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15 Mistakes New Gardeners Make and How to Avoid Them

Are you new to gardening and want to be successful at growing plants and flowers? Or maybe you are an experienced gardener looking to hone your skills? Here are 15 common mistakes that both experienced and new gardeners should avoid.

And be sure to get my FREE printable must-have plant list for what to plant to get continual color and blooms throughout the growing season at the bottom of this post.

If you are a new gardener, it seems like there’s so much to learn.

Am I right?

But once you understand the basics, you’ll become a more confident and successful gardener.

There will be lots of trial and error.

Some plants do well and some don’t.

It’s a part of the gardening experience.

But there are some things that we have control over when growing a garden.

There are a few gardening basics that when followed will bring the new gardener down a path of success.

And believe me when I tell you I’ve made almost every one of these mistakes at some point in my gardening career.

So don’t beat yourself up if you’ve made any of them.

Even the best gardeners still make some of these mistakes today.

Myself included!

Here’s what you need to avoid to grow a happy, healthy garden both indoors and out.

(Posts on stacyling.com may contain affiliate links. Click HERE for full disclosure.)

Cottage Garden by the garden Shed with wood picket fence, stone border, sedum autumn joy, dahlias and zinnias

15 Mistakes to Avoid as a New Gardener

The following are common mistakes that are listed in no particular order.

Mistake #1 – New Gardeners Not Knowing Their Hardiness Zone

It’s important to understand what hardiness zone we live in.

Knowing our hardiness zone helps us understand how plants will survive in our climates.

I live in New Jersey, Zone 6a, so certain plants, like dahlias, won’t survive outside in winter.

In those cases, they are either treated as annuals or they must be overwintered indoors.

Moreover, some summer-loving annuals may not thrive in cool spring weather.

So it’s important to understand how plants will adapt to climate conditions.

close up of sunflower - Thrift Unique Decorating Ideas

Mistake #2 – Not Testing Your Soil

So many people do not test their soil.

Both experienced and new gardeners alike.

If you want to ensure success with what you grow, I strongly recommend testing your soil.

Understanding soil quality is the key to gardening success because you will have a better idea what will grow best in your soil.

close up of purple lenten rose hellebores that are purple

For example, some plants prefer acidic soil, while others prefer alkaline. If you plant an acidic loving plant in soil heavy in alkaline, it won’t do well.

Thus, it’s important to know the quality and make-up of your soil.

You can contact your local cooperative extension to help test your soil or try a kit like this one.

Results will include what your soil conditions are and make recommendations for improvement.

close up of echinacea in the front yard cottage garden in New Jersey - 15 common mistakes new gardeners should avoid

Mistake #3 – Not Keeping Spacing in Mind

Before purchasing plants, it’s important to know how big your garden is so you know what size plants to get.

Crowding plants too close together can promote pest and disease problems.

Plus, overcrowding can cause one plant variety to choke out another.

And we don’t any of that.

So read your plants tags, follow the grower’s recommendations, and space plants accordingly.

close up of proven winners plant tag -15 Mistakes New Gardeners Should Avoid

Mistake #4 – Overwatering

While we could chat about a number of ways to keeping gardens and houseplants alive, there is one BIG thing we do wrong without even realizing it.

And that is…overwatering.

I know we want to schedule watering on the same day every week.

Or we see a plant struggling and we think it needs more water.

Garden Blogger Stacy Ling watering a chinese evergreen on the deck -Watering houseplants - The Secret to Keeping Houseplants Alive

But rethinking how we water plants will save a lot of heartache when a houseplant succumbs to pest and disease problems due to overwatering.

Why?

Because when we overwater, roots stay soggy.

Soggy roots promote pest and disease problems.

And with some plants, like succulents for example, they don’t want to be watered all that often.

With plants, sometimes less is more.

close up of evening primrose in the backyard garden - 15 common mistakes new gardeners should avoid

So be cognizent of the plants you have and what care they require.

Read the plant tags and do some research.

And before you water houseplants and other container gardens, do this test to see that plants actually need it.

If you have larger outdoor gardens, consider these factors before grabbing that hose:

  • Has it rained?
  • Will it rain?
  • What is the time of day?
  • What’s the air temperature?
  • How wet is the soil?
Black lab in backyard cottage garden outside of a garden shed with wood picket fence, sedum autumn joy and container gardens - 15 Mistakes New Gardeners Should Avoid

Mistake #5 – Underwatering

Underwatering plants is just as bad as overwatering, but can be a little easier to correct if the plant is easy-going enough.

Most plants will let you know they are thirsty when they start drooping and looking kind of sad.

Some plants may not recover from severe underwatering while others may bounce back.

If you are a beginner gardener, I strongly suggest working with easy-care plants that are hard to kill until you get a feel for caring for them and achieve some success.

Choose easy-care houseplants to grow and low maintenance garden plants like these to help make gardening easier.

close up of echinacea in my cottage garden -15 Mistakes New Gardeners Should Avoid

Mistake #6 – Planting in the Wrong Location

Location location location.

Before buying plants, it’s important to know what light conditions we have.

And they may be different in various spots of our property and inside our homes.

Depending on where the garden is sited, check to see how much sunlight it gets: full sun (6-8 hours), part sun (4-6 hours), part shade (2-4 hours) and shade (0-2 hours).

new cottage garden with lots of flowers that love deadheading

If you are starting a new garden outside, consider the type of garden you want to grow with the type of light conditions you have.

If siting plants indoors, determine whether it’s receiving north, south, east or west facing window light.

And keep indoor plants away from excessive heat and drafts.

Read these tips for more specific details about siting houseplants indoors.

Vegetable Garden in Raised Garden Beds in the backyard of my new jersey garden - 15 common mistakes new gardeners should avoid

Mistake #7 – Not Planting Native Plants

If you are a new gardener, working with native plants is much easier than planting those that are not naturally found in your region or hardiness zone.

They are much less work than their non-natives counterparts.

Not sure what’s native in your area?

Check with your local cooperative extenstion office, nursery, or fellow gardeners to see what they recommend.

close up of moonbeam coreopsis, butterfly weed and nepeta in cottage garden near a paver walkway - early summer Jersey garden tour

Mistake #8 – New Gardeners Not Reading (and Saving) Plant Tags

Read plant tags to determine light requirements, size, bloom times and variety.

Save them in a garden journal or notebook file.

Or take a photo of them and save in your phone for easy reference.

Trust me, you’ll thank me for this one later.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone back to a plant not knowing what the variety is.

Saving that plant tag in a garden journal or on your phone will make a big difference in the future.

Cause trust me, you won’t remember the variety you planted.

Happy gardening with dark horse wiegela, fuschia pink peonies and container gardening

Mistake #9 – New Gardeners Taking on More Than They Can Handle

Have you ever heard the saying don’t bite off more than you can chew?

The same theory applies to gardening.

Because of the work involved with planting, growing and maintaining a garden, start small and expand your gardens as you gain experience.

Starting with too much too soon is a surefire way to overwhelm yourself as a new gardener and get discouraged.

You can start super small with a few simple container gardens.

Or you can start a much larger garden using the easy method.

woodland garden with geraniums and oakleaf hydrangea

Mistake #10 – Not Weeding

This is a big one.

Yes you have to weed.

There’s no easy way around it, hand pulling or hoeing is the best method to weed gardens.

THIS is my favorite hand weeding tool.

THIS is my favorite stand-up weeding tool.

I don’t always use a garden hoe, but when I do, it’s one like THIS.

pink Roses climbing up obelisk -The Complete Guide to Roses Care
The Complete Guide to Roses Care

About Chemicals for Weed Control

Please don’t use toxic chemicals to remove weeds.

They are really bad for the environment, bad for your garden, bad for the water table, bad for you pets and other wildlife and most importantly, it’s bad for you and your own family’s health.

It’s just bad.

And this includes what we put down on the lawn.

close up of roses in the garden

With all the talk about climate change and the environment, one of the BEST things we can do as individuals is stop using harmful chemicals in our lawns and gardens.

Think global and act local because it starts with us as homeowners and gardeners.

So yes, stop using the lawn chemical service to maintain a thick green lawn and allow some weeds to grow.

Other organic methods to getting rid of weeds in the garden is using boiling hot water or home recipes with a mixture of vinegar, dish soap, and epsom salt.

Learn how to do each of these methods and make a simple homemade weed killer that works here.

close up of shade garden with hostas, hellebores, joe pye weed and bee balm

What If You Don’t Weed?

Gardens will become overgrown.

Weeds zap nutrients from your plants and flowers.

And worse, you can grow a weed that can totally take over your garden in such a bad way that you might need to rip it all out.

This happened to me before and it was a disaster.

roses in my jersey garden

Several years ago, I was really busy running around with my kids and saw a yellow threading weed growing around plants in my front yard cottage garden.

I kept putting off dealing with it.

In fact, I wasn’t even sure what it was!

Well, I waited so long that it thread its way through my garden and all of my perennials plants.

When I finally read up on what it was (dodder) and how to get rid of it, it was so bad and extended throughout so much of the garden, that I had to rip out all of the affected plants.

And it took a few years to eradicate as well.

So stay on top of the weeds!

Nursery Trip with Shana inspecting the plants and reading the labels

Mistake #11 – New Gardeners Not Inspecting Plants Before Buying at the Nursery

Before bringing a plant home from the nursery, always check it out.

Make sure you don’t see any bugs on the leaves, stems or soil.

Be sure to check the undersides of plant leaves.

Also check the foliage to ensure there is not yellowing or fungal spots.

The last thing you want to do is bring a plant home that has pest and disease problems that you’ll introduce to the rest of your garden.

And if you can, remove the plant from the plastic pot and check the root system to see how root bound it is and how healthy the roots are.

If the roots are soft, mushy, and decayed, don’t buy it.

Cottage garden planted in front of the garden shed with wood picket fence, green garden stakes with tiny terra cotta pots -green garden stake safety tip

Mistake #12 – Not Considering the Critters

For me, deer are a huge problem so I follow these tips to deer-proof my garden and focus on choosing the right plants that deer tend to avoid.

But I’ve also had problems with rabbits, chipmunks, groundhogs, squirrels and birds.

Keep a close eye on your gardens.

Walk the beds every day to catch wildlife problems early.

endless summer hydrangea macrophylla in bloom during summer in my backyard new jersey garden with raised garden planters -15 Mistakes New Gardeners Should Avoid

Mistake #13 – Not Caring for Plants While On Vacation

Before heading out for vacation, even if it’s just for a weekend, make sure your plants and garden have the care they need to survive while you are away.

Click here are some great tips to keep your gardens happy and healthy while you are on vacation.

Allium globemaster and double flowering pink knockout roses in suburban cottage garden - The complete guide to roses care

Mistake #14 – Not Planting Near a Water Source

When growing a garden, know where your water source is located.

If a water source is really far away, it will be tough to establish new plants or keep plants hydrated during the heat of summer.

My former vegetable garden was really far away from a water source and it was difficult to keep the garden watered as needed, particularly in summer.

As a result, my vegetable harvest suffered from inconsistent watering.

This year, I moved my vegetable garden to these self watering raised garden bed planters that kept my gardens evenly watered at the roots all season long.

Don’t make the same mistake I did and really think about where that water source is and how you will water plants.

Close up of hibiscus in container garden with vintage basket in the cottage garden -15 Mistakes new Gardeners should avoid

Mistake #15 – New Gardeners Not Feeding Plants

New gardeners often ask me what to feed plants often.

For perennials, shrub and trees, I recommend focusing on good soil quality.

Amend the soil yearly with compost, leaf mold, other organic materials, and mulch.

That’s it.

For vegetables, I recommend a good organic plant food like THIS.

close up of pink roses in the cottage garden - 15 common mistakes new gardeners should avoid

For roses care, I recommend using THIS.

I had THE BEST rose blooms this year that I largely attribute to the plant food I used. You can check it out HERE.

Annuals, houseplants and container gardens, need to be fertilized.

Since annuals have such a short life span, it’s important to feed them with a fertilizer so they bloom profusely through the season.

close up of some outdoor planters with colocasia, superwave petunias, geraniums, coleus and sweet potato vines

Where houseplants and container gardens are concerned, they also need the nutrients so they can grow

I love using THIS slow-release fertilizer for my annuals, houseplants and container gardens because it is set and forget.

And note, when using any sort of fertilizer, ALWAYS follow the manufacturer’s directions.

Click here for more container gardening tips.

And click here to learn why we should treat perennials and annuals differently.

15 mistakes new gardeners should avoid

Want to Learn What to Plant for an Everblooming Colorful Garden?

Click here to get my FREE Must-Have Plant List!

Be the plant parent you’ve always wanted to be with these tried and true flowers that will give you a beautiful garden that’s always in bloom.

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Enjoy a beautiful day! xo

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10 Comments

  1. Hi- Love this post- I hadn’t thought of using drip irrigation systems available for home use! Thank you for all the useful information. Your gardens show how much you love them!

    1. THank you Karen! Yes the drip seems to be working really well for my container gardens. Its much easier to just turn that on than watering every container I have…cause I have a lot hahaha

  2. Stacy, I love all these tips. I’ve got to really focus on native plants and not spread myself so thin trying plants that don’t grow well in my zone. Thanks so much!

  3. So many good tips Stacy! I have made the mistake of not inspecting my plants when buying them in a nursery more than once.

  4. Pingback: Dirt Road Adventures - Fresh Flower Arrangements - The Ponds Farmhouse
  5. Hi Stacy – I am drooling with envy over your gardens. It is so nice of you to take the time to do a video of your gardens.
    Just LOVE!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    My best to you
    Diana

    1. I am so glad you enjoy the video!!! There’s only so much you can see from the photos. I love seeing it in action!