5 Mistakes First Time Gardeners Make – And How to Avoid Them

So when I decided to start a garden…this was my thought process:

  1. Have dirt
  2. Buy plants
  3. Plant plants
  4. Water plants in a sunny spot
  5. This is how you garden


Turns out, successful gardening is WAY more involved than every 2nd grade teacher would lead you to believe when he or she made you grow a lima bean in the classroom window. Here are 5 mistakes that I made in my first garden and how you can avoid them.

1. There’s a difference between good dirt and not-so-good dirt

My sister and I had this conversation in which I sounded like a belligerent 5 year old child because to me dirt is dirt. I don’t care if it’s in a bag at Home Depot or if it’s already on the ground. To me, it’s dirt.

However, with the high clay content of the soil in Central Texas, all dirt is in fact, not created equal. So I broke down and drove to Lowe’s and bought dirt, but it wasn’t just any dirt (potting soil), it was organic compost-based potting soil that was ON SALE. Not only has this immensely helped but also buying some organic fertilizer has been a complete life saver.

2. Insecticide is your friend

Once I wanted to start a garden, I didn’t dip my toe into the pond of gardening. I did a cannonball into it. I went out and bought 18 UDSA Organic Vegetable Plants and dug holes in the bad dirt and hoped for the best. They all seemed to start slowly getting established until all of a sudden about a month in, there were small holes in the leaves. Then they were dead in about 3 days.

After losing about 2/3 of my plants, I went to the garden center to cry SOS. They asked me questions and deduced that it was a mixture of caterpillars, aphids, and ants…and since in Texas summer’s are long and hot, it is not an ideal time for planting. The garden center mentors sold me an organic insecticide to spray my plants with, and ever since, they’re thriving!

3. Mulch is also your friend

Since summers are long and hot, keeping the ground covered helps with water retention as well as keeping plant roots cool. You don’t really believe it until you see it, but about an couple inches of pine needle mulch goes A LONG way!

Why is pine needle mulch a good sustainable option?

  • It’s renewable, since it’s collected from fallen pine needles, which happens every year
  • Doesn’t “crust” to form a hardened layer over soil
  • Prevents erosion
  • Keeps soil cool from harsh temps
  • Prevents weeds from getting light to infest your garden

4. Talk to the people who work at the garden center

My two favorite types of people on this planet are animal people and plant people. Don’t be afraid to talk to the people who work at the garden center, they’re a wealth of knowledge and they know just how to help you. When you go buy your first plants, ask them what you need to be successful, they will help immensely. Finding a local garden center not only supports local business owners, but they’re generally more knowledgable than someone at a big chain store.

5. Invest in native perennials

Native plants are important, they can be natural insect repellents, they are better for soil erosion because of their root systems, and they have adapted to the local environment. For example, rosemary grows wild in Central Texas because it’s a natural bug repellent and it’s drought-resistant. Mixing in native plants that come back every year with your vegetable plants will help them stay healthier, longer.

Happy Gardening!



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