When you’re new to anything, there’s a learning curve. For new gardeners, the learning curve can be steep and pricey as it often results in plant death. There’s no need to fret, though. All gardeners can turn brown thumbs into green thumbs by avoiding some common oversights, missteps, and costly failures in the organic lawn and garden.
Some organic gardeners were lucky enough to grow up in the shadow of a grandmother who lovingly tended her heirloom vegetables, or a father who grew legendary peaches in his orchard. For the rest of us, embarrassing gardening mistakes often precede the fragrant blooms and lush vegetables we desire.
If you want to reap the green rewards of your gardening investment, simply learn from the most common mistakes:
Mistake #1: Plant your vegetables or transplants very close together, so there aren’t any bare spots in the garden.
It’s tempting to ignore the planting instructions that come on the label of transplants that boast only a few leaves. However, if the label instructs you to space your new perennials 18 inches apart, do it. Otherwise, plan to spend the following season digging up your overcrowded plants and relocating them.
Mistake #2: Mow your lawn short, so you don’t have to mow it as often.
Remove no more than 1/3 of the grass blades when you mow the lawn. Each blade of grass is an individual plant, and scalping the lawn weakens it. Mowing the grass short exposes weed seeds to sunlight, encouraging their germination.
Mistake #3: Spend the first warm day of spring working or tilling the soil.
Gardeners get so excited on the first warm day of the season, many rush out with their tillers to get a jump on the growing season. Working the soggy soil of spring thaw turns soil into concrete clods.
Mistake #4: Spray a broad-spectrum pesticide on any plant that shows signs of insect damage.
Pesticides can damage beneficial insects as well as pests. Start with the least damaging organic control method targeted to the pest.
Mistake #5: Plant the same vegetables in your favorite corner of the garden every year.
Growing the same vegetables in the same spot year after year allows plant pests and diseases to build up in the soil. Divide your garden into quadrants, and move vegetables in the same family to a different quadrant each year.
Mistake #6: Add fertilizer to any sick-looking plants to perk them up.
Excessive fertilizer can burn plants. Consider all possible sources of plant decline: get a soil test, ensure that the plant is free of microscopic pests, and confirm that you’ve given the plant the soil and light it requires.
Mistake #7: Plant your new flowers and vegetables directly into the turf.
Few transplants can compete with a well-established lawn on top of compacted soil. Pamper your plants with their own bed of fluffy soil mixed with ample amounts of humus.
Mistake #8: Bag all lawn clippings and yard waste for weekly curbside pickup.
Gardeners who throw their lawn and garden clippings away deny themselves free organic matter essential for composting. If you haven’t started your compost pile yet, leave grass clippings on the lawn for a nitrogen boost.
Mistake #9: Pile a volcano-shaped mound of mulch at the base of your trees.
Deep mulch around tree trunks encourages rodents to take up residence. Pile a 3-inch layer of mulch around trees, and pull it back from the trunk to discourage rot and mice.
Mistake #10: Lay weed mats or landscape fabric over your garden beds, and forget about weeds forever.
Polypropylene weed fabrics are unattractive, so many choose to hide them with mulch. Unfortunately, as the mulch breaks down, weed seeds germinate right on top of the mulch, forming a tangled mess of roots and fabric. Use a mulch composed of organic materials that will enrich the soil as it breaks down, like compost or shredded bark.