Basics of Gardening

Avoiding These Common Mistakes: A Beginner Gardener’s Guide to Success

Spring is just around the corner and if you’re like me, you’re chomping at the bit to get down and dirty. Now is the time to contemplate an addition to your existing garden or create a whole new garden by transforming some of that boring grass into beautiful flower vistas.

As a gardener of 40 plus years, I have learned a lot along the way. I remember many times planting one season and pulling out the next. I wish I had known then what I know now!

That’s where this post comes in. Read the following common mistakes beginner gardeners make before picking up that spade. You will avoid a lot of angst and unnecessary spending if you just have a little foresight.

Before beginning any major project, call your local utility company to mark your property for underground wires. This is usually a free service.

(Some of the links within this post are affiliate links on which I receive a small compensation from the sale of certain items with no extra cost to you.)

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1. Starting Too Big

Many beginner gardeners who feel they are all ready to go often bite off more than they can chew. It’s best to start small and then expand from season to season. You do not want to get burned out before you even start. The love of gardening will grow exponentially if you take your time and create manageable spaces.

2. Planting Too Early In The Season

I know you’re anxious to begin. However if you begin planting before the last frost of the season for your area, you may lose some delicate saplings and seedlings. If you jump the gun you’ll have to protect the plants every night there is a chance of frost, which you could have avoided if you had waited.

3. Planting Flowers Too Deep

If plants are not planted level with the ground or raised somewhat, depending on the plant, rain and water will gather by the base of the plant. Puddled water will rot the roots. It’s best to have the ball of the plant slightly higher than the level of the ground.

4. Placing Plants Haphazardly

You’ve just visited your local nursery and bought some really beautiful plants you’d like to add to your garden. Many beginner gardeners see an open spot in their garden and plop in a plant without regard to size or color.

To avoid problems, take into consideration size, color, light, water requirements, etc. For more information on the basics of creating a garden click here.

5. Don’t Have a Vision or Plan

This goes hand and hand with number 4. You should have some sort of design or plan before beginning a garden. It does not have to be involved, but have a basic drawing including the shape, placement in the yard, and words like “tree, bush, tall perennial, short perennial, annuals, etc.” This gives you a direction. Below is a drawing I made for a client to help them with one of their gardens. It gives direction and a simple to follow visual. For more information on my services, check out my service page.

6. Over or Underwatering

All plants need water to survive. However the trick is to know when and how much water to give them. The tag on the plant will tell you it’s watering needs so when you plant the flower, stick the tag in the soil close to the base to remind you how often to water it.

A general rule of thumb for a non-succulent plant is to water it once a week for the first year and then when needed (depending on the rainfall) from then on. I use a standard watering can (two gallon capacity) which waters two plants…one gallon of water per plant. Of course, if you are experiencing an unusually high amount of rain, do not water as frequently. Again, rely on the tag for precise instructions.

Another rule of thumb is to stick your finger two inches into the soil. If the soil is dry, water it. If not, wait a few more days and test it again.

Water at the base of the plant and in the morning before it is too hot.

Over-watering causes the root system to become saturated and rot. A healthy root system is essential for the plant to absorb nutrients from the soil.

7. Improper Spacing and Crowding of Plants

Everyone wants immediate results these days. But with gardening you need patience. Many beginner gardeners will plant their plants too close together to make their garden look lush and vibrant. It will look beautiful however, after a season or two of growing. The plants will expand and start overtaking space from their neighbors. You will end up pulling out plants and either throwing them away or transplanting them somewhere else.

Let’s try to be more sustainable and, frankly, create less work for ourselves. If the instructions say plant three feet apart, then do it. Your garden may look sparse for now, but that will not last. Give it a season or two and and you will be surprised how quickly the plants fill in.

Overcrowding also creates less air circulation which can cause problems including disease and the growth of fungus, bacteria, and mold. It will also stress your plants and foster unwanted insects in your garden.

Therefore, space your plants according to the instructions. In a year or two you will be pleased you did!

8. Beds Too Narrow Around Perimeter of Home

If you are moving into a newly built home, or just want to make a change to your current home, you may want to add some foundation plantings. Many beginner gardeners create a one to two foot wide bed bordering the home. This is much too narrow. You have to take into consideration the mature size of shrubs and plants.

When you plant a shrub, consider its mature spread. Placement of the shrub from the house is about one half the total spread of the mature shrub. In other words a small shrub should be planted at least two feet from the foundation, a medium shrub about three feet from the foundation, and tall shrubs at least four to five feet from the foundation.

In addition to the distance from the house, you also want to leave that much space from the plant to the edge of the bed. So create your bed wider than you initially thought necessary.

For more in-depth instructions on where to place shrubs and trees, click here.

9. Trees Planted in Wrong Places

Many times beginner gardeners will place trees too close to the foundation. Tree roots can wreak havoc on foundations and other parts of the structure. Below are some examples of what tree roots can do to a house.

  • Cracks, distortion or buckling in the floors.

  • Vertical cracks in the walls.

  • Uneven door and window frames.

  • Broken windows from cracked or shifting walls.

  • Cracks in roofing.

Besides planting trees too close to your house, for obvious reasons you want to avoid overhead wires. Also do not plant trees too close to a driveway or patio especially if they drop fruit, pods, or pollen. You’ll be cleaning these areas almost every day in the spring, summer, and fall!

Learn more about the proper planting of trees from the Arbor Day Foundation.

10. Not Adding Proper Fill After Removing Grass

If you are creating a new bed where there once was grass, you have to replenish and elevate the area with good topsoil. After removing about three inches of sod the area will be depressed and during the next rain this spot will fill up with water creating an unwanted pond.

Most roots do not like to sit in water; they eventually rot and die. Therefore, purchase some good topsoil and add compost. Using a pitch fork, churn it into the soil. I have found that pitch forks make work a lot easier. Click here for more information on garden tools.

If you elevate the area by 3 to 4 inches, it will quickly settle and almost return to the original height before the grass was removed.

If you’d like to create a berm, click here.

11. Edging a Garden Haphazardly

Nothing shouts amateur more than haphazardly dropping bricks on top of grass to surround a garden patch. They are not level, they do not fit together properly, nor do they eliminate grass from encroaching into the garden.


The whole idea of edging is to differentiate the areas. In addition, it is an easy way to prevent grass, stones, dirt, etc. from seeping into your garden. In order to make it look aesthetically pleasing and make it functional, you can either edge the area with a flat spade shovel or lay pavers with black edging to prevent weeds from creeping into the garden.

Video for edging with a shovel.

This method works well but will need to be repeated yearly.

Video for edging with pavers.

This technique is more costly, however it prevents weeds from growing into the garden. I recommend backfilling your garden to an inch below the top of the pavers with good soil and mulch so rain water does not puddle in the bed.

12. Choosing Wrong Plants For The Area

Plants will only survive if given the proper sunlight, water, soil, and temperature. Check the tags on the plant or peruse this website to see exactly where to plant specific flowers, and be sure your garden has the proper composition for that plant. Also, if you would like a garden that is much easier to sustain and maintain, consider native plants that grow best in your area.

13. Giving Up Too Soon

Yes, gardening can be hard, time consuming, frustrating, and expensive. But DO NOT GIVE UP! If you continue to garden, you will soon reap all the physical and mental benefits from this enduring and enjoyable hobby.

For more information on the benefits of gardening, click here and here.

Avoid These Common Mistakes – A Beginner Gardener’s Guide to Success

I hope you have learned how to avoid some pitfalls of gardening by reading this post. I wish I had known then what I know now. It would have saved me lots of time and money! But then again, we all learn from mistakes, so continue gardening, enjoy the journey, and be easy on yourself! Remember to avoid these common garden mistakes.

I hope you enjoyed this post. Please leave a comment below and share it with friends and family.

Happy Gardening!


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