10 Gardening Mistakes That Ruin Your Plants
You may not even know you’re making them, but these 10 mistakes will surely hinder the growth of your plants. The good news? They’re easy to avoid.
Mistake 1: Mounding Up Your Mulch
While mountain-shaped mounds of mulch around the base of a shrub or tree is commonly seen in yards and even professionally-landscaped properties, the reality is that doing so encourages decay by allowing the mulch to hold moisture up against the plant’s stems or trunk. That moisture-rich environment is an open invitation for insects and disease to come calling. Also, roots may start to circle around in the mulch bed like they would inside a plastic container.
Solution: Apply a 2- to 3-inch deep layer of mulch and be sure to keep it away from the base of the tree. You’re looking for more of a donut shape than a mountain.
Mistake 2: Forgetting to Include Plants to Attract Pollinators
We all learned in school that plants need pollination to produce seeds and fruit. While some plants are self-pollinated, many edible plants need bees, beetles, flies, wasps and butterflies to distribute pollen from plant to plant.
Solution: Help pollinators find your vegetable garden by including a variety of pollinator-friendly plants in your landscape. Bee balm, lavender, catmint, and herbs like oregano, dill, thyme and fennel are all great choices.
Mistake 3: Placing Plants in the Wrong Spot
While a beautiful shade-loving hosta would look perfect beside your front door, it won’t last there very long if that area gets full sun during the day. The same can be said for any sun-loving plants located in the shade. They simply won’t bloom or thrive.
Solution: It’s important to put the right plant in the right place. Start by reading the plant label or description before you buy a plant, and knowing what spots in your landscape would be appropriate for it. Keep in mind that full sun means six or more hours of direct sunlight. Part sun means half of that, and full shade means no direct sunlight at all.
Mistake 4: Not Checking a Plant’s Optimal Zone
If your new shrub seemed to thrive over the summer, but by spring was a couple of crunchy brown sticks, your hardiness zone might be to blame.
Solution: Carefully read the plant’s tag or description and be sure a plant is able to survive in your USDA Hardiness zone before you buy it. Purchasing a plant that won’t survive the first winter in your climate is senseless.
Mistake 5: Positioning Plants Too Close Together
Much like humans, plants do not like to be overcrowded. Whether it’s tomatoes or shrubs, it’s important for plants to have air circulating around them and room to grow. If you squeeze them in too closely, you’ll reduce their productivity and invite disease. This is true for planting in-ground as well as container gardens.
Solution: Once again, read the seed label or plant tag and description to find out how far apart they need to be placed, and then follow the recommended spacing requirements when planting.
Mistake 6: Creating a Row of Just One Type of Plant
It’s completely understandable to want a tidy, uniform row of trees to add privacy or screen a view. The problem in doing so is that it creates a “monoculture.” If disease strikes or pests attack, you could potentially lose the entire row — or worse, just one or two here and there, which is a visual nightmare.
Solution: Plant your trees or shrubs in clusters or staggered rows that include different kinds of plants. Not only does this add more interest to the landscape, it offers a more balanced habitat to attract a wider variety of beneficial wildlife like insects, birds and animals.
Mistake 7: Planting Too Deep
Not widely known, planting too deeply in the hole is probably one of the most common reasons plants die over time. The trick is that since the plant declines and dies a few years later, the death of the plant may not be associated with how it was planted.
Solution: Dig a hole twice as wide as the container, but set the plant in the hole at the same level it was in the pot. Or plant it an inch above ground level if you plan to mulch. Be extra careful with trees — the root flare, where the base widens slightly, should be above ground.
Mistake 8: Not Knowing a Plant’s Size at Maturity
That little 10-inch container plant or baby tree might seem like the perfect addition to your landscape, but if you’re not careful that little sprout could grow up to be a big nightmare — too close to the house, crowding its plant neighbors and stunting their growth, or just being a maintenance nuisance.
Solution: This is another case where reading the plant tag or label before planting can save a lot of frustration and hassle. Take note of the plant’s mature size and plant accordingly.
Mistake 9: Pruning Shrubs Too Early or Too Aggressively
When the warm spring weather hits, it’s understandable for you to be eager to get started on snipping your shrubs into shape. But keep in mind that some flowering shrubs bloom on old wood (last year’s growth) and some bloom on new wood (this year’s growth). Pruning too soon may actually cut off this year’s blooms. This is the case with shrubs like forsythia and some types of hydrangeas.
Solution: Patience. If you know for certain that a plant blooms on this year’s new wood, go ahead and prune lightly in early spring. However, if you’re not sure wait until your shrubs flower before shaping them.
Mistake 10: Adding Potting Soil to the Planting Hole
Studies have shown that the old-school practice of adding potting soil or peat moss to the planting hole is simply not helpful. In fact, it could actually do harm by causing drainage problems and encouraging plant roots to stay in the hole rather than spreading out into the surrounding ground. What results is a weak shrub or tree.
Solution: Dig your planting hole only as deep as the container and at least twice as wide. Then place the plant in the hole and backfill with only the soil you removed from the hole — no potting soil or peat moss. When you think about it, the plant ultimately has to grow in the native soil, so there’s no reason to baby it and turn it into a weakling.