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Gardening Mistakes to Avoid as a Beginner

The Thrill and Perils of Beginner Gardening

Ah, the joys of starting a garden! The tilling of the soil, the planting of the seeds, the anticipation of watching those little seedlings poke through the earth – it’s enough to make any budding green thumb giddy with excitement. But as I’ve learned the hard way, beginner gardening isn’t all rainbows and butterflies. In fact, it can be downright…well, let’s just say “challenging” at times.

You see, I’m no stranger to the world of gardening. I’ve been puttering around in the dirt for years, always eager to try my hand at growing something new. But when I first started out, I made some rookie mistakes that nearly had me throwing in the trowel (pun intended) for good. Fortunately, I was able to learn from those early missteps and eventually find my footing. And now, I’m here to share my hard-won wisdom with you, my fellow beginner gardeners, in the hopes of saving you from the same pitfalls I faced.

Mistake #1: Going Overboard with Your Garden Size

It’s so easy to get carried away when you’re first starting out, isn’t it? You wander through the nursery, eyes wide and heart racing, dreaming of the lush, verdant oasis you’ll create in your backyard. “I can grow all the things!” you tell yourself, visions of towering tomato plants and cascading vines of cucumbers dancing in your head.

As the experts at Architectural Digest warn, though, “a bigger garden isn’t always better at least if you’re a beginner.” Megan Gilger, the gardening blogger behind Fresh Exchange, puts it succinctly: “It is easy to let your eyes get big when wandering the plant stores or looking online at ideas.”

I learned this lesson the hard way when I first started out. I went a little plant-crazy, filling every inch of my backyard with an ambitious assortment of vegetables, herbs, and flowers. The result? A jumbled, overgrown mess that was nearly impossible to maintain. I spent more time battling weeds and struggling to keep everything watered than I did actually enjoying the fruits (and veggies) of my labor.

Instead, Gilger advises starting small but thinking big. “A garden is a long-term investment and you should think about your goals three to five years from now,” she says. Begin with a manageable plot, and then gradually expand as you gain experience and confidence. Trust me, your future self will thank you for it.

Mistake #2: Not Pairing Companion Plants

Another common mistake I made early on was treating my garden like a bunch of individual plants, each one isolated in its own little plot. I’d carefully plan out where to put my tomatoes, my zucchini, my marigolds – all neatly segregated, like little plant prisoners in their own personal cells.

But as the experts at Architectural Digest explain, “Break away from the idea that you can only grow one type of plant in a bed. Interplanting or intercropping is a gardening practice that encourages pairing companion plants as well as bundling taller and shorter plants.”

Megan Gilger goes on to say that “Mixing and matching can also whittle weeds and bring in beneficial pollinators.” It’s a win-win-win! Your plants will be happier and healthier, your garden will be more vibrant and diverse, and you’ll have fewer weeds to battle.

Of course, you do have to be mindful of spacing, as Michael Giannelli of East Hampton Gardens cautions. “Plants need room to grow and spread naturally,” he says. “Follow the planting recommendations which typically suggest 2 to 3 feet between plants.” But don’t be afraid to get a little creative with your companion planting – just don’t pack them in like sardines.

Mistake #3: Growing Things You Don’t Actually Enjoy

Alright, let’s talk about another common pitfall I stumbled into as a beginner gardener: growing things I didn’t actually care about.

It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of trying new and exotic plants, or to feel like you have to grow a certain vegetable or herb because everyone else is doing it. But as Megan Gilger wisely points out, “Tempting as it may be to plant everything from acorns to zucchini, focus on growing vegetables, herbs, and flowers that bring joy to your plate.”

For me, that meant doubling down on the things I already loved – juicy tomatoes, fragrant herbs, and vibrant flowers that made me smile every time I looked at them. I may have had to say goodbye to the fennel and the kohlrabi, but my garden was all the better for it.

After all, as Gilger says, “No need to fuss over fennel if you think it tastes blah.” Amen to that! Grow what you love, and let the rest go.

Mistake #4: Neglecting Your Harvest

Alright, let’s say you’ve avoided all the previous pitfalls – you’ve kept your garden manageable, you’ve paired your plants like the best of companions, and you’re growing all your favorites. Fantastic! But there’s one more mistake I made that nearly undid all my hard work: neglecting my harvest.

As Lara Hermanson, gardener and co-owner of Farmscape, puts it, “Don’t leave ready to harvest items on the vine. This is like leaving a popsicle on the lawn and then being surprised its covered with ants.”

I’ll admit, I was so caught up in the thrill of watching my plants grow that I sometimes forgot to actually go out and pick the darn things. Before I knew it, my zucchini had turned into baseball bats, my tomatoes had cracked and split, and my poor green beans were rotting on the vine. Not only did I miss out on all that fresh, delicious produce, but I also ended up wasting a lot of what I had grown.

Arianna Iappini, a gardening coach at The Birch Arbor Gardens, emphasizes the importance of “developing an understanding of plant growth” in order to time your harvests properly. Pay attention to the maturity of your plants, and make a point to go out and collect your bounty as soon as it’s ready. Your taste buds will thank you!

Mistake #5: Skimping on the Water

Finally, let’s talk about one of the most crucial elements of successful gardening: water. I’ll admit, I used to be a bit of a water-wuss when I first started out. I’d timidly sprinkle a little water on my plants every few days, convinced that I was doing them a favor. But as horticulturist Jessica Walliser of Savvy Gardening warns, “Don’t water like a wimp.”

Turns out, those seedlings and young plants need a good, thorough soaking – not just a light misting. Walliser advises that “Deep, thorough watering once per week is better than splashing on a little every day.” The soil should be wet several inches down after you’re done watering, she says. If it’s not, you’re not applying enough water.

On the flip side, Michael Giannelli cautions against overwatering as well. “An irrigation system that usually goes on every other day may be fine for the lawn, but not great for everything else,” he shares. Overwatering can lead to rotted roots and yellowing leaves – not exactly the lush, verdant garden you’re aiming for.

The key is finding that sweet spot and really drenching your plants when you do water them. It may take a bit of trial and error, but trust me, your plants will thank you for it.

Putting it all Together

So there you have it, my fellow beginner gardeners – the top five mistakes I made (and hopefully learned from) in my early days of green-thumbed experimentation. From going overboard with garden size to neglecting the harvest, these are the pitfalls I encountered that nearly had me swearing off gardening for good.

But you know what? I’m so glad I stuck with it. Because once I started avoiding these common mistakes and really dialing in my gardening practices, the rewards were incredible. I now have a flourishing, vibrant garden that fills me with joy every time I step outside. And you can too, if you just take the time to learn from my hard-earned lessons.

So what are you waiting for? Get out there, start planning your dream garden, and remember – Today’s Gardens is here to help you along the way. Happy gardening!

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