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Common Gardening Mistakes and How to Avoid or Fix Them

image of squash plants with powdery mildew

Last week we got quite a bit of rain and although we normally wait until mid October to plant our fall/winter garden, it’s quite a bit cooler than normal so we are starting a little early. When I pulled our seeds out and started going through them, I thought about some of the gardening mistakes I have made over the years. I thought I’d share them (or at least the ones I can remember) with you. 

I truly believe that growing food is simple, not easy but simple; you put some seeds in the ground, water them and if the sun shines, the plant will grow. However, there are a few gardening mistakes that I see gardeners, myself included, make over and over. 

Not understanding your climate

Most of the mistakes hinge on one big mistake – not knowing understanding your climate. The USDA has a very handy chart to help gardeners and growers determine if a plant will do well in their area based on how cold their area gets. We call these gardening zones.

This is NOT an exact science but is certainly a good start. Knowing what zone you are in will help you pick seeds, plants and varities that will actually grow in your area. We live in a zone 9a, so if a fruit tree is rated only to zone 7, I will need to just skip planting that variety, since it needs more chilling hours than we get in our climate.

If you need help understanding how gardening zones (both cold hardy and heat zones), daylight hours, rainfall, humidity and other metrics work together to create your growing climate, we have a short ecourse that will help you out.

image of swiss chard with hay mulch

Starting too big

Sometimes in our excitement we start our garden too big and end up overwhelmed and discouraged. It’s better to grow one small garden bed that is well tended than it is to grow an acre garden that ends up a weedy mess.

I’ve planted too many fruit trees than I could reasonably take care of and had them die in the summer heat. When we first moved here I planted a large area in the back of our garden with corn and melons – the corn did fine but the melons got lost in the 4′ tall grass. It’s discouraging.

If you want to grow food year after year, start small and build on your successes each year.

Planting when others online plants

Another mistake is doing what everyone else online is doing, when they are doing it. I know, I know, it’s hard to wait to start seeds when it seems everyone else is starting them. But if you start them too soon, you’ll wind up with spindly transplants.

One year I tried planting our fall garden in the beginning of September {ahem – we were still having 100 degree days} because I saw all these great posts on how it was now or never for the fall garden. As you can probably guess, those tender  little seedlings got burned up. I know better and yet I still got carried away.

For our zone, we plant our spring and summer gardens earlier than most of the country and plant our fall and winter gardens later than most of the rest of the country.

image of leaf footed bugs on tomato plants

Not dealing with problems right away

Here’s something I do that I hate to admit, not taking care of problems when I notice them. For me it goes something like this. I’m in the garden and I see a bit of powdery mildew on the squash. I should spray the squash with some baking soda and even cut off a few leaves to increase airflow and I do….eventually.

Unfortunately, I sometimes don’t take the time to properly care for problems and they get totally out of control. Here’s the deal, if I’m going to successfully garden using organic practices, I have to take care of problems and pests as soon as I notice them. 

If you see vine borer damage on your squash, it must be dealt with immediately. If you see one tomato hornworm or one leaffooted bug, I guarantee you there are more.

If you have powdery mildew mix 3 tablespoons baking soda, 1 tablespoon oil (vegetable or olive oil is fine), and 2 drops dish washing detergent into 1 gallon of water and spray your plants with it.

Following the seed packet planting schedule

Ok, here’s a touchy mistake that goes back to understanding your climate – following the planting schedule on the back of seed packets. Some seed companies do a great job of putting good information on their seed packets. Some don’t.

There is one brand that every time I look at the back of one of their packets, it tells  me I can plant from Feb-Sept; this is for tomatoes or lettuce, it doesn’t matter. Of the companies that do a good job, remember they can’t write everything on the back of the seed packet, the space is limited. This is where knowing your gardening zone and climate come in handy.

I know that it is very hard for most seeds to germinate in 100 degree temperatures. And yet, I see a lot of  seeds packets that say I can sow the seeds during the summer in my zone. So, I just ignore that part of the seed packets.

Planting all the seeds in a packet

Most seed packets have way more seeds than you need to plant at one time. No one really needs 30 zucchini plants started at the same time – unless you’re selling at market.

Instead, sowing seeds should be staggered over the period of a couple of weeks. This is called succession planting and while it *can* get complicated, it doesn’t have to. Here are some easy ways to succession plant your garden.

image of grid with garden layout for garden planning

Not making friends with locally owned nurseries

Ignoring your locally owned nurseries is a big mistake. These nurseries have a vested interest in you succeeding. Also, most of these owners know your local climate and can help you learn when to plant certain plants and what varieties do well in your area. Most of the time, the people who own and work in local nurseries are gardeners and love to talk gardening.

Occasionally, you’ll get someone who doesn’t know much or is condescending about what they know, if that happens just find another local nursery (or feed store) to shop at.

But don’t rely solely on books and what you read on the internet.

Not keeping gardening notes

Lastly, not keeping notes on what worked and what didn’t work can keep you making the same mistake year after year. Here’s how this one goes down for me. I’m in the garden and realize that a certain variety of tomatoes (we’ll call it X) just isn’t doing as well as my other varieties. I think, “I’ll have to remember that for next year.”

Then next January I’m looking at seed catalogs and I come to the amazing tomato section. And I think, “Oh we planted X last year and really liked the flavor” so I order some, forgetting that although we might have liked the flavor we only go 5 tomatoes off those plants.

I’m a slow learner sometimes, but I have learned that if I ever think “I need to remember that for next year”, I need to ahead and make a note of it in my gardening notebook

What about you, what are some of your gardening mistakes and what do you do to no longer make them? 

Thanks for sharing with your friends!


Friday 25th of March 2022

Good advise but on my seedlings I have what look like fruit flies and I have fruit fly traps which I am sure these little pests are laughing at me because it did not work. What are these little pests and how do I get rid of them?

Angi Schneider

Tuesday 5th of April 2022

This article might be helpful.

Kathryn L Werner

Tuesday 24th of July 2018

The link for "heat tolerant zone" doesn't go to anything related to that. It goes to Adventist Health Systems

Angi Schneider

Tuesday 24th of July 2018

Thank you for letting me know the link is being redirected. Here's a new link, http://solanomg.ucanr.edu/files/245158.pdf, and I've edited the post.


Sunday 10th of July 2016

For powdery mildew, I highly recommend spraying with dilute lay nonfat (skim) milk, in about a 8-10% milk n water solution. It arrests the mildew so the plant can't recover & what drips not the soil is nutritious for the plant, too. I wouldn't have believed it could work so well, but after trying it a couple years ago, it worked so well that I'm sold on it! When I live June tends to have gray & overcast mornings, & that sometimes is the case in May & early July as well. So powdery mildew is a problem on squash, cucumber, & tomato leaves. Spray daily for a week or two, then every two or three days after that. Only use nonfat milk as the fat in low fat or whole milk will go rancid & make the garden stink. Nonfat won't have that problem.

Angi Schneider

Sunday 10th of July 2016

Thanks for the tip. We used it this year and it worked really well.

Northern Gardener

Friday 9th of January 2015

We have the opposite problem, we're in zone 2b/3. It's almost too depressing to read some blogs. Winter gardening? Ha. Last winter the frost went down eight feet, with temperatures staying below -30 for three months. What will grow in that?

Angi Schneider

Friday 9th of January 2015

I'm so sorry, I sure it can be hard with such a long winter. Have you ever read Northern Homestead? Anna and her family live in upper Canada, she has some really great posts on winter gardening. I'm always inspired by her. http://northernhomestead.com/category/winter-growing/

Green Bean

Thursday 30th of October 2014

You are speaking my language, sister! You with the powdery mildew? That's me. Totally guilty. I have started taking notes in a binder more over the last two years which has helped tremendously but I'm otherwise guilty of most of these mistakes.

Angi Schneider

Friday 31st of October 2014

It gets me every year. But here's to next year, right?