Growing vegetables is an exciting and rewarding experience. The taste of fresh vegetables picked moments before, and the satisfaction of walking outside to harvest dinner, are hard to beat. But while the payoff is big, there are pitfalls along the way that can reduce your harvest, causing frustration and discouragement. Mistakes are part of gardening, but learning about the possible snags can save you a lot of trouble. Here's a look at 12 common gardening mistakes, and how to avoid them.
Starting Out Too Big
It's easy to get carried away with the excitement of spring planting. Looking through our website or walking along the aisles at your local nursery can fill your head with dreams of endless bounty. While it's wonderful to get excited about growing things, it's best to start with a small vegetable garden. There's no need to use space growing vegetables that half your family won't eat or to plant 20 tomato plants when you're likely only to eat the fruit from two or three. Too many vegetables take time and energy, so you may find yourself unable to keep up with the demands of your garden. Instead, start small and gradually increase the size of your plot as necessary.
Planting Too Early
Most gardeners are enthusiastic about getting back outside in the spring and dive into gardening projects. While there are good ways to put that excitement to use in your garden, avoid the temptation to plant too early. Setting out heat-loving crops, like tomatoes, peppers, melons, and cucumbers, when the night-time temperatures are still icy cold is a recipe for disaster. These garden vegetables need protection until lows remain around 12°C or above. Keep your seedlings inside or in a greenhouse until the threat of frost is gone. Once planted, protect with a grow cloth or a cut bottle until the temperatures increase.
Planting seeds too early can also cause frustration. Most seeds need warm temperatures to germinate, so they won't sprout if the soil is too cold. Follow the package directions for planting and wait until the ground is warm enough.
Most garden vegetables need space to grow. Plants like tomatoes need room for air circulation to reduce the risk of blight or mildew. Sweet corn, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, potatoes, and eggplant also need plenty of room to stay healthy, so give them enough space to grow and thrive.
Watering Too Little
Consistent watering is key to growing healthy vegetable garden plants. If your plants are wilting, turning yellow, or producing stunted and deformed fruit, they probably aren't getting enough water. Check for wilting in the morning; some plants wilt during the hot part of the day to conserve water, but perk back up once it cools down. That is normal and not a sign that they need water.
The best way to judge when your garden needs watering is to simply look at your soil. While there are exceptions most herbs, vegetables and flowers like moist soil; simply check your soil and see if it is moist below the surface (check around 5cm deep). Soil will often form a dry 'crust' so scratch back the crust and check if your soil is moist underneath. If it's moist you probably don't need to water just yet, if its almost or completely dry it's time to water.
Weather also plays a huge part in determining how often you need to water your garden so pay attention to rainfall and temperatures at the same time as studying your soil. You'll quickly learn how to predict when your garden needs watering without even checking the soil.
Watering Too Much
It's also possible to water too much. If your soil drains well, this probably won't cause problems, but an accumulation of excess water in your garden can hurt plants. Yellow leaves, powdery mildew, and split fruit are some of the signs your plants are suffering from too much water. Working organic matter in your soil helps improve drainage. Watering less often, but deeply, and delivering water at ground level is ideal.
Planting in the Shade
One of the keys to growing vegetables is making sure they get enough sun. Most need at least six hours of direct sunlight per day. Some plants tolerate partial shade, including lettuce, parsley, and spinach. But even these do better in direct sunlight. Attempting to grow vegetables in the shade usually results in a smaller, less flavorful crop or no fruit at all.
Forgetting to Improve the Soil
Garden vegetables need plenty of nutrients to grow and produce fruit, so it's important to give them good soil. The best way to improve your soil is to work in several inches of rotted manure, compost, or shredded leaves in the early spring. Allow the ground to dry out before working in organic matter. Test soil moisture by squeezing a handful in your palm. If it forms a tight ball, it's too wet, but if it's easy to tease apart, then it's ready.
Underestimating the Weather
The weather in your area is a significant factor in determining which plants will do well and which won't, for instance heat-loving plants may thrive in Brisbane but struggle in Hobart. Choose crops suited to grow in your climate for the best yields, then give them extra help as needed. Spring tends to be particularly harsh for plants, so take extra precautions to protect them from wild weather. Shield seedlings from hail and cold to help them get a strong start.
Vegetables are heavy feeders and require lots of nutrients to grow well. Providing fertilizer is an excellent way to give plants the nutrients they need, but be careful not to overdo it. It's more common for gardeners to fertilize too much than too little. Following the package directions and using organic fertilizers, like compost, fish emulsion, and seaweed fertilizer, help avoid this problem.
Giving Weeds a Chance
Weeds compete with your plants for water, nutrients, and space. If left to grow, they can quickly choke out desirable garden plants. Once they produce seeds, you'll be fighting weeds for years. Use mulch to keep weeds at bay, then remove them when they break through the mulch. A sharp hoe is a great tool for chopping weeds off at their roots.
Not Offering Support
Cucumbers, tomatoes, melons, pole beans, and other similar vegetables do best when they can grow upward, which provides better air circulation and keeps fruit off the ground. Sturdy cages are good for tomatoes, a trellis or mesh tunnel works well for cucumbers and melons, and a trellis or tepee is ideal for pole beans.
Insect populations can quickly get out of hand, so it's best to keep them under control from the start. Look for signs of pests by examining the tops and bottoms of leaves and looking over plants once a week. Remove any pests you see as soon as possible. Planting flowers among your vegetables is a great way to attract beneficial insects that feed on unwanted pests.
Growing and eating your own vegetables is an exciting process. Taking steps to avoid these common gardening mistakes can help you grow healthier plants for a satisfying, and tasty, harvest.