“It was easy to come up with a list of common gardening mistakes,” Heidi Carmichael says, “because I’ve made them all.”
Carmichael is paid to experiment — and sometimes even fail — in the garden. As a horticulturist with Vesey’s, a large Canadian seed distributor headquartered on Prince Edward Island, she is no stranger to disappointment.
She says some amount of error is inevitable but that doesn’t mean that growing plants needs to be difficult. “Gardening is easy if we just go with the flow. Plants, like people, don’t like to be fussed with too much.”
Here are some typical traps that Carmichael says many gardeners – rookies and experts alike – fall into:
1) Starting out too big
“Many people try to do too much when they first begin gardening and then get discouraged and give up,” she notes. Start small instead to gain some experience with what you want to grow. And give yourself time to get accustomed to the amount of maintenance involved in gardening.
2) Not testing your soil
Carmichael strongly encourages all gardeners to test their soil fertility and make necessary amendments the autumn before they plan to plant. “Growing successful vegetables is all to do with pH,” she says. Over-the-counter soil tests are easy to administer and generally come with recommendations on how to boost fertility based on your results.
3) Over- or under-watering
During the growing season, vegetables need about an inch of water per week, Carmichael says. In temperate climates such as the Maritimes and the northeastern U.S., regular rainfall is often enough. If in doubt, a simple test is to push your fingers about an inch below the surface and feel the soil – it should be moist but not very wet. “It’s better to water deeply once a week rather than a little every day,” to encourage the water to penetrate down to the roots, Carmichael says.
4) Growing things that aren’t suited to the zone
“Everyone has to be mindful of what can successfully grow in their area,” Carmichael says. A crop such as corn, for example, needs a lot of heat units and so may not succeed in a cooler or foggier climate. That doesn’t mean there isn’t room for experimentation, however, as she says every area has micro-climates, but don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
5) Not following planting instructions
When it comes to planting depth and spacing, “follow what the seed packets say,” Carmichael advises. Often gardeners plant their seeds or seedlings too deep, or not deep enough, making it more difficult for the plant to thrive. Likewise, if seeds are planted too close together the roots won’t develop well. “You’ll have to thin them, which is more work and uses more seeds,” she says.
One last bit of advice: keep track of your successes and failures from one year to the next in a notebook or gardening journal.
And don’t be too hard on yourself if things don’t work out.
“You can’t blame yourself 100 percent if things don’t work out,” Carmichael says. “But if you have the proper growing conditions, gardening will work for anyone as long as you put the right effort into it.”