Lots of people are planting their fall gardens right now, so it seems like a good time to talk about gardening mistakes–the kind that could ruin your harvest and make all that digging and planting feel like a total waste of time. Of course, a failed garden isn’t the end of the world–you can just run to the store and buy what you need from the produce section. But if you and your family are counting on your garden as a primary source of food, a ruined harvest can be devastating.
Unfortunately, not all of us are born with a green thumb, and mistakes are bound to happen. But if you take the time to read books and articles (such as this one), you should be able to avoid some of the more common gardening mistakes. Here, then, are seven gardening mistakes to avoid.
Mistake #1: Underestimating the Importance of the Right Soil
Not all dirt is created equal. Likewise, not all plants require the same type of soil to thrive. Before you ever put roots in the ground, make sure your soil is properly suited for it.
One of the most important aspects of soil is its PH level. Most vegetables grow best in slightly acidic soil that falls in the range of 6.0-6.5 on the PH scale. You can test the PH level of your soil yourself with a PH testing kit or have it done by your local extension service. If it is too acidic, lime can be used to increase its alkalinity; if it is too alkaline, sulfur can be used to increase its acidity.
Organic material also has a neutralizing effect and can be used to bring soil that is on one extreme or the other to a more neutral PH.
Mistake #2: Forgoing the Fertilizer
Plants don’t require much in the way of nutrients, especially compared to animals, but they still require a few crucial nutrients that they can’t create themselves through photosynthesis. These nutrients—nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium—can be obtained through fertilizer.
In choosing fertilizer, you have two options: synthetic and organic. Synthetic fertilizer can be purchased at a variety of locations, it can be stored indefinitely, and it comes with the added convenience of clear instructions on how much to use. On the other hand, organic fertilizer–which is made from composting livestock manure–is arguably more effective, and it is believed to be healthier as well. Whichever fertilizer you choose, make sure you don’t to overlook this important step.
Mistake #3: Not Giving Your Plants Enough Space
When plants are planted too close together, they are forced to compete with one another for nutrients, water, and even sunlight. Most of the time there is no winner in this competition, and all the plants end up suffering.
To give your plants enough space, make sure you plant them an appropriate distance from one another. Depending on the plant, this distance may vary, but instructions about proper spacing should be available on the back of your seed packet.
Another crucial aspect in giving your plants enough space is to keep the weeds down. Weeds can quickly outcompete and starve out a vegetable, making it important to keep them pulled up from around your plants.
Mistake #4: Planting Your Seeds at the Wrong Depth
Planting a seed takes a little more precision than simply digging a hole in the ground and dropping it in. If you plant the seed at the wrong depth, it may never germinate.
As a general rule, larger seeds will need to be buried deeper while smaller seeds need to be closer to the surface. In order to get the depth exactly right, however, check the seed packet of the vegetable you are planting and find the recommended depth.
Mistake #5: Providing the Wrong Amount of Water
If your plants aren’t receiving enough water, you may notice them begin to wilt, and the leaves will begin to dry up and feel crispy in your hand. If you catch these signs early enough, a good dosage of water should bring the plant out of it, but don’t hesitate; past a certain point, water won’t do any good.
If your plants are receiving too much water, the leaves will turn yellow-brown and will feel soft and limp in your hands. If this happens, lay off watering them for a few days.
As a general rule of thumb, most vegetables need to have the ground beneath them thoroughly soaked two to three times a week. Do this, and keep a careful watch on how the leaves look each day, adjusting accordingly, and you should be able to avoid over or under-watering.
Mistake #6: Planting Bulbs Upside Down
Seeds can be dropped in any direction with no problem, and plants with roots and stems already developed are pretty intuitive as to which way they should be planted. Bulbs such as onions and garlic, however, can sometime be a little trickier.
Bulbs have a stem end and a roots end, and if the stem end is planted facing the ground, the plant will most often never sprout. In order to tell the difference between the two ends, take a look at the shape of the bulb. On most every bulb, the stem end is narrower than the roots end. Plant the thicker end facing down and you will be in the clear.
Mistake #7: Planting too Large a Variety
This is a common mistake, and while it can be understandable to want to enjoy the widest possible variety of vegetables, particularly in a scenario where they may be all you have to eat, it is still a potentially costly mistake.
Here’s why: Each type of vegetable has its own set of requirements. It has a certain amount of water it needs, a certain amount of fertilizer, and a certain PH level soil. Keeping up with all these different requirements is tricky enough with just a few varieties of vegetables, but it becomes increasingly difficult the more different kinds of vegetables you plant. Eventually, it gets to the point where your garden begins to suffer.
Instead of getting caught up in the temptation to plant dozens of different kinds of vegetables, choose a few filling staples that produce a lot of food such as potatoes, corn, and beans. Plant these and keep in mind that having an abundance of a few different vegetables is much better than having dozens of different types of plants that are all dead due to improper care.
Growing a garden is one of the surest ways to guarantee you and your family will have food should the day come when taking a trip to the supermarket is no longer an option. By avoiding the mistakes outlined above and treating your plants with attention and care, you should be able to grow a healthy, thriving garden that will provide plenty of food come harvest time.