade or exposure levels, for example.
So don’t make the mistake of starting your garden without first spending time observing and understanding your own particular garden.
Failing to Choose the Right Plants for the Right Places
New gardeners also need to understand that different plants have different growing requirements and prefer different conditions. Another very common mistake is choosing specific plants without thinking about whether they are placed in a suitable location.
Don’t make the mistake of shoehorning preferred plants into a position which is not suited to its growing needs. You need to think about sunlight requirements and shade. You need to think about whether a site is sheltered or exposed. And you need to consider the soil type, soil pH, fertility and moisture needs of specific plants.
Understanding your garden is only the first part of the puzzle. You also need to make sure that you begin to learn about the different needs and preferences of different plants. You need to learn what they need in terms of the environment, and also which plants will thrive in companionship with one another, and which will not.
Not Growing Organically – One of the Biggest Common Gardening Mistakes
Another of the biggest mistakes that you can make is not growing organically. Organic growing means always avoiding the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. More than this, however, it involves taking a holistic view, and working with nature rather than fighting it in achieving your objectives. It means taking care to enhance rather than detract from the natural world, and to attract beneficial wildlife to the space. It means working with the plants and other animals that share your garden and boosting biodiversity as much as possible.
Not Putting Sustainable Systems in Place
Another common mistake I often see with new gardeners is rushing into creating new growing areas and planting without thinking about the bigger picture. Things will be so much easier for you in your garden if you spend some time up front putting sustainable and resilient systems in place.
What this means, first of all, is thinking about water. Harvesting rainwater from the roof of your home, and thinking about how you can catch and store rainwater on your property, is important. Think about how you can catch and store water in barrels or butts, but also about how water is captured in the landscape – in plants and soil. Before you even choose any seeds or plants for your garden, it is a good idea to think very carefully about how you will meet their water needs.
Another very important thing to do right away is to establish a composting system. Composting at home can be achieved in a range of different ways. But whichever method you choose, it is very important to create a suitable composting system. Compost will be crucial in maintaining fertility in your garden. It will help you make sure you care for the soil and that plants get the nutrition they need.
Not Planning Sufficiently To Avoid Other Common Gardening Mistakes
Good gardeners have some foresight, great gardeners plan longer term. I have come across plenty of gardeners who do not take the time to plan ahead of time. They rush right in. This can be a big mistake as it will not allow you to make the most of your garden (in terms of space and in terms of time). It can also mean that you encounter more problems further down the line.
Take some time to plan:
The overall design and layout of your space.
For year round growing. (Consider a polytunnel or other undercover structure for winter food production).
How you will maintain and replenish fertility in your garden over time.
How you will water/irrigate your garden when required.
Which crops and other plants you would like to grow.
A sowing and planting schedule. (So you have a good idea of what to plant when where you live.)
Successional sowing and crop rotation.
Companion planting. (Which neighbours for crops will help overall fertility and plant health, help in organic pest control, and increase your yield.)
Disrupting the Soil
Many gardeners forget that the soil is one of, if not the, most important thing in a garden. Soil is far more than just ‘dirt’. It is a living ecosystem – a complex web of life, organic matter and minerals on which all life depends.
Many new gardeners will rush right away to dig or till new growing areas to grow their own. But it is well worth considering taking a ‘no dig’ approach, to avoid disruption to the soil. By disturbing soil as little as possible, layering organic materials on top, and keeping a living root in the soil as much as we can, we can build healthier, more fertile soil over time and create a healthier and more abundant garden.
Forgetting About Fertility
I have seen many new gardeners grow very well for their first year, only to encounter problems as they progress to subsequent years of sowing and planting. Often, this is an issue with fertility, which will diminish over time unless we take steps to maintain it.
In an organic, no dig garden, fertility can be maintained and improved in a number of ways. Primarily, we can maintain fertility through careful planting and crop rotation, and through feeding the soil and the life it contains with the addition of mulches of organic matter.
Getting Timings Wrong
A lot of common gardening mistakes revolve around timing. Gardeners can often encounter problems because they have their timings wrong. For example, they might:
Sow too early or too late.
Plant out too early or too late.
Water too frequently or too infrequently.
Fail to harvest crops promptly or fail to harvest at the correct time.
Failing to Adapt and Failing to Learn From Common Gardening Mistakes
Planning and careful forethought can help you avoid many of the most common gardening mistakes. However, not everything in a garden will go according to plan. So much as it is helpful to have plans in place, it is also important to reflect upon those plans. And it is important to adapt and change to changing circumstances over time.
It is a mistake to become too set on a particular course, or too set in your ways in a garden. Make sure you embrace change and adapt to those changes in your garden over time. Things will change throughout the year – with the changing seasons. And you will have to alter your behaviour and actions in recognition of those changes – by increasing or deducing watering at the right times of year, for example.
These common gardening mistakes are just the beginning. Accept that it is likely that you will make many mistakes as you establish and tend your garden. But as long as you recognise those mistakes and learn from them, you can still go on to have a beautiful and abundant garden.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.
To get in touch, visit https://ewspconsultancy.com.