Friday, February 11, 2011

10 Mistakes New Gardeners Make

Via iVillage and the Gardeners Web Forum-- My Comments are in Purple
1. Overwatering. Most new gardeners think that the more water you give plants, the better -- when usually, just the opposite is true. Take the time to learn exactly what the water needs of your plant are and count to 10 before turning on the hose. If you are watering anything daily, you are probably watering too much. Small seedlings in small containers may very well need water every day. I check everything every day. Slower growing plants will need less water. Wilting can be caused by root rot.
2. Trying to Grow Non-Native Species. It is almost impossible to grow rhubarb in Texas, cactus outdoors in North Dakota, cranberries in Arizona or Vidalia onions in Michigan. Since the plant has to grow where it is planted or die, you improve its chances of survival dramatically by growing what is native to your area. Checking with a local nursery or supplier, using a seed catalog company from your region and talking to other local gardeners can save you lots of heartache -- and backache. Here at Shady Grove we try hard to offer plants that will succeed for you. Feel free to ask what will do well in your garden. I have 20 + years of landscape gardening to go along with the 20+ years here at the nursery and the cut flower farm. Don't add those numbers together! I much prefer phone call or a nursery visit. I spent way too much time typing as it is....
3. Not Knowing Your Zone.The time to plant in Illinois isn't the time to plant in Florida, and vice versa. June may be the peak of gardening season in New York, but it isn't in Southern California. Again, for local gardeners, the county AG agent and local nurseries are a good source of information. Most of the High Country is zone 6. It used to be zone 5. Beech Mountain in still zone 5.
4. Fertilizing More is Not Always Better, Often it is Worse. Take the time to learn the nutrient needs of your plants and the differences in various kinds and levels of fertilizer. If you feed your tomatoes nothing but fish emulsion, you will have lovely, big green plants. But no tomatoes. If you feed your roses lots of nitrogen-rich fertilizer you will have plenty of lovely rosebush leaves. But nary a rose. A balanced fertilizer or one low in nitrogen will get you flowers and fruits. Organic fertilizer is much much better and easy to come by these days. Southern States on Water Street, Boone even has some.
5. Beware of Overly Invasive Plants. Often plants are listed in catalogs as readily reseeding, vigorous, having a spreading habit or being extremely hardy. This may mean the plant can become invasive and spread well beyond your intended area. Catalogs are wonderful resources for finding special plants. But some catalogs just go too far with their colorful descriptions, implying that a plant is trouble-free, carefree and practically perfect in every way. Take the time to learn the banned invasive plants in your area. Please try to plant varieties that add to the environment not jump the fence and mug the little woodland natives. More on that later.
6. Plant Lust. New gardeners would do well to avoid the "I just gotta have it!!!" syndrome. Purchasing plants that require a growing environment you cannot possibly provide is not only costly but frustrating. Going to a nursery is like going to the grocery store: Make sure you have a list, and stick to it! We don't mind if you buy just one plant but they look better in larger groups of 3-9.
7. Kill All Bugs. Those new to gardening often feel that "the only good bug is a dead bug." Not true! A healthy garden will always have a population of insect life good and bad. The key is balance. Remember, the garden isn't your house, it's theirs, and most of the insects in the flower bed and vegetable garden are good guys. They may nibble on the occasional leaf or bud, but they more than earn their keep by eating up the bad guys and providing pollination services. Less than five percent of the various insects, beetles, spiders, worms and caterpillars are true pests, so "nuking" the garden with pesticides often does far more harm than good. I have also run into people 'nuking everything when the real problem was rabbits or deer. Pesticides even hash ones rarely do in a deer. So know your enemy and remember pets run through the garden everyday and then they come into the house. 
One more thought on this subject. Caterpillars i.e. butterflies stock up in the fall. You can expect all your plants to have some holes in the fall; so what? It's going to frost in a few days and the leaves will fall off. Let the critters have a meal and forget perfection. Nature is not perfect.
8. Overcrowding. Overcrowding plants doesn't do them any favors. Plants need room to breathe and good air circulation. They also need light to reach them, and planting too densely blocks plants' ability to reach their full potential. Overcrowding stresses plants and makes them more prone to disease. In our area I see lack of sunlight as the biggest problem. People are overly optimistic about how much sunlight their yard really gets. Check your light levels throughout the day.
9. Avoiding Weeding. Whether by hook, crook or hand, those weeds have to come out of the garden and flower bed, and getting them out before they go to seed can make a world of difference. You can do much to limit the problem of weeds (ground covers, mulching, etc.), but there is no free lunch. All gardens need some maintenance. Know your weeds and start early. Bring me a small sample if you're not sure what you have.
10. Not Preparing New Beds Properly. Piling soil on top of your lawn or new flower beds will not kill weeds. They will thrive and flourish in the rich new soil. Be diligent in pulling and digging the area and amend the soil. The time spent building a good, weed-free soil base before planting will make the future tending of the bed much easier and more satisfying. Using the wrong soil and not doing the above work is probably the #1 problem. Compost and compost.

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