5 Beginner Gardening Mistakes All First-Time Gardeners Make

Our experts made all the beginner gardening mistakes so you don't have to. Here are their top 5.

Overhead view of a gardener digging in the soil
(Image credit: coldsnowstorm / Getty Images)

We’ve all been there. Everyone has a first time for something and we know going in that it’s likely to be imperfect and fraught with mistakes. Beginner gardening mistakes are no exception. 

I remember my first foray into gardening. I had grand plans combined with little to no concrete knowledge and as a result, made my share of gardening blunders. Whether you’re new or not so new (we can all learn, right?) keep reading our top five gardening mistakes to avoid.

Common Beginner Gardening Mistakes

There are certainly more than five mistakes gardeners make, but for the sake of brevity, here are my five top mistakes made by novice gardeners; even on occasion by some of us who think we know a thing or two about gardening.

1. Using plants that aren’t suited to your region

Okay, this is a common garden error and I get it. It's almost more than the plant enthusiast can stand not to buy that beautiful, exotic plant sold at the nursery. Even when I know the plant will not survive my USDA zone, I still have to talk myself down.

The truth is it's a waste of money and the eventual death of the plant will hurt your plant-loving heart. Know your USDA zone, read plant tags, and Google it if need be. Remember, just because the nursery sells it doesn’t mean it will survive in your area; they just want to make a sale to an unrestrained, spontaneous plant lover.

2. Not preparing the soil

This is another big one for first-time gardeners. It's always advisable to do a soil test. Generally, the soil should have a pH of around 6-6.5 for a veggie garden. You should also incorporate plenty of organic compost into the soil before planting.

3. Not labeling plants

This one has me giggling because I still haven’t learned to consistently label my sown beds. I always think I'll remember which seed is in which row, and I never do. I end up waiting until the seeds germinate so I can identify the crop by its leaves, but I have 30 years of gardening experience… newbie gardeners will likely flounder, so label your plants!

4. Not reading instructions

This is a massive error for almost every aspect of life. From the seed packet to the bag of fertilizer, there’s a reason for instructions. Read the instructions and follow them. Don’t be me and willy-nilly plop your summer bulbs in at indeterminate depths and wonder why they won’t bloom.

5. Improperly watering

Over- or under-watering are likely the biggest mistakes gardeners make. The rule of thumb is that plants require an inch (2.5 cm) of water per week, but that’s just a gauge. It all depends on the plant’s needs, the weather, the type of soil, whether the plant is in the garden or container, and so much more.

How to Avoid Beginner Gardening Mistakes

If you want to go into gardening season a success, you need to have a well-thought-out, researched garden plan. The garden soil should be tested and properly amended. Select seeds for crops that will thrive in your zone. When possible choose native species with a proven track record of survival.

  • Before you amend the garden plot, make sure it's situated in a protected area with full sun, meaning 6-8 hours per day, unless you’re focused on shade plantings.
  • Consider how you'll be getting water to your plants. Opt for a drip system if possible or at least make sure you can run water from the outdoor tap to the garden.
  • Speaking of water, water at the base of the plants, not overhead. Try to keep the leaves dry to avert fungal diseases. Drip lines are great options for this and are well worth the money and minimal effort to install. Also, water your plants in the morning or evening rather than mid-day.
  • Know when to plant. Vegetables, for instance, may be either cool or warm season and should be planted accordingly. Make sure not to transplant until the last frost for your area has passed and allow seedlings started indoors an adaptive “hardening off” period before planting in the garden.
  • Lastly, talk to other gardeners. There are many ways to connect with gardeners with experience who can help you avoid gardening mistakes. Contact your local extension, Master Gardeners program, the local nursery or connect with like-minded gardeners on social media. Even your neighbor or a family member might be a font of gardening information. Oh, and we’re always here for you here on Gardening Know How as well!
Amy Grant

Amy Grant has been gardening for 30 years and writing for 15. A professional chef and caterer, Amy's area of expertise is culinary gardening.