02 August 2011

Top 10 Gardening Mistakes to Avoid

Photo taken at Greenland Botanic Garden.  A good example of excellent planning, mixing perennials with trees and shrubs for a natural and finished effect.
New and experienced gardeners alike often become over zealous when acquiring plants for their garden. I know I have done it many times.  They just look so good in the store and I know they'll be a great addition to the garden.  But where to put them?  That can be a problem, unless, like me, you  don't mind digging up more and more of the green stuff (lawn, I mean but the other is required for the ambitious gardener too) to make way for the new.  As a gardener, I have high aspirations for my yard.  I know the look I am going for and with a little juggling, it will be accomplished.  But a word to the wise, with a heads up, there are some gardening mistakes you can avoid.
Blunder #1: Failure to plan.

Before you rush into the garden centre, make up a plan for your yard.  It doesn't have to be professional and can be done on graph paper.  A plan helps you with the budget as well as helping you avoid the mish mash look that can occur when everything you love is thrown together.  It's best and easiest, when taking on a new project, to break it into smaller accomplishable tasks.  For instance, when we set out to landscape our back yard that was devoid of everything but grass, we started with one bed, which initially was a vegetable garden.  Around the same time, I began working for a local greenhouse/nursery and the aspirations grew from there.  One bed begat another and soon the entire perimeter became beds for trees, shrubs, and perennials.  A pond was added, thus the vegetable garden was bid a fond farewell.  Some aspects of these beds I truly love, probably because some planning went into their design.  But theres' the bed on the west side that needs a do-over in the worst way.  (yes, it was an afterthought.  The catch-all bed for the extras)
This is the bed, in the right portion of the photo, which will be re-designed.
Blunder #2: Buying poor quality tools.

It's true with garden tools, as with anything else.  You get what you pay for.  Having to continually replace tools due to breakage or bending or inability to do a task, is more expensive in the long run and can certainly dampen your gardening spirit.  Buy the best quality tools you can afford.

Blunder #3: Not knowing your soil.

Before you plant, get to know your soil.  Is it clay, sandy, a good loam or rocky?  Unless you have a rich loamy soil, which plants love, you will need to amend it before planting.  Here in Edmonton, we have clay soil.  Fort Saskatchewan, just north east of us, has sandy soil.  Prepare your soil, dig and amend, before you plant.  A good loam is rich in organic matter and doesn't drain too quickly nor does it stay wet for prolonged periods.  Adding compost to your garden soil will enrich the nutrient value, make it more friable, improve drainage and, because it is the ideal medium, helps plants better fight off disease and pests.

Soil tips:
 - Try to avoid walking on the soil, once you have planted.  Compaction of the soil can occur with increased traffic, making it difficult for plants to retrieve the water and nutrients they need and inhibits root growth.  Create paths instead.
-  Don't work a wet soil.  Doing so will result in a clumpy hard-packed soil when it is dry.
-  Don't overwork the soil. The best soil has varied sizes of particles and is not fine and dusty.  The variable sizes aid in drainage.
Shade gardening with ligularia.  Photo taken at Greenland Botanic Garden.
Blunder #4: Planting in the wrong spot.

Take note of the sun and shade in your yard.  Some plants require full sun, 6 hours of direct sunlight, while others prefer part-shade or shade, to grow their best.  Plant according to the sun and shade patterns in your yard.  Keeping in mind that planting on the south side of a house is hotter than the east, so certain plants will perform better there than others.  Do your homework.

Blunder #5: Overcrowding shrubs and trees.

Guilty as charged!  Keep in mind the size in height and width of the tree and shrub before you select its location and plan for these dimensions when planting them together.  Overcrowding is not healthy for the plant (lack of air flow), nor is it appealing to the eye.

A good example of planting in groups.  Taken at Greenland Botanic Garden.
Blunder #6: Scattered plantings - not planting in groups.

Arrange similar plants together.  To have one delphinium here and another in different bed is not appealing.  Try grouping in threes and fives to the best impact.  It is advised to plant in odd numbers for the best visual result.

Blunder #7: Purchasing poor quality plants.

Don't buy just because it's on sale or it's cheaper than other stores.  Cheaper with plants is not always better, particularly if you are new to gardening and are unsure of what attributes to look for when making your selection.  It's best to buy from a reputable garden centre, where the plants are well cared for and the staff are knowledgable.

Note:  You might consider using native plants as they are easier to grow, have fewer disease and pest problems and often require less of the gardener in terms of care and watering.

Blunder #8: Planting Too Deep

Plant container grown plants at the same depth as the surface of the soil in the pot it is growing in.  Planting too deep can lead to root rot and other problems.  The exception to this is clematis which grow best if planted a foot deeper than they are in the pot.

Blunder #9: Over or under watering

Here's a big mistake that many gardeners make.  Depending on the weather and the type of plant, your water needs will vary.  A weekly rainfall of one inch (2.5 cm) is ideal for most plants.  You may use a rain gauge, if in doubt, or try putting a plastic container out to collect the rain.  Measure the depth of the water after the rainfall to determine if you need to adjust your watering.   Other tips:

- Avoid frequent shallow waterings. This encourages the roots to grow shallow, near the surface, instead of reaching deep into the soil for water.  A plant with deep roots better survives a period of drought than one with shallow roots.

- The best time to water your garden is early morning or early evening.

photo taken at Greenland Botanic Garden.  Imagine if this were weedy.
Blunder #10: Being a negligent weeder

It is important to maintain a virtually weed free garden as it eliminates competition for moisture and nutrients, allowing roots of desirable plants to grow at their optimum.  To help keep this task manageable, try spreading a mulch of wood chips or shredded bark around your garden.  This will inhibit weed growth and help to retain soil moisture while maintaining a stable soil temperature.

See also:
Planting for Shade
Design Faux Pas and Favourite Tips


Sheila said...

Hi Shirley - Good tips and great weather - I'm smiling now and imagine you are too! Finally summer's here!

EG CameraGirl said...

Great gardening advice. Ah, for sure I need to weed more often@ :)

joo said...

Such an interesting post! I think I've made many mistakes you mention here. What I know now is that garden needs patience:)

Ruth said...

This is a very informative post. thanks for sharing your wisdom on gardening.


Icy BC said...

I love this post with so many wonderful and useful tips! I'm not a gardener by any mean, but try to learn as I go. Thanks for your info.

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