By Bonnie L. Grant
Even the most experienced gardener has a moment of disappointment when the realization hits that he or she has performed a task inefficiently or forgotten some basic maintenance chore. Common garden challenges can set back development and even overall health. Take some tips from the pros to avoid these top 10 garden mistakes.
1. Planting bulbs at the wrong time. “Timing is everything,” they say, and that is doubly true in the garden. Know when to plant your bulbs for best success. Spring bloomers should go into the garden in fall, while summer blooming bulbs go in during early spring. Failure to plant at the right time can cause the bulb to miss its freezing requirement and subsequently fail to bloom.
2. Choosing the wrong plants. “Right plant, right place” is another common saying. Check the USDA zones for any plant you purchase and make sure it will thrive in your region. Often, we get carried away while plant shopping and purchase a tropical specimen that simply won’t survive the winter. Not only is this a waste of money, but it’s downright depressing.
3. Using the wrong fertilizer. Feeding your plants is important, but sometimes they don’t need the formula you are applying. Do a soil test to see what nutrients your garden may be lacking and then choose a fertilizer accordingly. Excess nutrients can cause health issues in plants and applying a formula without the missing nutrients is just plain pointless.
4. Poor watering practices. “Water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink.” Watering too much or too little is probably the most widespread garden mistake. Read plant tags carefully and don’t be afraid to get a little dirty. Stick your fingers into the soil several inches to find out if it really is dry down there. Use a calendar to remind yourself when and where to water.
5. Planting too much. Overplanting is almost unavoidable when you have gone into a plant frenzy at the local nursery. Restrain yourself and think about mature sizes of plants. Get out a pen and paper and make a plan to ensure you have enough space for your vision. You can always add a plant or two later, but it’s best to leave some space and air around newly installed plants and wait for them to grow up.
6. Insufficient lawn maintenance. Lawn care is one chore that is a mystery to many gardeners and you may not have expert knowledge on the best care for your grass. Reseeding is best taken place in September. Fertilize when turf grass is actively growing. Set your mower up a notch and let short grass clippings compost gently back into the lawn.
7. Allowing weeds to take over. Weeding is one of the worst chores in the landscape. However, failure to weed not only presents a poorly maintained landscape, but it actually can hurt your garden plants. Weeds steal food and water from landscape specimens. Pull those weeds and let them compost into the earth to enrich it rather than impoverish soil.
8. Using chemicals poorly. Use caution and your reading glasses when using herbicides and pesticides. Over using pesticides can actually destroy beneficial insects. Improper use of herbicides may pose a risk to your landscape plants. Read all instructions carefully.
9. Ignoring soil amendments. Use mulch and other organic elements to enrich the soil. Poor soil is the most common cause of plant vitality loss, but it’s easier to fix than you might think. Use compost, leaf litter, grass clippings and other natural compostable items to nurture your soil and improve percolation, fertility and moisture retention.
10. Leaving plants in the cold. Overwintering tender bulbs and plants is necessary in northern climes. One common mistake is waiting too long to bring plants indoors. Usually, you should have tender plants potted up and ready to move by late September.
Ask for help. It may look like admitting defeat, but no one can do it all themselves. Ask questions from other gardeners and ask for assistance on big projects. It won’t be helpful to finish that big rockery only to have such a bad back that you can’t enjoy the fun process of installing your new plants. Call in the troops to help you on significant projects.