I have been gardening for many years and my experience has taught me lots of tips and tricks for success. Today, I am sharing 22 vegetable garden mistakes to help anyone just starting out.
Even though my first cucumber plant yielded me only a few cucumbers, I knew that vegetable gardening was for me and kept at it. Since then, I have made my share of mistakes and had lots of successes, too.
Do you make blunders in your veggie garden which lead to disappointment? If so, fixing a few of these common mistakes will set you on the right track to a great harvest this year.
22 vegetable garden mistakes
Find out about my vegetable gardening mistakes so that you can avoid making them, too.
Here are some of the mistakes that many beginning gardeners often make when they start a vegetable garden, as well as some vegetable gardening tips to help correct these errors.
Garden mistake #1 – Tilling a vegetable garden every year
When spring arrives and it’s time to for building a vegetable garden, it’s natural to want to till the soil in the belief that it will make it more light and airy. However, tilling a garden too much can actually be a detriment.
If you till your garden every year, you will be disrupting the beneficial ecosystem that keep your garden healthy, and free of diseases and pests.
Instead, go lightly on garden tilling. Amend the soil with compost, but then only dig holes for plants and seeds to ensure that the soil is healthy and fertile.
What is a lasagne bed? No, it’s not a hearty late night snack on a comfy mattress. It is a type of layered garden bed.
A lasagna garden bed sits above the ground. It is stacked with materials such as newspaper, cardboard, leaves and grass clippings. Over time worms and other microorganisms decompose the materials and turn them into rich soil perfect for vegetable gardening.
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Mistake #2 – Using the wrong vegetable garden soil
A patch of earth filled with dirt does not a garden make. Dirt has no nutrients or microbes and can be sandy or clay-like which will give you watering issues later.
Often bad soil has twigs or rocks in it which can lead to vegetable garden problems such as carrots that split.
Soil, on the other hand, is what great vegetable gardens are made of! Good quality vegetable garden soil is full of life and nutrients. Signs of healthy soil include plenty of underground activity and life, such as earthworms and fungi.
Soil that is rich in organic matter will be dark and will dislodge easily from the roots of any plants you pull up.
While it may be tempting to purchase bags of cut price garden soil, don’t skimp on soil quality in your vegetable garden. If you don’t start with good soil from the start, you’ll end up spending years trying to build up your soil’s health.
Vegetable garden error #3 – Forgetting to amend the soil of your vegetable garden
Skipping the process of amending the soil leads to spindly plants, yellowing leaves and can also lessen the harvest that your garden will produce. In addition to starting with a good quality garden soil, it’s important to remember to amend the soil regularly.
What is soil amendment? A soil amendment is material added to your existing soil in order to improve water retention, soil stability, drainage, aeration and structure.
Some of the best soil amendments for vegetable gardens include:
- grass clippings
- vegetable scraps
- cover crops planted at the end of the previous growing season
- coconut coir
Many of these products are free with a bit of planning and time spent sourcing them. A well kept compost pile can be a great source of soil amendment.
Garden blunder #4 – Not giving vegetables enough sunlight
Do you ever wonder why your tomato harvest gives you a measly tomato instead of the basketsful that you were expecting?
It doesn’t matter how skillful you are as a gardener. If your vegetable plants don’t get enough sunlight, they will not do well, and your garden will not produce a good harvest.
Partial sun vegetables often won’t produce fruit, or the crops they do produce will be smaller and less flavorful full sun vegetables. Lack of sunlight can also lead to all sorts of tomato plant problems, since they really love the light.
Some vegetables, such as bell peppers, will even fail to ripen their fruit if grown in too much shade.
How much sun does a vegetable garden need? Most vegetables need at least six hours of sunlight (morning sun is best.)
While there are some vegetables that don’t mind a semi sunny or shady location, most love the sun. Some, such as tomatoes, will develop leaf curl if the temperatures stay hot for too long, but this usually corrects itself when the hot weather passes.
Is it not just enough to make sure your vegetable garden is situated correctly for sunlight. Also, take care that tall vegetables such as pole beans and indeterminate tomatoes are not casting shadows on lower growing plants such as Swiss chard, lettuce and cucumbers.
Vegetable garden mistake #5 – Not rotating vegetable garden crops
A common mistake that many beginning gardeners make is not planning ahead for next year. They are often so eager to get their plants in the ground that they work on auto-pilot by planting the same vegetable, in the same place, every year.
If you do this each year, over time, you will discover that you are causing yourself and your garden problems. Harvests will decrease, your garden will be more prone to diseases and pests, you’ll end up with more weeds and the nutrients will be depleted from your soil.
This is where vegetable garden crop rotation comes into play. Crop rotation is the practice of planting different crops on the same plot of land sequentially to improve soil health, combat weeds and insects and optimize nutrients in the soil.
Crop rotation can be done in a soil bed, or in raised vegetable garden beds. Rotating vegetables by their groups is ideal, since each group has different qualities.
- legumes – help to enrich the soil
- root crops – need less nitrogen and phosphorus
- fruiting crops – don’t have such a high nutrient need
- leafy vegetables – give the soil a nitrogen boost
Crop rotation helps to prevent both early blight and late blight diseases which can leaf to black spots on tomato leaves.
The vegetable crop rotation examples chart below gives a sample crop rotation schedule.
Beginning gardener error #6 – Planting too many vegetables
Many beginning gardeners often feel that the right vegetable garden size is one that fills their entire back yard. Going too big when you start is a common mistake that new gardeners make.
There are lots of ways to garden in small spaces which will still give you plenty of vegetables for your family. Vegetable gardening in containers is very popular, and I have even grown an entire vegetable garden on my deck!
A good size for a beginning vegetable garden is between 75 and 100 square feet. It’s always better to start small and then add space as you need it.
Keeping your vegetable garden to a manageable size will not allow gardening tasks to overwhelm you. Many gardeners fail from the outset because they simply started too big!
Budget gardening mistake #7 – Spending too much money on a vegetable garden
It’s not uncommon for a beginning gardener who has started growing vegetables to rush out and spend a fortune on supplies and plants they don’t need.
Sure, it’s nice to have the fanciest raised garden beds or tomato cages, and grow every type of vegetable out there, but there are so many ways to garden very inexpensively.
Instead of investing in fancy trellises for cucumbers, there are many ways to do this job for just pennies.
Saving your own seeds to replant, or taking cuttings from existing tomato plants will give you plants for free. You can make your own garden fertilizer, and even greenhouses can be made with recycled materials.
This article gives more ideas for saving money and shows that you just have to think outside the box and you can save a fortune!
Seed sowing mistake #8 – Not knowing when to sow seeds
Some vegetables are normally grown from seedlings and others are usually grown from seeds sown directly in the ground.
Sowing seeds too early is a common mistake made by beginning gardeners. In order to sow seeds at the correct time, it’s important to know when the last expected frost date is in your growing area.
Your seeds package will give an indication of when to plant. The key to sowing vegetable seeds at the correct time is understanding which vegetables are very hardy, hardy, tender and which are warm-loving.
Hardy seeds can be sown 2-3 weeks before the last frost date and include beets, carrots and some hardy greens.
Tender seeds will be injured or killed by frost and should be sown about 2 weeks after the last frost. They include sweet corn and bush beans.
Warm- loving seeds will be killed by frost immediately and cannot tolerate cold weather at all. They should be planted 2-4 weeks after the last frost, and include melons, cucumbers, pumpkins and lima beans.
Common garden problem #9 – Overcrowding plants in a vegetable garden
Some vegetables, such as salad greens, spinach and kale, don’t mind growing very close to their neighbors. However most vegetables do best when they have room around them to grow and flourish.
Crowded vegetables are more prone to insect pests and diseases. They will also usually give you a smaller harvest than correctly spaced plants.
Spacing vegetables correctly allows for good air circulation, and helps to keep the plants free of blight, powdery mildew and other problems.
Common vegetables that need more room to grow are tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, sweet corn, cauliflower and broccoli.
Vegetable garden mistake #10 – Forgetting to harden off seedlings
Many gardeners start seeds indoors to get a jump start on spring. This is a good practice, particularly if you live in a hardiness zone with a short growing season.
However, don’t forget to harden off your vegetable seedlings to protect them from the elements.
Plants grown indoors get used to indoor conditions and it can be a shock to move them outdoors. It might even kill them, if they are planted directly in the ground without getting a chance to get used to the temperature change.
If you are wondering what hardening off plants means, (also called “harden off” or “hardening”) it is the process of taking small steps to transition seedlings from a protected space to harsher outdoor conditions with fluctuating temperatures and differing sunlight amounts.
The easiest way to harden seedlings is to place them outdoors in a shady, protected spot and bring them indoors at night. Each day, increase the amount of sunlight the seedlings receive and they’ll be ready for the garden in a week to 10 days.
Remember not to place tender seedlings outdoors when the temperatures are below 45 °F (7.22 °C) or on very windy days.
More vegetable gardening mistakes
Beginning gardeners don’t just makes blunders when planting a garden, sometimes they err when it comes to maintenance, too. Here are more vegetable gardening mistakes to avoid.
Gardening maintenance mistake #11 – Not using the best mulch for vegetable gardens
It’s not enough to just plant the vegetable seeds and water them. Mulching a vegetable garden is important too.
Bare soil is susceptible to erosion, compaction, and weeds. It loses moisture due to evaporation, valuable nutrients can be lost from it, and it requires a lot more manual watering than soil that is properly mulched.
Mulching the soil also cools it and regulates the temperature of your vegetable plants.
What is the best mulch for vegetable gardens? Not surprisingly, an organic mulch for vegetable gardens looks very similar to items used in a compost mixture:
- compost itself – nature’s black gold
- grass clippings (quick to decompose and add nitrogen to the soil) Be careful not too add these too thickly since they can hold too much moisture.
- straw – great for keeping the soil moist
- leaves – add lots of nutrients
- newspaper – earthworms loves this type of mulch
- pine needles – great for acid loving plants like potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, celery, and cauliflower
Black plastic mulching is also used by many gardeners. This landscape tarp warms to soil and provides excellent weed control.
Be careful when adding mulch to a vegetable garden that you don’t cover up any young seedlings that have yet to emerge from the ground.
Garden mistake #12 – Forgetting about companion plants
It’s natural when starting a vegetable garden to plant indiscriminately with no thought to what vegetables should be grown together. But did you know that certain companion plants will help to keep your vegetable garden at its healthiest state?
What are companion plants, you ask? These are vegetable plants that complement each other in the way they grow and produce fruit.
An example is that one plant may attract a certain insect that a nearby “companion” needs. Another example is that a plant may act as a repellent for a bug that might be harmful to its neighbor.
When done correctly, companion planting is a useful way to avoid pests and diseases.
Some common companions in a vegetable garden are these:
- marigolds and most root vegetables – to repel nematodes
- basil and dill planted near tomatoes (to keep away hornworms)
- mint and cabbage – to keep away ants and cabbage moths
- nasturtiums and most vegetables – to keep away aphids
- zinnias attract ladybugs to a garden
Raised bed gardening mistake #13 – Growing vegetables in raised beds that are not the right size
There are many reasons to use raised garden beds, but using them with vegetables comes with their own set of issues.
When growing vegetables it is important to consider the size of the raised bed. If it is too large or wide, it will be hard to reach into the middle of the bed to harvest the vegetables and tend to any weeds.
On the other hand, if your raised bed is too small, the vegetables will dry out more quickly and will need more watering.
Raised beds that are too shallow will not allow enough room for roots to grow. Different vegetables have different sized root systems and must be planted accordingly.
Vegetable gardening mistake #14 – Forgetting to thin out vegetable seedlings
Vegetable seeds are often very tiny and when they start to grow can easily become very over-crowded. If left to grow this way, the vegetable will not have the room to grow to their full size.
Vegetable that are too crowded will have to compete for space, nutrients and water. If you ask the question why are my radishes not bulbing, or why are my carrots so spindly, the answer is likely that you didn’t thin the seedlings.
Thinning out seedlings is very easy and is done when the tiny plants have 1-2 sets of leaves. Simply use small scissors to snip the leaves of the crowded seedlings at the soil line.
Avoid pulling out the seedlings so that you do not damage the roots of the remaining plants. That’s all there is to thinning seedlings!
Read your seed packages. They will tell you not only how thickly to sow the seeds but how far apart the plants should be when mature.
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Gardening mistake #15 – Watering vegetable gardens too much
You have your vegetables planted and now you start watering them – again and again and again! Stop! You may be doing what many beginning gardeners do – overwatering your vegetable plants.
We know that all vegetable plants need water, and we take great care to make sure that happens. It is easy to be left in the dark when knowing just how much water to add.
How much water do vegetables need? In general, one inch of water a week is ideal.
This amount includes both moisture from rain and your additional watering.
It is not just beginning gardener eagerness that can cause over-watering. Your soil type can play a part, too.
Soils with a large amount of clay are very dense and tend to hold on to water. This makes them very easy to over water.
If your soil is heavy with clay, your need to manually water will be much less.
Signs of over watering are soft and limp leaves that wilt. Stunted slow growth with yellowing leaves is also a symptom of over-watering.
Common garden mistake #16 – Not watering the vegetable garden enough
Be sure that your watering set-up is convenient for you to use. If it is located inconveniently, too far away, or too burdensome to manage, you are unlikely to water regularly.
Also, as we discussed above, the make-up of your soil matters when it comes to watering. Sandy soil dries out much more quickly and will not hold on to moisture.
This means that if your soil is sandy, you will need to water more often and be especially alert to how quickly it dries out.
Signs that a vegetable garden is not getting enough water are leaves that turn brown and start to wilt. If your leaves feel dry and crispy, you should be watering more often.
A good way to find out about the make-up of your soil is with a soil test. You can do this with a home soil testing kit, or take some soil to your local department of agriculture. Many will do this test for you.
Vegetable garden error #17 – Overhead watering the wrong vegetables
Some vegetables, such as leafy greens, don’t mind a gentle splash of water from above, but most vegetables don’t do well with overhead watering.
Using a sprinkler, or manually watering over the leaves of plants is a bad idea for several reasons:
- Much of the moisture is lost to evaporation.
- You are watering both the vegetable plants and any stray weeds nearby
- There is a higher potential for soil erosion from runoff of water.
- Some vegetables, such as cucumbers and tomato plants, are especially susceptible to fungal diseases if watered from above.
- It is more expensive, since much of the water is wasted.
Be sure to water early in the day so that any leaves which do get wet will dry out during the day.
Vegetable gardening mistake #18 – Harvesting vegetables too late or not often enough
If vegetables are allowed to become mature but are not harvested, this sends a signal to the plant that its job is done. The plant will stop producing and your harvest, when it is done, will be smaller.
Sometimes, if you harvest vegetables too late, they will turn bitter and lose their sweetness/
On the other hand, frequent harvesting tells the plant that you want more and will encourage it to produce more.
Besides, you have spent all season tending the garden, why leave the fruits of your labor on the vine? So pick those tomatoes, cucumbers and beans often!
Common garden mistake #19 – Letting weeds take over your vegetable garden
Weeding is not a popular gardening task but it is a necessary one. Weeds complete with plants for nutrients and water and if let to grow can easily overtake a vegetable garden.
The best way to weed a vegetable garden is by hand pulling weeds. For keeping weeds out of vegetable garden walking areas, landscape fabric does a great job!
I like to weed a little bit at a time and often rather than letting the weeds grow and then tackling a big job. I enjoy walking through my vegetable garden each day looking for budding fruits and this gives me the perfect opportunity to remove weeds.
It’s easy enough to just pull out any weeds I see at this inspection time. Avoid using chemical pesticides near vegetable plants.
As mentioned above, be sure that your garden is mulched well, too. Mulching does not just conserve water, but it controls weeds too.
It is also important to remember that a weedy garden attracts insect pests which can be the source of our next gardening mistake!
Gardening blunder #20 – Not inspecting vegetable plants for insects
Insects can decimate a garden quickly if you let them get out of hand. Be sure to inspect your crops for critters such as squash bugs, tomato horn worms, aphids and cabbage worms weekly.
Examine both the lower side and upper surface of the leaves. Eliminating insects promptly is the key to keeping on top of this problem.
If you forget to do this job, you may find that your entire crop has been ruined by these tiny critters.
Gardening mistake #21 – Not supporting climbing vegetables
Some vegetables have a compact and low-growing habit and others grow upright but need some form of support. Without this support, the plants will start leaning, and eventually fall to the ground.
Using supports for these types of plants will keep the crops healthier, provide better air circulation, better sun exposure, and keep the fruits clean and healthy.
Supports for tomatoes even helps to prevent disorders such as catfacing, since they keep the fruit off the cold ground.
You can even let supported vegetables provide shade to vegetables, such as lettuce, that like relief from sunlight on the hottest days.
The last vegetable garden mistake #22 – Not doing the proper fall cleanup in your vegetable garden
In many areas of the garden, it is a good idea to clean up in the spring. This allows for food for birds in the form of seeds.
However, the vegetable garden is not the best place to put this into practice. In a vegetable garden, dead and decomposing material is likely to become a home for insect pests and pathogens which are harmful to vegetables grown next year.
Another reason to clean up the vegetable garden in the fall is that gardeners often need to get vegetables into the soil early in the spring. This is hard to do if there is a lot of clean up needed.
Fall vegetable garden clean up is easy. Pull up decaying plants which have finished fruiting and add them to the compost pile.
Leave the roots of peas and beans, since they will decompose and add nitrogen to the soil. Cut off the tops of these plants instead of pulling them out.
When you are finished, spread a layer of leaf mulch on the beds to add organic matter and provide a shelter for any beneficial insects.
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Now that you are armed with a knowledge of these common mistakes and ways to avoid them, let’s go grow some vegetables!
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