By: Olivia Putnal
Putting shovel to soil and watching flowers and vegetables grow is one of the best parts about warm weather. Not only is gardening fun, it improves your well-being, too, since it gets you out and about in the fresh air and sunshine. But it can also become a costly and time-consuming hobby if you don't know what you're doing. Whether you've been gardening for years or are just starting out, there's always room for improvement. Read on to discover common gardening mistakes, and tips from the pros on how to correct them. Photo by: Diane Morey Sitton
Mistake #1: Not Using Enough Mulch
While mulch (or any other type of material-from compost to newspaper-that's used to cover the surface of your soil) is key to a healthy garden, many people just don't use enough of it. "Compost is meant to suppress weeds and hold in moisture so your plants are able to grow properly," says Amy Stewart, author of Wicked Bugs. But it does a lot more than that. Mulch also reduces the impact of heavy rain and helps maintain an even soil temperature, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service. A good rule of thumb: Use three to six inches of compost on top of the soil around the base of your plants, recommends Stewart.
Mistake #2: Overwatering
This common mistake is not only harmful to your plants, but it's wasteful as well. "We use drinking water to water our plants when we need to be more efficient and conscientious about what kind of water we use, how much and how often," says Jamie Durie, landscape designer, horticulturist and host of HGTV's The Outdoor Room. If your watering system is on a timer, make sure to turn it off on rainy days. It's also best to water your plants at dawn or dusk, especially on hot summer days, when water evaporates quickly. Drip irrigation, which conserves both water and fertilizer by allowing water to drip slowly to the roots, is also an extremely effective-and inexpensive-option. While TLC.com recommends giving most plants and your lawn an inch of water per week, the key is keeping the soil moist without overdrying or oversaturation, as both can be damaging.
Mistake #3: Not Doing Enough Research Before Purchasing
Your garden will never look as lush as you'd it like to if you're planting the wrong flowers and shrubs, so always find out what types of plants grow best in your climate. First, check out your neighbors' properties to see what's in bloom and what's not-if it grows in their yard, it will probably grow in yours. Then, make a sun map of your planting area, Stewart recommends. "Observe the sun and shade levels at 9 a.m., noon and 5 p.m. so you are aware of the light," she says. And finally, if you want to be extra diligent, test your soil. "It basically involves filling up vials with soil and adding liquid agents to determine the pH levels," says Jon Feldman, landscape designer and owner of G. biloba Gardens, Inc. in Nyack, New York. "Test kits are available from better garden centers and local Cooperative Extension Agencies."
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Mistake #4: Buying Already Blooming Plants
Garden centers often force plants to bloom unnaturally so they look pretty, encouraging shoppers to buy them. "Because they are pushed to grow when they're not supposed to, you might get home with a plant that's already reached its prime," warns Stewart. The solution? Do some research ahead of time so you know what plants bloom when. And don't hesitate to ask for help at your local gardening center to find out what is in season.
Mistake #5: Being Impatient
We're all guilty of impatience, especially when it comes to things we cannot control, like Mother Nature. But just because you have guests coming over and your flowers have yet to bloom doesn't mean you should frantically overwater them. Perennials, for example, "take three full years to reach their full size potential," says Stewart. Patience is key to a successful garden and yard. Before you buy a plant, read its label to find out how long it will take to bloom so you can plan accordingly.
Mistake #6: Overcrowding Your Garden
If you overfill your garden, you risk suffocating the plants and the soil around them. "Visiting a nursery before planting can be daunting-you only have so much space but there are 15 plants you love," says Feldman. "You might think you can squeeze them in to make the garden look lush, and it does right away, but over the course of a year or two, the stronger ones will dominate and take over the weaker ones-and the garden will look like a mess." If you're not sure how many plants you need, measure your allotted space and, when you go to the store, ask the experts to help you map out something based on the types of plants you want, since each requires a different amount of space. "Asking questions at the nursery is much quicker than researching each plant online or in books," Feldman says.
Mistake #7: Not Hiring a Gardener
Gardeners can be costly, but in the long run they can save you money by helping you improve your gardening skills. "If you want to make the most out of your garden, a gardening expert can act as a tutor," says Edward Smith, organic gardener and author of The Vegetable Gardener's Bible. "In order to really benefit from a gardener's advice and services, make sure you're right out there digging in the garden with them." By going through the motions with a professional, you will learn how things are supposed to be done as well as have someone to help with the heavy lifting. "Hire a gardener to help out with some of the more physical jobs, such as mowing and hedge cutting, so you'll have the energy to tend to other tasks," suggests U.K.-based garden writer Lia Leendertz, author of The Twilight Garden.
Mistake #8: Overspending
Gardening can be pretty pricey-from the actual plants, flowers and trees to all the maintenance that comes with them. However, the experts say it doesn't have to be. For example, if you're planting a vegetable garden, Smith suggests buying seeds instead of actual plants. "You can begin planting the seeds in Styrofoam cups, which is much cheaper than buying large plants at the nursery." Another way to update your garden is to spice up your outdoor area with DIY decor. "Buy secondhand containers and pots, then use paint to decorate them as you wish," Durie recommends.
Mistake #9: Uneducated Pruning
Pruning is very important for plants, but doing it incorrectly can be detrimental. "Most plants don't require a whole lot of pruning," says Maureen Gilmer, author of The Small Budget Gardener. "So read up on the specific type of plant before starting." A great source is HGTV.com, where you can search for the type of plant you want to prune, and get all the information you need before you start clipping away. A general rule of thumb for blooming plants: "Prune immediately after flowering, to ensure the plant has the maximum amount of time to put on the following year's flowering growth," Leendertz recommends. "And take out about a third of the oldest growth, right down to the ground." Gilmer also stresses how important it is to pick off the budded flowers, as failure to do so can result in a lack of plant growth. "As soon as the flower fades, pick it off immediately," she says. An easy way to make sure you're not missing any dying flowers or damaged stems is to make a daily habit out of it. "Check on your plants before or after work to ensure you've got them all," suggests Gilmer.