When I first started gardening, I literally made every mistake on this list. So, I thought I would save you the trouble. If you avoid these 16 mistakes, you will leaps and bounds ahead in your garden.

Mistake 1 – Not watering beds at the base of the plant

I was an overhead waterer when I started with a regular sprayer hose. I thought it would be nice for the plants to get some H2O on their leaves. Well, I was wrong. Watering plants at the base and not allowing the water to splash up helps prevent powdery mildew and fungus from forming. Bottom watering plants keep the roots uniformly moist, but it doesn’t wash away the salt and mineral deposits that accumulate on the top of the soil over time—water at the base of the plant. Try to avoid splashing the leaves. Use a soaker wand or install drip irrigation when you can (honestly, this is such a gardening life changer).

Mistake 2 – Not labeling your plants with plant markers

You get so excited to get those seeds or plants in the ground. You have the perfect bed for your new garden. You have stuck all those little plastic plant identifiers in the ground. Five weeks later, they have blown away or been buried, and you see something sprouting, but you are just not sure what it is. My husband called my first season “the garden of surprise” because I kept forgetting what I had planted. I finally got some great plant markers.

Mistake 3 – Planting seeds/plants too close together

There are instructions on the back of your seed packet. You can also check out our resource on square foot planting. Once you plant your seeds or plants too close together, they are fighting for the same nutrients. The battle for sunlight once they get bigger and you end up with more disease and less harvest. Read the seed spacing info on the back of your seeds, or use the above manually to place plants the correct space apart.  You can plant your seeds close together because not all of them will germinate, but you will need to thin them. This brings us to our next mistake.

Mistake 4 – Not thinning plants

Once your little seedling sprouts, you will need to decide which are the strongest and pull the rest according to the spacing guide. Not doing this leads to all of the same problems in Mistake 3. Trust me, I know it is hard to pluck your seedlings that have struggled to pop up, but you have to pick the strongest. If you have a compost pile or bin, then your plucked seedlings did not die in vain. You can toss them in there and watch the circle of life happen. You will find your thinning guide here.

Mistake 5 – Not mulching

Mulch is almost as important as your soil mix. It serves so many purposes in your garden.

Mulch Regulates Soil Temperature Mulch helps to regulate soil temperature. Plants are sensitive to soil temperature. Mulch retains moisture. The second thing mulch does is helps retain moisture. Once the water reaches the ground, mulch keeps the moisture at the plants’ roots where they need it and prevents water loss through evaporation. This is especially important during those hot summer months. Mulch also helps you use less water in dry conditions. Mulch also helps stifle weeds. It saves you so much back-breaking labor pulling weeds all season long. Apply an organic mulch in a 1-2-inch layer as a top dressing in your beds.

Mistake 6 – Not enough drainage in your soil

In my first season, I tried to save some money on the soil. I did a bottom layer of native soil (which was very clay-heavy) and then filled my beds with raised bed soil and compost. The result was smaller plants or plants that never really got started. Finding the right soil mix is imperative. We almost always recommend the top 12 inches of your bed using Mel’s Mix. If you have taller beds, you can use garden soil or logs and wood chips on the bottom and top 12 inches with Mel’s Mix. You will find the recipe here.

Mistake 7 – Using the wrong support on your plants or not using supports at all

Everyone starts off buying tomato cages. But using tomato cages on all tomato plants can go poorly. The only tomato plants that tomato cages work well with are determinate cherry tomatoes. Otherwise, tomato cages will not be able to withstand the weight of large tomatoes or indeterminate tomatoes. Supports also help limit soil-borne diseases and funguses caused by lack of airflow by picking the right support for your plant. It is also a great space saver. You can grow vining plants vertically on a trellis (peas, pole beans, cucumbers, squash).

Mistake 8 – Not walking through your garden daily

Your garden is a living thing. It requires food, water and TLC. Just a quick inspection every day will help you get ahead of pests, diseases and other issues. Plucking a few powdery mildew leaves a day is a whole lot better than having to pull an entire plant or, worse yet, a bed of plants because it got out of control.  A quick 10-minute walk through each day. Look at your leaves, front and back, check for disease and signs of insect damage. It is my favorite part of the day; a cup of coffee and a meander around. It is amazing to see what pops up overnight.

Mistake 9 – Growing plants that like shade in the sun or vice versa

There are a whole load of plants that prefer partial sun to thrive. Planting shade lovers in areas that are too sunny causes your plant to bolt (bolting is when crops put on a vertical growth spurt to flower and set seed before the vegetables are ready for harvest. The result is inedible, bitter-tasting leaves or poor-quality produce with little that can be salvaged) Likewise, planting a sun lover in an area that doesn’t get full sun causes weak growth and less tasty food. Pay attention to the instructions on the back of your seed packs or seedings. Survey your garden and know where you get full sun and partial shade. Plant accordingly.

Mistake 10 – Planting too many varieties at first

In my first season, I was a little overzealous. I think I planted 25 varieties of veggies and fruit. I got overwhelmed and could not keep up. It was too much research and too many variables. So, for your first season, we will go with 4-8 easy to grow crops until you get the hang of it.

Mistake 11 – Not giving your plants enough airflow/not pruning

You come out one morning, and WOW, your zucchini and tomatoes have popped up. They are bushy and beautiful. It is so hard to think of trimming them back but trust me; this is SO necessary. Unpruned plants get disease fast. Keeping the bases of your plants clean and trimmed will allow more airflow. During your daily walk, snip off the bushy leaves and diseased areas. You will be so grateful. A tidy garden is also easier to harvest.

Mistake 12 – Not fertilizing your raised bed before you plant

Fertilizing is a tricky art. Plants only take what they need. For plants, the primary nutrients required are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (N, P, K, respectively), and there are two main types of fertilizer from which to choose: * synthetic and natural. Too much too quickly damages the plant’s system. This often shows up as browning foliage and is referred to as “fertilizer burn.” Plants can die as a result of the nutrient overdose. On the other hand, too little results in plants not getting what they need.  We like to add fertilizer to our raised bed soil a few days before planting to give our plants a great head start.

*We recommend using organic in our gardening plans.

Mistake 13 – Putting the wrong plants next to each other

Plants are just like people. They like to be next to the plants they like. For instance, tomatoes and Planting the wrong plants next to each other can harm your harvest by using the same soil nutrients or attracting pests. For instance, brassicas (broccoli, cabbage etc.) are not happy next to nightshades (tomatoes, potatoes etc.) So, use your companion planting chart before you plant.

Mistake 14 – Not planting pollinator-friendly plants

I was so focused on food plants that I neglected the beauty and benefit of planting pollinators. Pollinators are plants that draw in beneficial insects, bees, ladybugs, Monarchs etc. These little buggers are drawn to your flowers and help pollinate the rest of your garden. My squash was so sad in my first season because no one was around to help pollinate their fruit. I learned my lesson and now have all kinds of pollinators throughout my garden. (My squash are much happier now)

Mistake 15 – Not putting in drip irrigation

This one’s not a mistake, but hand watering with your can or a soaker hose gets old quickly. Drip irrigation is a game-changer for a bunch of reasons. First, it saves you SO much time in the garden. Second, it waters your plants more evenly and deeply, and it keeps water from splashing up and causing soil-borne disease.

Mistake 16 – Buying every product from advice you see on YouTube

I purchased 5 different types of fertilizers, beneficial nematodes, compost bins, insect preventatives etc. You name it; if I saw a video or article that sounded good, I got “it”. This resulted in me spending a lot of unnecessary money and accumulating things I have never used or did not work well in my garden with my environment. Don’t impulse buy. Make sure your garden needs whatever you just heard was the “best thing ever before you run out and buy it.