13 Common Gardening Mistakes You Don't Have to Make

How to Avoid Flower and Vegetable Garden Mishaps

Red, orange and white tulips lined in front yard of house

The Spruce / Sarah Crowley

If you've experienced failure in the flower garden, perhaps you've written yourself off as having a brown thumb. Don't do that; instead, know that even experienced gardeners make mistakes. Relish the excitement of coming home with a trunk full of greenery. Save yourself some aggravation by developing a garden plan with a watering and feeding schedule for your plants.

The primary reason a garden usually fails is water. If you water too much or don't water enough, your plants will die. Other common mistakes include setting out tender seedlings without a hardening-off period. Young plants need a short acclimation period before meeting the bright sun. Another common error is giving a young transplant too much fertilizer too fast since they are susceptible to chemical burns.

Read on to protect your investment by avoiding 13 common gardening problems.

  • 01 of 13

    Planting Too Early

    Tulips in the snow

    Kunstgalerie Aquarius/Getty Images

    Winter has hung on three weeks too long, and the nurseries are tempting us with lovely dahlias and New Guinea impatiens. If the nursery is selling these flowers, it must be time to plant, so you bring home a flat and set them out the first time the thermometer hits 60 degrees F.

    The problem with this approach is that the nursery tended these tender tropicals in its greenhouse, and now you've slapped them into spring thaw mush. The plant never recovers from this shock to its system.

    Solution: Contact your local county extension service to determine your average last frost date. If the plant marker says put out two weeks after the last frost, follow this advice, weather anomalies be darned. For the earliest flowers, stick to stalwarts like pansies and primroses.

  • 02 of 13

    Too Much (Or Too Little) Water

    Woman watering flowers in garden with watering can

    Paul Bradbury/Getty Images

    Flowers are as particular about their moisture needs as they are about sun exposure and fertilization. Go beyond your plant's care tag to learn about your flowers’ irrigation needs before you find them a permanent home in the garden. “Moisture-loving” may mean an inch of water per week, or it could describe a bog plant like the cardinal flower. Other flowers may fail because they're loved to death: plants that don't like wet feet like lavender cotton will experience root rot with excessive watering.

    Solution: Plant flowers with similar needs together. The landscape around your mailbox and far away from your faucet may be perfect for a xeriscape garden. Install moisture-loving plants in the garden bed by the downspout to avoid the possibility of root rot.

  • 03 of 13

    Picking the Wrong Location

    Sunny flower garden

    David C Tomlinson/Getty Images

    Some flowering plants need full sun to get enough energy to produce blooms. Without this source of photosynthesis, these plants will stop blooming, weaken, and become susceptible to pests and diseases. Other, shade-loving flowers evolved in woodlands and on forest floors, and excessive sun will cause scorching and brown foliage.

    Solution: It’s okay to push the envelope a bit on a plant’s exposure, for example, allowing your astilbes to get an hour of the morning sun, but as a general rule you should follow the exposure suggestion on the plant’s care tag.

  • 04 of 13

    Planting for the Wrong Region

    Flowering lupine

    Johner Images/Getty Images

    If you live in Phoenix, and you order those lush lupine plants from a Maine-based nursery, prepare for bleached foliage and cessation of blooming before the plant breathes its last gasp. Similarly, if your garden plot overlooks wind-swept San Francisco Bay, your zinnias may shiver in their pots with nary a bloom.

    Solution: Visit a local botanical garden to see what grows well in your region. Shop for plants locally, and ask your nursery for flower advice. Realize that cool weather annuals, like pansies, will peter out before the summer solstice arrives.

    Continue to 5 of 13 below.
  • 05 of 13

    Getting Rough When Repotting

    Woman potting plants

    Quim Roser/Getty Images

    How to get those rootbound specimens to loosen their grip on their nursery pots? Not by yanking on the stems. Many plants, especially non-woody herbaceous plants, are very vulnerable at the stem level. When you pull and tug on your new delphinium stems, you’re introducing injuries that provide a portal for fungi, insects, and other pests to enter.

    Solution: Never pull a plant out of the container by the foliage or stems. Tap on the bottom of the pot to loosen the plant. If it’s slightly rootbound, squeeze the pot to loosen the rootball. If it’s really rootbound, get out your box cutter, and carefully slice the container off the plant.

  • 06 of 13

    Planting Too Much

    Planting seeds on windowsill

    Yulia Naumenko / Getty Images

    A common rookie mistake is getting a seed packet full of seeds and planting too many in one pot or planting a lot of it in your garden.

    Solution: Plant seeds following the spacing recommendations. Don't overwhelm a pot with too many seeds. If they all sprout, make sure you thin your seedlings or pull out the weakest ones and create space between your seedling following the packet recommendations. Too many seedlings competing in a pot for the water and food will yield smaller leaves, crowding, and may cause insect issues or disease.

  • 07 of 13

    Soil Needs Work

    PH meter checking the soil PH value

    rukawajung / Getty Images

    Before planting, get it right. Prepare your soil per your plant's specifications. Check the pH requirements of your plants. Turn the soil and, if necessary, add organic matter in the form of compost.

    Solution: Most plants have a preferred pH level soil for optimal growth. Check the pH with a test strip. Prepare the soil as early as spring—as soon as the ground thaws—if you are in a cool winter zone.

  • 08 of 13

    Messing Up Planting Depth

    Small vegetable seeds being sowed in small row of soil

    Rawf8 / Getty Images

    Some flowers are self-seeders; they don't need to be planted at all, they scatter with the wind, and where they land, they grow when the temperatures, water conditions, and lighting are correct. In general, however, larger seeds will require some planting depth.

    Solution: Adhere closely to the directions on seed packets for planting depth. The larger the seed, the deeper it needs to go. But, if it's too deep, it may not sprout, or the sprout may not make it to the surface for the sunlight it needs.

    Continue to 9 of 13 below.
  • 09 of 13

    Starting With Difficult Flowers

    Mexican marigold bush with orange flowers

    The Spruce / Gyscha Rendy

    Do not overwhelm yourself with too much watering, maintenance, and weeding as a beginner. Also, don't get more difficult plants to grow, like orchids or roses, with particular moisture needs.

    Solution: In your first season, start with easy plants. Some flowers that are easy to grow include marigolds, sunflowers, or begonias. Once you get the hang of growing forgiving plants, gradually start adding a few more specimens in the next season. Marigolds are a great place to learn to read the signs of plant stress and care needs.

  • 10 of 13

    Using Insecticides and Herbicides Improperly

    spraying plants with the neem oil solution

    The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

    Most chemicals will somehow challenge the local ecosystem balance, and they can sometimes have ill-desired effects, such as killing beneficial insects or nearby plants. This same premise also applies to organic remedies like insecticidal soap, neem oil, and vinegar, which can still affect plants and animals in your garden.

    Solution: All chemicals, organic and synthetic, must be applied with discretion. Carefully read all labels before using the product, research that it will do what you need it to do, and only use the minimum amount necessary.

  • 11 of 13

    Miscalculating the Plant's Mature Size

    Planting a Spruce tree with hole and shovel

    GeorgePeters / Getty Images

    What starts as a 12-inch plant may one day be a tree rooting up against your house, overshadowing your garden, or messing up your landscape plan. Know how big the plant can get and its lifespan.

    Solution: Carefully read the plant tag or label and account for the description's mature size. As a general rule of thumb, you should plant a tree at least 15 feet away from the foundation of a home.

  • 12 of 13

    Pruning Too Hard or Too Soon

    Pink rose bush being pruned in garden

    stsvirkun / Getty Images

    Pruning back dormant or seemingly dead wood is usually good as soon as spring arrives, except for some flowering shrubs that bloom on old wood. Forsythia is a perfect example of an early bloomer—one of the first bloomers in March—and its flowers usually come out on old wood. If you prune too soon, you may cut off the blooms for the year. It can also affect hydrangeas, lilacs, and rhododendrons.

    Solution: Wait for the plants to flower before pruning. Also, read up on your plant to see if it needs pruning. Sometimes, all the plant needs is a little shaping and trimming of dead stems or branches.

    Continue to 13 of 13 below.
  • 13 of 13

    Don't Forget to Harden Off Your Plants

    Flower seedlings placed outside in black pots

    Konoplytska / Getty Images

    Young plants need hardening off or an adjustment period for life outside (or returning indoors). The plants need to get used to the intense sun, wind, and rain. Otherwise, a young plant may get stressed, droop, stop growing, or die.

    Solution: If transplanting a seedling from a small container, gradually set the container outside in its new intended spot for a couple of hours each day, increasing the time over several weeks.