JESSICA DAMIANO Associated Press
Much of gardening is learned through trial and error—mostly error for many.
Planting a shade lover in full sun is unlikely to bring success, nor will you let your emotions run wild in the nursery. But we all know that, and the good news is that we can learn from the mistakes of others as well as our own. First we have to admit that we are not perfect.
I Go First: Many years ago I sowed a handful of morning glory seeds at the foot of the arbor that surrounds my front gate. Labeled a “quick grower” and “self-seeder,” I was confident the vine would provide the lush foliage, flowers, and instant gratification I wanted. Unfortunately, it did its job too well, and these days I spend about a half hour every week in the summer raising seedlings that pop up as much as 50 feet away.
The same goes for my mint planting debacle, which I smugly thought I could avoid by planting in a container placed in the garden bed. Sure, that first summer was all sunshine and mojitos. But mint is a pot jumper, and it propagated with gusto via seeds as well as roots emerging from the planter’s drainage holes and migrating underground. In the third year I had to dig up the whole bed to remove it. I quickly learned to spot invasive plants even when they weren’t labeled as such.
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Here are five more common gardening mistakes — and how to avoid them.
Do not test soil
Proper soil pH is the key ingredient to success, but there is no one size fits all to strive for. For example, tomatoes grow best in soil with a pH between 6.0 and 6.8. Blueberry plants, on the other hand, are likely to turn yellow and produce little or no fruit if the pH is above 5.5. This is because nutrients are only available to plants at target pH levels, which are different for each plant species.
Test kits are relatively inexpensive and widely available at garden centers. Take one and test the soil in each bed individually, as pH often varies even on the same plot. A score of 7.0 is considered neutral. Anything below that indicates acidic soil; higher, alkaline.
The path of least resistance – and the best course of action – would be to choose the plants that best suit your garden conditions. But suppose you need to balance your love of tomatoes with your soil’s low pH? In this case you can incorporate dolomite lime (see package instructions) to increase the level. And just as lime increases soil pH — or increases alkalinity — additives like elemental sulfur will lower it (choose pellets over powder and follow directions again).
Most garden plants require 1 to 1½ inches of water per week, either from rain or additional watering. But letting a sprinkler do the work, even though it’s suitable for the lawn, puts shrubs, annuals, perennials and edibles at risk. Mold, mildew, fungal and bacterial diseases spread when water becomes trapped between plant parts or splashes from infected leaves onto healthy leaves.
Instead, lay a porous soak hose or drip irrigation system made of perforated plastic hoses over the soil’s surface. This directs the water to the roots where it’s needed, rather than to the leaves, fruit, and flowers.
Compost is a gardener’s best friend: it improves the drainage of heavy clay soil, increases the moisture retention capacity of sand and supplies valuable nutrients.
Incorporate generous portions into new beds and borders, or add an amount equal to half the soil removed to each planting hole.
Wrong plant, wrong place
A plant labeled as “full sun” will likely disappoint if planted in partial shade, and vice versa. And no matter how much you hope otherwise, “drought tolerant” never means “likes poorly drained, moist soil.”
Choosing plants that are right for your growing conditions will result in a better looking, healthier garden that requires less care and maintenance.
Mulch retains soil moisture, suppresses weeds, and helps keep soil temperature even, so it’s an essential part of any garden. However, improper mulching can kill your plants.
Always opt for a natural material such as shredded bark, wood shavings, straw or pine needles that enrich the soil as they decompose.
Apply 2 to 3 inches of mulch around the plants as a matter of routine. Keep material 3 inches away from trunks and stems to avoid blocking airflow and trapping moisture, which would lead to rot.
And never stack mounds of mulch against tree trunks. Often referred to as “volcanic mulching,” the practice prevents airflow and traps moisture, leading to suffocation and rot over time. To avoid this, make sure the flare at the base of the fuselage is always visible.