Gardening Missteps: The Most Common Gardening Mistakes (Tips to Avoid Them)

Last Updated on February 14, 2024 by Lifevif Team and JC Franco

When I first started gardening, I made many mistakes. In fact, I became despondent in the beginning, because things took time, and often, my ideas just didn’t work out. I couldn’t help but wonder what I was doing wrong. It certainly felt like I was doing everything wrong.

The problem was that I had no what-not-to-do list to reference. I wasn’t aware of the potential mistakes I could make, and as a result, I made a great deal of them. The common gardening mistakes that I’m about to mention are mistakes that I personally made in the beginning. Now, when I meet newbie gardeners, I do my best to share advice and guidance with them, to help them avoid making the same mistakes.

By knowing about each of the below-mentioned rookie gardening mistakes, you can take precautionary measures and make sure that your garden has the best chance of flourishing. Take a look at each of these common gardening mistakes below and how to avoid them.

21 newbie gardening mistakes (and how to avoid them):

1. Neglecting soil preparation.

Much like humans, plants like to be eased into a new environment. Just how comfortable that environment is, is also quite an important factor in the plant’s happiness and success. To prepare the soil correctly, clear the area of weeds, turn and loosen the soil, and add organic matter and manure to spruce it up.

2. Planting seeds too shallow or too deep.

Seeds all have their preferences when it comes to planting depth. Some like to be very near the surface to break through easily, while others need to be planted deeper to provide support to the stem. 

3. Incorrectly spacing seedlings/seeds.

When you buy seeds or purchase seedlings, look on the back of the packet or chat with the grower about the spacing requirements for the plants. If you space the plants incorrectly, they could end up over-crowding each other, which eventually deters growth.

4. Being heavy-handed with the fertilizer.

Too much fertilizer can result in fertilizer burn due to the increase in the nitrogen and salt levels in the soil.

5. Planting out of season.

Plants grow best in certain seasons. Some plants grow best in winter, while others grow best in summer. This doesn’t mean that your winter plants need to be hauled out during summer. It merely means that you should plant seeds or seedlings in the right seasons for the best possible settling and growth results. 

6. Being too generous with water.

Overwatering your plants can lead to root rot, wilting leaves, or yellowing/browning of the leaves. Severely stressed plants from overwatering might lose all of their leaves altogether. 

7. Being too stingy with water.

Underwatering your plants can be just as detrimental as overwatering them. With a lack of water, plants are unable to absorb the nutrients that they need. They are also unable to transport nutrients to all areas of the plant. Plants without enough water will wilt, show dry dead leaf tips, present delayed growth, or the leaves will fall off completely.

8. Neglecting regular maintenance.

You will be surprised at how quickly weeds can take over and choke a plant when you don’t follow a regular maintenance schedule. Set up a weekly routine schedule of tasks you need to follow, such as weeding, watering, pest controlling, and more – and stick to it.

9. Failing to research your chosen plants.

You wouldn’t blindly live with someone without getting to know them, would you? Co-habiting is all about knowing what the other person is most comfortable with, and it really does make for a long-lasting mutually beneficial relationship. It’s much the same with plants. If you want to ensure that you can provide the type of living environment that your plants absolutely love and thrive in, you need to understand your plants. Do your research.

10. Forgetting about the sun.

Most people don’t give much thought to how much direct sunlight their plants need. Some plants need between 4 and 8 hours of sunlight each day. If you plant your plants in dark areas of the garden, they will crave sunshine. Some will grow towards the light; others will simply wither and die with time. Give sunshine a sufficient amount of thought.

11. Being slack with location choosing.

There’s more than just sunshine to think about when you choose space in your garden to grow fruit, veggies, herbs, and flowers. Look for areas that have the best soil, have easy access to water, and are fairly protect against damage that could result from storms, wind, and rain. 

12. Treating all your plants as equals.

You might be tempted to treat all your plants the same. You may water them all at the same time, give them the same amount of plant food, you might place them all in the same sunny spot every day – the problem is that all plants have different requirements. Make sure you group plants according to their needs so that you can provide care to different areas of your garden based on the needs of each group of plant types. 

13. Taking on too much too soon.

You might be tempted to yank out your credit card and buy every plant that catches your eye at the local nursery, but don’t. If you get too many plants immediately, you will be overwhelmed with the responsibility. Take it easy – get one new plant at a time and stick to only getting more when your newest recruit is settled and showing growth.

14. Being unrealistic about the weather.

If you live in an area that gets excessive rain and frost and then buy plants that can’t handle such weather conditions, you are going to be disappointed when your plants wither, burn, become distressed, and eventually die. Some plants just cannot handle certain weather conditions, so be realistic. Choose plants that are best suited to the weather in your particular area. 

15. Confusing compost and manure.

If you think that you can substitute compost for manure and vice versa, think again. Both compost and manure are organic materials and environmentally friendly; but they are formulated differently and used differently, too. Compost is made from processing trimmings, paper, wood chips, and other materials. It’s used to add density and porosity to the soil along with essential nutrients for plant growth.

Manure is comprised of livestock run-off, urine, feces, feed, and bedding. During the processing of manure, E.coli and various contaminants are removed. It is added to soil to improve texture, add aeration, and filter water.

16. Planting invasive species.

Everyone likes a beautiful creeper…until it starts taking over the garden. Be wary of buying plants that take over garden beds and bully other plants. Invasive plants don’t just take over, they also steal the water in the soil from other plants, which leaves them in a worse off position.

17. Waging all-out war on bugs and insects.

If you wage war on bugs and insects, you might expect to have pristine fruits, veggies, flowers, and herbs. However, what you might find is that your plants aren’t pollinated in the coming season, or other issues crop up. Rather focus on welcoming helper bugs, insects, and creatures into your garden. For instance, birds can take care of cricket problems; bees can pollinate your plants, and so on and so forth.

18. Using the wrong tools and equipment.

When I first started gardening, I didn’t have the right tools to carry out my gardening tasks effectively. I had scissors instead of secateurs – which meant that I damaged plants instead of making a clean cut. I didn’t have a proper hand trowel – instead, I used the bigger garden spade for everything, which ended up in damage to plants as well as unnecessary aches and pains after my gardening days.

It’s important to get the right tools for your gardening from the start. You don’t need to buy all new items – shop around for second-hand tools.

19. Using too much or too little mulch.

Mulch is used to conserve soil moisture, improve the health and fertility of the soil, reduce the growth of weeds, and also add to the aesthetic appeal of the garden. When you use too little, it is ineffective, but when you use too much, you can waterlog the soil, and impact the growth rate of your plants. It’s good to be sparing with your mulch.

20. Not taking the time to understand the soil you are working with.

Soil is important. If your plant likes well-draining soil and you plant it into clay-like soil, chances are that it’s not going to like its new environment, and it might have a negative impact on the plant – in fact, it definitely will. Find out about the soil your chosen plants enjoy and check out the soil that is in your garden.

21. Giving up too soon. 

When you first start gardening, you are bound to face a few challenging experiences along the way. Your garden won’t flourish immediately, and it will take hard work. Don’t give up when you lose your first plant or make a series of mistakes. It’s essential to learn from these mistakes so that you can take better care of your garden and plants.

By avoiding the 21 common gardening mistakes above, you will give your garden the best possible chance of thriving. Good luck!

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This article was co-authored by our team of in-house and freelance writers, and reviewed by our editors, who share their experiences and knowledge about the "Seven F's of Life".

JC Franco
Editor | + posts

JC Franco is a New York-based editor for Lifevif. He covers topics like spirituality, philosophy, finance, sports, games, and food. JC earned a Bachelor’s degree in Business with a Marketing Concentration at Mercyhurst University. He is a certified USPTA professional who teaches tennis in the New York City Metropolitan area. He has passed the Level I exam of the CFA program.