3 Big Mistakes Beginning Gardeners Make

Beginning Gardener Mistakes to Avoid

Your first gardening season can be exciting and overwhelming and triumphant and heartbreaking – all at the same time! You may find yourself doing the happy dance when you harvest your first ripe tomato and then the next day crying into your garden gloves confused at why your beans completely failed. As a seasoned gardener I’m going to tell it to you straight up – the ups and downs of gardening are always a part of every season, not matter how long you’ve been at it.

But, after working with hundreds of gardeners over the years I’ve seen the same easily avoidable mistakes being made over and over again. In an effort to help you skip over these beginner mistake (and move straight to the advanced ones), here are the top five mistakes I see new gardeners making time and again.

Lettuce plant

Buying plants from any old place

The other day I was at my neighborhood hardware store and popped back into the nursery section. I don’t generally buy vegetable plants from there, but I was curious to see what they were selling. As I suspected, most of their vegetable seedlings didn’t have any variety listed, the label just said – Cabbage or Brussels Sprouts. (Not sure what a variety is? If you look at this page you’ll see that within the category of peppers, there are many different kinds, or varieties you can choose from.)

One secret that advanced gardeners know is that the variety you plant can make or break a garden harvest.

That’s why I encourage people not to buy vegetable plants from your local big box or neighborhood hardware store unless they’re selling plants grown by local farms. There is no guarantee that they’ve picked varieties that are known to do well in your area. The best place to buy seedlings is from a farmers market. My favorite people to purchase from are CSA farmers who are growing and testing the plant they’re selling in their own fields.

[fancy_box id=3 linked_cu=5322]Download a free plant spacing guide to help you plant your seeds and plants without wasting space or overcrowding them.[/fancy_box]

woman watering vegetable garden


Not watering the seeds you planted

Many vegetables can be planted by seedlings, or baby plants. But, there are some vegetables like carrots, beets and beans that need to be direct seeded – which means you purchase a packet of seeds and plant them into your garden.

Seeds that are just planted need to be kept moist in order to germinate (send their first leaves up through the soil). Some seeds, like carrots, can take up to three weeks to germinate. You can’t just plop some seeds in the ground and forget about them. You’ll likely be very disappointed when nothing happens.

The secret to success is to lightly water those newly planted seeds every day or two until you see them poking through the soil. After that, you can relax and treat them like the seedlings in your garden, watering them once or twice a week, depending on how much rain you’ve gotten.

planting seeds in vegetable garden

Planting things too far apart or too close together

There’s definitely a sweet spot with spacing between plants in the garden. If you plant things too close together they end up competing for space, nutrients and water and aren’t able to grow to their mature size. That means you’re not getting the full harvest you could have if they had enough room.

On the other hand, when you plant things too far apart you’re granting more space for weeds to grow. And you’re not able to fit as many rows or plants as you could have if you used tighter spacing. So, that means you’re getting less food for pretty much the same amount of work.

The sweet spot is when the plants are full size and the leaves of the individual plants are just touching each other. Think about two pepper plants side by side in August that are as big as they’re going to get. Their leaves are very close to each other, but not overlapping. This shades out the soil beneath the plants, keeping it cool, retaining moisture and cutting down on weed germination.

[fancy_box id=3 linked_cu=5322]Plant spacing can be a confusing topic, but I’ve made it easy for you! Download and print the Spacing Guide I created for members of my online Garden Club. Click here.[/fancy_box]




  • is it too late to be a part of the garden experience?

  • […] why I encourage beginning gardeners not to buy vegetable plants from their local big box stores or neighborhood hardware store unless they’re selling plants grown by local farms. There is no guarantee that they’ve picked […]

  • Patricia Cessnun

    I’m new to NW Illinois, and have not managed japanese beetles before. I’ve put down milky spore and nematodes this spring. I’ve got loads of beetles and am spraying w dawn soap in water and picking bugs but oh my! Anything I can do to prevent or draw them away? The person who lived here before me used those bag traps and I think they actually attracted several thousand

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