Growing your own vegetables is an excellent way to have an abundance of fresh, organic produce right outside your door. But it can take some effort to reach that point.
Whether you?re just starting your growing season, or troubleshooting an existing garden, avoiding the following mistakes will help get your garden on the right path to a successful harvest.
Mistake #1: Improper watering.
Water is important for your vegetable plants to flourish and develop your crop. But too much or too little water can be fatal.
A general rule is to give your veggies 1 inch of water per week. You can measure how much they?re getting by putting a rain gauge or a bucket in your veggie patch.
Although, this rule doesn?t take into account your local soil and climatic conditions. Check these guidelines to figure out how much water your plants actually need.
Mistake #2: Putting plants in the wrong place.
The amount of sun or shade on your veggie plants can make a big difference in their health.
But if you have limited space, it can be tempting to try and fit plants in wherever you can, regardless of how much sun they?re getting. Plants like lettuce and cabbages will be fine in those shady corners of your garden. Whereas, plants like tomatoes and squash will suffer.
Read the seed packages or labels of your vegetable seedlings to find out how much sun they need. And if you don?t have a good place for a certain variety, move on and find one that will thrive in the space you have.
Mistake #3: Choosing the wrong plants for your climate zone.
Most seed packages or plant labels will tell you what are called the days to maturity, or how long it takes to grow from a seedling to a mature vegetable crop.
This is an important number because many lower hardiness zones have a limited number of frost-free days for vegetables to grow. Longer-season vegetables, such as sweet potatoes or tomatoes, might not have enough time to mature before frost hits.
The United States Department of Agriculture has an excellent interactive tool to find out your local hardiness zone. Then you can look up the typical number of frost-free days for your hardiness zone.
Mistake #4: Waiting too long to weed.
It can be easy to put off mundane tasks like weeding, but this is one of the most important things you can do to support your veggies. Weeds left to get too big compete with your vegetable plants for water, nutrients and sunshine.
It?s best to pull out or lightly till weed seedlings as soon as you see them. You can either add them to your compost pile or leave them on the soil surface as a mulch.
Mistake #5: Ignoring your soil.
Vegetables get their nutrients directly from the soil. Adding organic matter is the best way to create healthy, fertile soil. It also improves the texture of soil and makes it easier to work with.
Mix some organic matter into your soil before you plant anything. You can buy commercially prepared bags of compost to mix in, or make your own compost.
You can also add organic mulches on top of your soil, such as grass clippings, shredded leaves or a living groundcover. These will provide ongoing nutrients as they break down over time.
Mistake #6: Not rotating crops.
Certain vegetable diseases live in the soil, such as mosaic viruses. These viruses often specialize in one type of vegetable, such as cucumbers or beans. One of the best ways to rid your soil of a mosaic virus is to rotate your crops. If the virus doesn?t have a host plant for a few years, it will often die out.
Also, every vegetable needs different types of nutrients. Growing one vegetable in the same spot every year will deplete the area of the same nutrients. Whereas, rotating your crops will give all your veggies an opportunity to get the nutrients they need.
Karen?s Garden Tips has a good overview of how to rotate your vegetable crops.
Mistake #7: Spacing plants improperly.
Mature vegetable plants should gently touch each other and leave no soil visible. This helps retain moisture in the soil while giving the vegetables enough space to develop.
Vegetables planted too close together may have poor yields and an increased risk of pests and diseases because of reduced air circulation. On the other hand, wide spacing between plants can leave too much exposed soil, which increases evaporation and watering needs as well as potential sun scald.
To avoid these issues, refer to your seed packages or plant labels for their recommended spacing.
Mistake #8: Planting at the wrong time.
Deciding when to plant your seedlings or seeds can be challenging.
When you plant seedlings outside in the spring, you need to wait until the frost risk has passed, but not so long that your seedlings start to outgrow their pots. And if you grow your own seedlings from seed, you often need to start them months before your last frost date.
Directly planting seeds in your garden is also finicky. If they go into the ground too early, they could get hit by frost when they sprout. But planting them too late may not leave enough time for the vegetables to mature before harvest.
This is another area where finding out the days to maturity is helpful.
Mistake #9: Planting the wrong amount.
Overproduction or underproduction of vegetables are problems even well-seasoned gardeners often face.
In the planting frenzy of spring, it?s easy to plant what seems like just a bit extra to make sure you have enough. Those few extra plants can produce way more than you expected, which only benefits your friends and neighbors as they receive your excess veggies.
Planting conservatively can also backfire if you lose the few plants you started to pests. To prevent this, keep in mind your final use for your vegetables. Are you planning on preserving them for winter, or simply using them fresh? This can help you decide exactly the right amount to grow.
And if you don?t like a certain vegetable, any amount is too much. Vegetables like zucchini are often recommended for new gardeners because they?re easy to grow. But if you don?t like zucchini, it?s alright to say no.
Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.