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10 common gardening mistakes and how to avoid them

Gardening is a forgiving hobby. You can always right any wrongs next growing season. • The best way to prevent problems, though, is with good planning. • "Designing from the top of your head may work, but things most likely will work better if you write it down and do a simple drawing," said Jack McKinnon, a garden coach from San Francisco. "Think before you plant." • Most gardening failures result from simple things, he said, "like people who don't fertilize, or if they do, put on too much. The same goes for people who don't understand watering, or add too much. Many tend to do their pruning with power tools and then overdo it."

Here are 10 common gardening mistakes and ways to avoid them:

Neglecting soil preparation

Test the plant beds before you begin, and again every few years to see if soil conditioners are needed. Add sand or peat moss to compacted, poorly drained ground, to improve its structure and encourage root growth.

Overplanting

Design with the size of mature plants in mind. Try succession planting, in which early, cool-weather crops are harvested before later, less-hardy plants reach maturity.

Flawed feeding

"Mulch plants and they'll be so much happier," said Tia Pinney, adult program coordinator at the Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary, in Lincoln, Mass. "Supplement your soil, don't just fertilize it."

Improper watering

Too much water can be just as damaging as too little. Do a finger-in-the-ground test to ensure that the soil around the roots is moist. Vegetables need about 1 1/2 inches of water per week.

Faulty maintenance

Don't set your cultivator (or hoe) too deep, damaging plant roots. Pull some weeds by hand.

m Improper pest control

Don't kill the good bugs, like pollinators, in an effort to eliminate the bad. "One thing we hear a lot is an attitude of 'All I have to do is spray and that will cure it,' " said Mary Ann Ryan, master gardening coordinator with Penn State Cooperative Extension in Adams County, Pa.

m Wrong location

Growing conditions change as trees and shrubs mature, creating different shadow patterns. Most plants need six to eight hours of sun per day to develop.

Over-pruning

As a rule, don't remove more than 30 percent of the foliage from shrubs in one cutting. And don't "top" trees to control their height. "That reduces their life span rather than improves their health," Ryan said.

Botched planting

Choose the right plant depth. "I know of one property where they put a tree with its root ball on the surface of the ground, and then mulched around it up to the level of the trunk," Ryan said. "People don't know how to plant."

Failing to start over

"Oftentimes, people let diseased things grow that should be pulled out, and it affects the health of the entire crop," McKinnon said.

Start with a small plot so you can correct mistakes more easily, the experts say. And look to your county extension office for support if you run into trouble. Garden coaches also can diagnose problems and suggest remedies, as can master gardeners and landscape designers.

10 common gardening mistakes and how to avoid them 03/02/13 [Last modified: Thursday, February 28, 2013 5:22pm]

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