Gardening should be easy, right? You plant a few seeds, water them on a regular basis, and just wait for the harvest to pour in.
Unfortunately, if you’re new to gardening, things aren’t always quite that simple. While the basic practices of gardening will more or less become second nature to you over time, there is a learning curve involved.
These are 35 mistakes that you are likely to make while starting your first garden.
Mistake #1. Going Big
I know we always say, “go big or go home!” and while that’s true to some extent, you might want to avoid going too big when you’re just starting out with your garden. It can be incredibly overwhelming and discouraging if you do this in your first gardening season.
Try to plant just a small amount in your first year. This will let you learn the prerequisite skills necessary for a big, bountiful garden later on!
Mistake #2. Disorganization
As a corollary point to the one above, it’s important that you carefully plan out where you want everything to go in your garden before you plant.
Just idly tossing seedlings into the ground will lead to a garden that is difficult to maintain, difficult to navigate, and just difficult in general! Plus, it won’t be as visually appealing.
Before you plant, sketch out a plan of the types of plants you want to grow. Pick the best location in your garden for them based on their needs – which I’ll talk more about later.
Mistake #3. Planting Too Little
While it’s usually more common for beginning gardeners to plant too much as opposed to too little, you do need to watch out for this mistake, too!
Make sure you plan out carefully how many plants you need to grow. You can do this by considering what vegetables you and your family eat in a given year, and breaking down your garden accordingly.
If you do have a bit of extra produce left over at the end of the year, don’t panic. There are plenty of ways you can preserve most vegetables, including canning, freezing, and dehydrating. Plus, you can always give some of the bounty away to friends and neighbors on the side, too!
Mistake #4. Picking a Too-Shady or Too-Hot Location
Lots of gardeners, especially first-time gardeners, think they have the perfect spot picked out, only to realize later on that they gave no thought at all to sunlight. Most vegetables grow best when they are planted in a location that receives full sunlight all day – but not all.
Some don’t like being grown in intense heat, so make sure you do your research to find out what your plants need. Then, pick a post that will provide the best conditions. You may need to watch the spoof a few days to figure out how much exposure it gets.
Mistake #5. Planting Too Soon
I am the first one to blame when it comes to doing this! I want to get my crops into the ground so badly that I plant at the first sign of spring. Inevitably, that’s always too early.
Make sure you don’t plant until the danger of frost has passed (although there are a few crops, like broccoli and kale, that can be planted a bit sooner).
You risk exposing your seeds and seedlings to devastating conditions that can ultimately result in their death.
Mistake #6. Growing Crops You’ll Never Eat
It can be tempting to plant every kind of seed you can get your grubby hands-on, from six different kinds of heirloom tomatoes to three different kinds of Brussels sprouts.
But if you’re never going to eat them, then what’s the point (unless you’re selling them, of course)?
Don’t plant exotic vegetables you’ve never tried, especially if your family expresses no interest in eating them.
Stick to the basic crops you know and love first so you don’t waste all of your hard work – and all that produce! – on stuff you end up leaving in the ground to rot.
Mistake #7. Not Paying Attention to Your Growing Zone and Conditions
Pay close attention to your growing conditions and growing zone before you buy seeds or plants. Many gardeners make the mistake of buying plants that are ill-suited to their climate.
Talk with your local nursery, and describe your garden so that they can make sure you don’t pick out a plant that won’t grow well in your soil or particular environment.
At the most basic level, don’t ignore growing zone requirements. This will help you determine which plants will grow well in your area.
As a basic introduction, know that North America is divided into 13 different plant hardiness zones – check the tags of the plants you want to grow to make sure they are compatible with your zone.
Mistake #8. Failing to Test and Amend the Soil
Before you plant, test the soil. You can buy a simple soil pH test kit online or take a sample of your soil to your local cooperative extension. They will tell you what the nutrient values in your soil are so that you know what you are deficient in.
Once you know what kind of soil you have and what kind of nutrients it is lacking, you can then go ahead and adjust accordingly. You might have to add fertilizer or organic matter before you can plant.
Mistake #9. Not Labelling Your Plants
When you plant, make sure you label everything carefully. Not only will this prevent you from accidentally walking across the seeds you just planted, but it can help identify seedlings as they are emerging so that you don’t confuse them for weeds.
You don’t have to invest in expensive plant labels, either – something as simple as a rock with the word “broccoli” written on it will do.
Mistake #10. Planting at the Wrong Depths
Check the depths at which your seeds should be planted before you put them in the ground. You’ll usually find this spelled out on the seed packet. Plant too shallow for your seeds’ liking, and they’ll dry out before they can sprout. Plant too deep, and they might not sprout at all.
As a general rule of thumb, large seeds like to be planted more deeply while small seeds prefer to be planted close to the top. Just don’t plan everything at the same depth!
Mistake #11. Clearing Land by Hand
Don’t think you need to clear everything with a hoe and shovel! You can clear land for gardening without breaking your back.
Just use smart strategies like mulching, which will suppress weeds to get you ready for planting. Something else you can use is heavy-duty plastic sheeting.
Mistake #12. Starting Seeds Indoors… Without a Grow Light
Do you get excited watching your indoor-started seedlings reaching desperately for the window?
That’s not a sign that your plants are growing – it’s actually the kiss of death.
This is called seedlings that are getting “leggy,” and it means your plants don’t have enough light. If you can’t start seeds indoors with a grow light, I highly recommend waiting until you can seed in the ground – or just buying seedlings and planting those instead.
Mistake #13. Eschewing All Fertilizing
You don’t always need to fertilize. In fact, some garden soils have everything they need, and don’t need any kind of amending at all. However, try to fertilize if your soil is nutrient deficient in any way.
Make sure you follow the instructions on the fertilizer, too, and use an organic fertilizer (like compost) whenever possible, as it will be more balanced.
Mistake #14. Buying Dead or Dying Plants
If you don’t want to start your seeds indoors, you really don’t have to. But make sure you check for signs of sickness on the seedlings you do buy from nursery – like wilted leaves and brown spots.
Starting with seedlings is easier than starting your garden from seed, but that won’t be the case if you buy sick plants to begin with.
Mistake #15. Overcrowding Your Plants
Don’t plant your seeds or seedlings super close together. Instead, check the spacing requirements on the back of your seed packets. Plants need room to breathe.
Plant them too close together, and air circulation will be limited. Your plants may suffer as a result of various fungal diseases and nutrient imbalances.
Some plants, like carrots, have super tiny seeds that are difficult to space appropriately. Therefore, you’ll need to thin them once they germinate.
Mistake #16. Failing to Use Mulch
Mulch is a gardener’s best friend! Not only can it keep the soil consistency and evenly moist, but it can keep weeds away, too. It’s the best tool you have as a beginning gardener, and luckily, it’s free or cheap to come by.
Mistake #17. Killing Every Bug You Come Across
Listen, not all bugs are bad! In fact, some are quite beneficial for gardens. Ladybugs, bees, and butterflies, for instance, should all be left to their own into the garden.
They offer a ton of benefits to growers! Not only should lyou eave these bugs alone if you come across them, but you also need to take their vulnerability into consideration if you decide to use pesticides.
Mistake #18. Ignoring Small Problems Before They Get Bigger
Think it’s just “one little weed” or a “bit of a fungal problem?” While you don’t need to panic over every little thing that pops up in the garden, you also shouldn’t ignore little problems.
They can easily spread to the rest of your garden and cause a major issue – when they could have been dealt with easily early on.
Mistake #19. Spending Too Much Money
Listen, you can have a gorgeous garden without spending a ton of money! You just need to invest in only what’s worth investing in.
Things like planting containers, stakes, trellises, and other materials can be purchased for very little money or even repurposed out of items you have hanging around the house.
So don’t break the bank just to outfit yourself in all the latest gardening gear! Often, it’s really not necessary. At best, you just need a fork, spade, rake, trowel, hoe, and some good gloves. Oh, and seeds and soil, of course!
Mistake #20. Avoiding Basic Maintenance
A little work now will pay off in droves later! Don’t ignore basic maintenance tasks, like weeding and watering on a regular basis.
This will keep your garden growing strong and healthy long into the season – and save you some headaches (or even losses) later on.
Mistake #21. Failing to Protect Your Garden From Invaders
There are all kinds of invaders who are going to want to take advantage of all the hard work you’ve done in your garden! For example, you might have to worry about squirrels, raccoons, and rabbits, just to name a few.
To keep these invaders away, consider fencing in your garden. You can also put objects in the garden that make noise or reflect light.
Even something as simple as a hawk or owl decoy can keep tiny rodents away. Evaluate the pests that are causing you problems, and take steps to keep them out – before they eat all of the literal fruits of your labor.
Mistake #22. Not Staggering Harvest Times
No matter how much you like lettuce, the fact of the matter remains that you aren’t going to be able to eat fifteen plants’ worth of lettuce all at once when it suddenly becomes mature.
Instead, you should stagger your planting and harvest times so that you have a consistent harvest all the way through the season.
Mistake #23. Poor (or Nonexistent Weeding)
Don’t allow all of your hard work to go to waste by allowing weeds to take over! Instead, stay on top of your weeding chores by getting into the garden at least once or twice a week.
This will help you pull weeds while they are still young and tender, rather than waiting until they’ve overtaken your entire garden.
Weed properly when you get out there, too. Try to dig up as much of the root as you can for deep-rooted plants like thistles and dandelions – don’t just lop off the top with a hoe.
Mistake #24. Not Watering Correctly
Lots of beginning gardeners assume that the more water they give their plants, the better that’s not the case! You need to water smartly so that you don’t cause your roots to rot.
At the same time, you can’t let your plants dry out.
How to tell when and how much to water? Stick your finger in the dirt. If the soil is hard and impenetrable, it’s time to water. If you can squeeze water out of the soil, it’s too wet.
Another big watering mistake you can make? You water the tops of the plants. The leaves of your plants need water, but you shouldn’t be spraying water directly on the tops of your plants.
Instead, focus on the roots. Water deeply but thoroughly, and focus on the bottom up.
Mistake #25. Watering at the Wrong Time of Day
Never water in the late afternoon or evening! That’s a rookie mistake. Similarly, you should try to avoid watering during the heat of the day.
Instead, water first thing in the morning – your plants will have time to dry off before it gets too hot.
Mistake #26. Planting Too Far Away From Water
I’m guilty of this one! It can be tempting to tuck your garden into a little-used corner of your yard, as far away from the house (and water supply) as possible.
However, when you do this, you’re keeping your plants away from the thing they need the most – water! Make sure you position your garden near a water source so that watering isn’t a major chore.
No matter how diligent you think you’ll be about trekking out to the back forty with a watering can, I can promise you – you aren’t. Your plants will suffer as a result.
Mistake #27. Planting Only Annuals
Annals offer instant gratification. They look gorgeous, and you don’t have to do much or wait very long in order to get them there.
However, you’re going to have to start from scratch next year. It’s a mate choice to invest your money in perennials because you won’t have to buy and plant them all over again next year.
Mistake #28. Growing Invasive Plants
Gardening is all fun and games, until you grow a plant that is actually invasive. Make sure you research which plants are invasive in your area and don’t accidentally plant something that’s going to take over your entire garden!
Mistake #29. Failing to Understand Basic Plant Identification
It’s a good idea to brush up on some basic plant ID before your first weeding adventure in the garden. I call it an adventure to make it sound a little bit more pleasant!
Regardless, make sure you know which plants that are popping up in your garden are the plants you are trying to grow, and which ones are weeds.
Look at the pictures on the back of the seed packet or even do a quick Google search so that you don’t accidentally pull up the peas you planted instead of the dandelions you want out.
Mistake #30. Not Pruning Off Dead Blossoms
…or avoiding pruning entirely. It’s important to brush up on how and when to prune certain types of plants. This will give you some insight into doing it at the right time.
When you have dead flowers on your plants, they are not only going to look less appealing, but your plant will be spending all of its energy on something that’s ultimately never going to matter.
Mistake #31. Trying to Do it All Yourself
Planting and tending to a garden is hard work, especially if you expect yourself to have all the knowledge of a master gardener in your very first season!
Don’t be afraid to ask for help and for advice. Talk to gardeners in your community, as they’ll have the best insight on what works well where you live.
Mistake #32. Failing to Harvest
I get it – things get busy at the end of the gardening season! It can be overwhelming to harvest everything at once (another benefit of planting in succession, as I mentioned earlier in this article).
But leaving plants on the vine is equivalent to throwing money down the toilet. Consider maturation times for all of your plants, and plan accordingly so that you can do your best to harvest when everything is ready to go.
Mistake #33. Not Keeping Adequate Records
No matter how many mistakes you make in your first year gardening – or in subsequent years! – make sure you keep good records so you know how you can avoid those mistakes in the following seasons.
Just host down a few notes based on what worked well and what didn’t – you’ll thank yourself in the upcoming years, when you find that your memory continues to fail you!
Mistake #34. Following Planting Advice and Charts Too Religiously
I get it – you want to do everything by the book, especially since this is your first time growing a garden. However, you need to be careful about being too stringent when reading planting charts and advice.
For example, there is some fluctuation with planting dates, even within the same zone. You need to make sure you’re basing your planting times on the actual weather where you are, and adjusting accordingly. Don’t be a slave to the guidelines!
Mistake #35. Being Too Tough On Yourself
This article was pretty much filled with tough love, wasn’t it? However, the most important thing to remember is that the biggest mistake you can make as a newbie gardener is to be too tough on yourself.
Try not to fall into the comparison trap. It’s very easy to get overwhelmed during your first season of gardening and to feel as though you failed. Don’t let it deter you from trying again next year, and be a constant student.
Learning, both by listening to others, doing your research and by learning from experience, is the best way to become a better gardener.
Reading this article is a great place to start! Fill your brain with as much gardening knowledge as possible, and you’ll have all the skills you need to prepare yourself for a lifetime of successful gardening.
Rebekah is a full-time homesteader. On her 22 acres, she raises chickens, sheep, and bees, not to mention she grows a wide variety of veggies. She has a huge greenhouse and does lots of DIY projects with her husband in her ever-growing homesteading endeavor. Learn more about Rebekah here.