10 Common Gardening Mistakes Every Newbie Makes

How to make your new garden grow

“Arggggh! Why won’t you grow?! Why won’t you GRROOOOWW?!!” Kill me now.

Gardening is definitely not a hobby for anyone seeking instant gratification. Gardening takes time, patience, and experience.

You have to make a lot of mistakes and watch a lot of plants wither and die before you earn your official green fingers. Which is an often frustrating – and emotional – thing.

There is no way to avoid all the pitfalls that beginner gardeners make but below are 10 things to watch out for as you start your gardening journey…

1. Over or underwatering your poor plants… or both

One of the worst cases of overwatering I've ever seen.

This is the probably the number one mistake that all newbie gardeners make. I know this because it’s the mistake I made over and over again. (D’oh!)

All plants need water. Even the most badass cactus needs a little moisture to thrive. But different types of plants need different amounts of water at different times. The trick is to treat (haha, trick or treat!) each plant as an individual, rather than seeing your garden as one entity.

This might sound pretty obvious, but once you have that watering can or hose in your hand, the temptation to give every plant a quick sprinkle is hard to fight for some beginners. (Step. Away. From. The. Hose!)

My advice? Spend time getting to know each of your plants. Make them feel special. Research each one individually and keep a close eye for signs of under or over watering.

Underwatering usually results in crisp leaves, dry soil, discoloured leaves and slow growth. Whereas overwatering often causes wilting, brown or falling leaves, edema (blistering) and root rot. Not exactly the making of a garden oasis.

2. Being lazy and not reading the directions on packets

So many seeds, so little time. Get planting!

Actually, I take back what I said above. Because not reading the instructions is probably the number one mistake newbie gardeners make. Listen up, and listen closely: Seed packets are more than just a pretty envelope. Seed packets are jammed full of important information. Always read the seed packet!!

In fact, seed packets are basically a mini-biography of everything you need to know about your new chosen plant. They tell you all the juicy things like planting depth, length to germination, sun and shade requirements, soil pre-prep… and the list goes on.
So don’t just discard seed packets, use them. They’re a fountain of knowledge, much like Lady Greenfingers after she reads one of her celeb gossip magazines.

3. Getting your planting seasons all wrong

flower in snow
"Let it grow, let it grow!" Any Frozen fans? Nope? Just me.

Seasons don’t affect us humans that much anymore. Come rain or shine, summer or winter, we still largely do the same things. (Unless of course, there’s a snowpocalypse going on. Boo, snow!) We drive around, we go to work, we hang out at the bar, we visit the cinema. And so on and so forth.

The same is not true for plants. Because a plant’s entire life depends on the season surrounding it. Many beginner gardeners make the same mistake of planting cuttings or seeds at the wrong time of year. The result? A bit of initial growth followed by failure.

It’s sad to see but planting “out of season” exposes young plants to climatic conditions they may not have the strength to withstand. It’s like when Lady Greenfingers goes on holidays and refuses to wear anything over SPF 20. Her poor pale skin can’t take the new climatic condition – the raging heat – and suddenly yours truly gets assigned the job of Chief Aftersun Applicator. (Granted, there are worse jobs out there!)

But I digress. Basically, always research the best planting date for each individual species. If it means waiting a few months, work on your mindfulness by cultivating patience. Or go with a different plant. 😉

GardenZOO Top Tip: Beware end-of-season bargain-basement offers by mail-order seed companies! Because, by the time the seeds reach you, they may no longer be viable. In the beginning, pay attention to the advice of local gardeners and follow the gardening calendar of your local area. (Yes, there is such a thing. Ain’t learning fun?!)

4. Overdosing your garden with flower power

Has anyone seen my cat?

Don’t get me wrong. Flowers are beautiful. When in full bloom, a well-tended flower garden is a mesmerising sight to behold. (No innuendo intended. I promise.)

A gorgeous garden is home to a cacophony of colours – which pleases the eye and the animal world, too.

With lots of flowers comes lots of fluttering visitors in the form of the Four Bs: birds, butterflies, bees and…em…boobs. Why boobs? Because when you have a well-tended garden, the ladies won’t be able to stay away! (Ok, some innuendo intended.)

However, while flowering plants often look great in their prime, they don’t always look so hot out of season. So when choosing the plants to populate your garden space, aim for diversity. Include plants that might not have great-looking flowers but that have spectacular foliage – the shrub cotinus is one, the annual coleus is another. Don’t forget decorative grasses, either. (Yep, there’s such a thing as those, too!)

5. Putting your plants on an unnecessary light diet

dead sunflower
Hey buddy, sunflowers need sun. The clue is in the name.

All plants need sunlight to grow. So when laying out your garden, think about the light. If some parts of your planting space get less light than other areas, you have to be careful not to place plants which need a lot of light there.

How do you know which plants need the most light? Excellent question. Mainly, that comes with experience – but it also comes from reading the planting recommendations on seed packets. (Hooray for seed packets! Seed packets are definitely my jam.)

Some plants thrive in partial shade; others crave the full sun. Follow those great guidelines and, if in doubt, put your question forth to the Webosphere. (I mean, ask online. In case that wasn’t clear.)

6. Buying flowers that are past their prime

plant fore sale
What a bargain. I'll take 40 please.

If you’re wandering around your local garden centre or nursery looking for flowers you’re going to choose the plants with the prettiest-looking flowers, right? That’s just common sense.

Well, yes and no. Choosing the plants with the biggest, brightest flowers is a beginners mistake. Because, as Lady Greenfingers reminds me when she’s trying out her latest turmeric and mud mask, appearances count for little. It’s what’s inside that counts!

So if you’re picking up a new plant, don’t be seduced by flowers alone. Look a little deeper, make sure to check the foliage is as healthy as can be and that there are plenty of plump buds. The aim is to buy a plant before it hits its prime and let it peak when you have it rooted at home. Just like when Lady Greenfingers got her hooks into me at an impressionable early age.

Also, don’t be overly swayed by deals. Garden Centres are businesses after all and if a deal looks too good to be true there is probably a reason. 

7. Not getting your weed on enough

weeding sign
If only we were so lucky.

I don’t mean this in the pothead sense, more in the garden maintenance sense. (Sorry. Less fun.)

As a beginner, there is the temptation to do one big weeding job every so often. This is a mistake – weeding should be done frequently and in small bursts.

You want to get your hands on weeds when they’re tiny – basically, as soon as they show their little weedy faces. Pulling larger weeds is easier, sure…but by then their root systems will have spread further and pulling them will likely disrupt the roots of neighbouring plants. Ouch.

So try and get into the routine of weeding a few times a week in small bursts. Rather than saving up all your weeding for one big job every two weeks. Your garden – and your back – will thank me for it!

8. Planting too tightly and not thinning

baby carrots
These carrots might not be award winners, but they will taste great in a salad.

Plants are like people – they need a little personal space. And if you plant your transplants or seeds too close together, they’re going to compete for resources such as water, soil and sunlight.

Most seed packets will include advice on plant spacing (the legendary legends that they are). But of course, it’s tempting to ignore this advice when you’re staring at a bare patch of soil. You have to imagine six to twelve months down the line when the plants are in full bloom.

Always leave a little more space than you think. You can fill it in at a later date.

If you do find your beds looking or feeling a bit cramped be sure to get in there early and do some thinning. If you are growing veggies then many thinnings, like greens and young carrots, are in fact delicious. Reward your hard work with a fresh homemade, homegrown salad. Winning!

9. Taking on too much work

Flowers for a pillow. Watch out for bed bugs, and bed caterpillers.

Gardening is one of the most democratic hobbies there is on the planet. Anyone can be a gardener.
You don’t need a big space. (You don’t even need a garden!) City gardening is incredibly popular right now. It’s totally possible to grow beautiful gardens on a windowsill, in a roof space or even on the back of a bathroom door. All you need is a little dedication and imagination.

Gardening requires you to set aside a little time every week. Sometimes every single day, to make sure you’re covering the basic needs of the leafy creatures under your care.

So if you’re working 80 hours a week in a brain-frazzling job, starting an orchid garden might be a mistake. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Buy a cactus and start there!

Before you start, have a good think about the time you can spare and choose your plants accordingly. Nice one.

10. Being too hard on yourself

Jeez, a bit dramatic don't you think buddy? Just give tomatoes another go next year!

Newbie gardeners – don’t be too hard on yourself! Repeated failings early on can be disheartening to beginners but please don’t give up. It gets so much easier. Trust me – I’ve been there!
Gardening is all about learning what makes your plants tick. About their own individual needs. And getting into a rhythm definitely helps.

Like I mentioned above, try not to let your gardening tasks pile up until you’re staring down the barrel of at one big session on a Saturday. That’s not fun for you, and it’s not good for your garden.
Instead, try to garden little and often. Enjoy yourself. Relax and ease into the more gentle flow of gardening life.

If your tomatoes have failed again (don’t worry, tomatoes are hard!), or if you’re feeling despondent and ready to turn your back on your garden, that’s the ideal time to seek out some advice.

Find a friendly local gardening expert and tap them up for wisdom. (Nothing is more comforting than a shared cup of tea and good ol’ rant about your wilting tomatoes!) Seeking advice is also a great way to make new friends. In our experience, gardeners tend to be super friendly people. It must be something to do with all that time spent outdoors.

Final thoughts: Good things come to those who wait.

Of course, there are many more than ten common gardening mistakes, which most newbie gardeners will make. Lady Greenfingers and I should know – we’ve made hundreds, if not thousands (if not millions!), of them.

But that very first time you look out your window at your garden in full bloom, or that first time you eat a plate of veggies from your own garden, you’ll know it’s been worth it.

Stick with it. Keeping on growing your skills as your garden grows. And remember, if you do get stuck, we at Garden Zoo are here to help.

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Not satisfied yet? Need some more help getting started. Then check out these related posts/

1. Gardening and mindfulness – How weeding can calm your monkey mind.
2. Kids and gardening – the many pros of starting young.
3. 50 shades of green – How gardening can improve your sex drive.
4. Can gardening together save your marriage – Sew the seeds of a happy, long life together.
5. Gardening against depression – Find out where you can get your hands on it.