Beware of these common gardening mistakes

Growing your own plants can be immensely satisfying, provided you do it right

Top ten mistakes gardeners make

Mistakes! They are inevitable when we are trying to learn something new. In fact mistakes form the building block of what we call “experience”. Gardening is no exception. It's an addictive hobby, especially if you see success early on. Scores of enthusiasts take up gardening, but many quit after a brief affair believing that they don’t have the magical “green thumb” required to succeed at it.

To help you create a flourishing urban garden, I have put together a list of mistakes that many new gardeners make.

1. Watering the plants too much or too little

This is by far the commonest mistake by urban gardeners—they simply don’t know how much to water their plants. For plants that are set in the ground, water them well so that the soil is completely wet. For container grown plants, water them till you see some water draining from the drainage holes provided in the container. The containers must have a drainage hole in order to ensure proper drainage. Water should not stagnate near the roots as that can deprive the roots of oxygen and cause them to rot.

Another common mistake is not ensuring that the plants will be watered when you are away for many days. During your absence, plants can be watered using automated drip irrigation systems. One can even improvise a slow drip system out of a pet bottle with a hole made in the bottom.

2. Over crowding the plants

Overcrowding usually happens when budding gardeners start growing plants from seeds. When sowing seeds, one should consider the space that a plant will need when it is fully grown. If too many seeds are sown in a container, they should be reduced to just one or two depending on the size of the container. This process of removing excess seeds is called “thinning”. Allowing all the plants to grow in a cramped pot will cause deficiencies in the plants and none of them will grow to their fullest potential.

3. Too much or too little light

For those living in cities, finding a place to have a garden can be quite a challenge. We often end up buying plants that look beautiful in the nursery, but they start fading and eventually die out. This could be due to faulty sunlight exposure.

While different plants have different light requirements, one can easily choose the location for planting if we remember few basic rules.

Most of the flowering annual plants need full sun or at least 4 – 6 hours of direct light. Observe the plants when you buy them in the nursery as to where they have been kept. If they were in a sunny spot, place them in a sunny spot. If you found those plants in a shaded area, place them in a shaded area in your garden.

South facing balconies receive the maximum light in terms of length and intensity. Next come east and west facing balconies. North facing balconies receive the least light for most part of the year. If you are growing vegetables, the best option is to grow them in south, east or west facing balconies.

4. Letting weeds take over

Crammed pots thwart plants from growing fully
Crammed pots thwart plants from growing fully

Sometimes we get uninvited guests in our garden in the form of weeds. It is important to know which one is the plant from the seed you have sown and which one is a weed. Before sowing the seed, it is good to read about it a little bit to know about the plant and how the seedling will look like.

Removing of the weeds has to be done as early as possible. Leaving the weed to grow in the container will result in the nutrients being eaten away by them, and your plant to suffer.

5. Not protecting from pests

We love healthy plants but so do pests. Pests are every gardener’s nightmare. By carefully inspecting the plants every morning, we can detect the pests early enough and get rid of them. Bugs, insects and caterpillars can be easily controlled when they are identified during their early stages.

Spraying the plants with organic pesticides such as neem oil will ensure that pests don’t attack the plants in future.

6. Planting out-of-season plants

If you will pot plants that are out of season and then expect flowers or fruits, you are bound to be disappointed. This applies to plants that are non-native as well. All of us get excited when we see exotic vegetables and we immediately want to try growing them. Reading about the plant before planting will help set our expectations right.

7. Not feeding the plants

Most of us have the notion that, to grow and bloom, plants need only water and nothing else. Plants do need water but they also need about 16 different nutrients from the soil. Plants absorb nutrients that are dissolved in water. So what should you feed your plants and how often?

There are different types of plant fertilizers available. The easiest to find is compost. Compost is decomposed cow manure; it is organic and safe to the environment. Adding a handful of compost to every pot once every 15 days will ensure that your plant stays healthy and adds value to your garden.

There are water soluble synthetic fertilizers available as well. They result in faster growth. A popular choice is NPK 19-19-19 in water soluble form. A teaspoon of this dissolved in a litre of water can be applied to the plant roots once every 15 days. The results can be seen in less than a week’s time.

Remember, moderation is the key when it comes to fertilizer. Applying more will not result in a better plant. Indeed, many plants die due to the usage of excessive fertilizer.

8. Not choosing the right container size

Repot the plant that outgrows its pot
Repot the plant that outgrows its pot

Often new gardeners pot a big plant in a small container that is quickly outgrown. This is where regular repotting comes into the picture. Inspect the pot every month or so, to see if there are roots showing up on the soil surface or via the drainage holes in the bottom. If you see roots peeping, then it is time to move the plant to a bigger pot. If not done on time, your plant will outgrow the pot breaking it or it won’t grow well. Ask for the right size of the container in the nursery from where you buy the plant.

9. Sowing seeds too deep or too shallow

Sowing of seeds can make many new gardeners nervous. They worry about how deep or far apart the seeds have to be sown. The thumb rule is that the seeds should be sown twice as deep as they are thick. So, if the seeds are 5mm thick, sow them 10mm deep. If the seeds are too tiny, simply sprinkle them on the top.

10. Emotional meltdowns when our plants suffer

Last but not the least, sometimes, we get too attached to our plants and if they suffer we tend to take it too seriously. We may whistle in delight when our zinnia flowers and then be in tears when the orchid plant doesn’t flower for ages. No matter what, your garden will keep changing and you need not get too emotional about every pest attack or failed flowering.

Observe the above points, avoid making the common mistakes that most budding gardeners make and soon you will be on your way to becoming a pro.


This was first published in the December 2015 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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