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Avoid these 5 gardening mistakes

Through the Garden Gate: These common problems can be overcome with a little planning and discipline.

Fran O'Leary, Wisconsin Agriculturist Senior Editor

April 19, 2024

3 Min Read
plants growing in a raised garden bed
CONTROL WEEDS: Weeds choke out vegetables, compete for moisture and nutrients, and can produce thousands of seeds that can lie dormant in the soil for years. It is easier to pull or hoe weeds a couple of times a week, when they are small, than it is to deal with the repercussions of letting weeds grow and take over your garden.FRAN O’LEARY

When growing a vegetable garden, it’s easy to make mistakes. Before you get tough on yourself for making a poor decision, realize all gardeners make mistakes — and learning from our mistakes is the main way we become better gardeners. Following are five common gardening mistakes that you can hopefully avoid:

1. Planting too much. It’s easy to go overboard when it comes to growing vegetables. The idea of harvesting basketsful of delicious vegetables can tempt you to plant crops you don’t really like. If your kids won’t eat Brussels sprouts, don’t plant them. Use the space in your garden to grow veggies everyone will enjoy.

There’s no reason to grow everything you find at the garden center if all you really need are some tomatoes, lettuce, onions, broccoli, cucumbers and peppers. And there’s no need to grow 20 tomato plants when three or four will do. Having too many vegetables takes time and energy, and could cause you to cut back on weeding, watering and other chores.

2. Planting too close together. Some vegetables, such as spinach, lettuce and Swiss chard, don’t mind growing close together. However, most vegetables do best when they aren’t planted too close. Tomatoes require good air circulation, so be sure to space them at least 2 feet apart. If planted too closely, your plants are more likely to be stricken with blight or mildew. Other vegetables that need a bit more space include potatoes, peppers, green and yellow beans, cauliflower, broccoli, eggplants, and sweet corn.

3. Watering too much or too little. Consistent watering is essential for good harvests. Most crops do just fine when they receive about an inch of moisture a week. Buy a rain gauge to monitor rainfall. Plants that are deprived of water will show obvious signs of wilting and yellow leaves, and the fruit will be stunted or deformed.

Vegetables receiving too much water will be fine as long as your soil drains well, although melons and tomatoes may crack if watering is inconsistent. If excess water puddles in your garden, your crops will suffer and the leaves will turn yellow. The only way to fix this is to improve your soil by working in several inches of organic matter. Mulching will also help keep soil moisture consistent.

4. Not feeding your crops. It’s just as important to feed your vegetables as it is to water them. Besides adding compost or dry manure to your soil before you plant, it’s a good idea to add some compost every time you sow or harvest a new crop. Granular, slow-release fertilizers are also helpful and will feed your plants for up to 90 days. Simply sprinkle the granules around your plants according to label directions, and every time it rains, your plants will get a quick meal.

On the other hand, be careful that you don’t overfeed your plants. Tomatoes, for example, will produce more leaves than fruit if they receive too much nitrogen.

5. Letting weeds grow. Not only do weeds choke out your crops and compete with them for moisture and food, but they also can produce thousands of seeds that can lie dormant in the soil for years. That’s why it’s important to eliminate weeds as soon as you see them.

To keep weeds at bay, start by spreading mulch over the surface of the soil right after planting. Then, if any weeds start to break through the mulch barrier, pull them or use a hoe to cut the plants off at the roots. Don’t use chemical herbicides in a vegetable garden.

About the Author(s)

Fran O'Leary

Wisconsin Agriculturist Senior Editor, Farm Progress

Fran O’Leary lives in Brandon, Wis., and has been editor of Wisconsin Agriculturist since 2003. Even though O’Leary was born and raised on a farm in Illinois, she has spent most of her life in Wisconsin. She moved to the state when she was 18 years old and later graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater with a bachelor's degree in journalism.

Before becoming editor of Wisconsin Agriculturist, O’Leary worked at Johnson Hill Press in Fort Atkinson as a writer and editor of farm business publications and at the Janesville Gazette in Janesville as farm editor and a feature writer. Later, she signed on as a public relations associate at Bader Rutter in Brookfield, and served as managing editor and farm editor at The Reporter, a daily newspaper in Fond du Lac.

She has been a member of American Agricultural Editors’ Association (now Agricultural Communicators Network) since 2003.

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