Home & Garden

Gardening | Watch out for mistakes that are easy to make


Whether you are a novice or experienced gardener, some mistakes are easy to make. Others are, well, less excusable.

Don’t give in to procrastination.

Truth be told, I have probably killed more plants by procrastinating putting them in the ground than any other reason. Why? Because I bought them before my garden and I were ready to plant. The conundrum is usually that the plant is a rare find, a great price, something I’ve been looking for, etc. The purchase is now or never.

Don’t ignore soil preparation. Seasonable vegetables and flowers need nutrients and well-draining soil to grow and thrive. Have a soil test done to find out what your soil needs based on what you want to grow. It is too late for this growing season, but it’s never too late to have a soil test done. Don’t procrastinate. Test your soil now so you can get it right for fall planting.

Compost is always good for your soil. Side dress your plants with compost any time. It encourages healthy microbial activity, which helps give plants the nutrients they need.

Don’t install plants too close together. Sure, those little plants from the nursery or the seedlings you lovingly produced look tiny and sparse when you follow the spacing directions on the plant tag or seed packet. But they grow quickly. Avoid crowding, and you will have fewer problems with disease and damaging insects. When air can’t circulate properly, leaves remain wet too long, making them vulnerable to disease. Crowding stresses plants; they are weakened by competition for food, water and sun.

The same is true for perennials, shrubs and trees. The ice storm a couple of years ago made it clear how overplanted and overgrown my shrub garden was. Fortunately, it was a catalyst for me to remove a couple of large shrubs. As a result, a hydrangea that had mysteriously stopped flowering bloomed again last year. The scale insects on the Little Gem Magnolia have diminished by about 75 percent. More unobstructed sun, better airflow and less competition are the only changes.

Beware of invasive plants. Keep them in a pot or don’t buy them at all. If you don’t already know a plant is invasive, you can often get a clue from a plant tag, seed packet or catalog write-up. When you see terms like “vigorous grower” or “prolific re-seeder,” be wary and research the plant so you don’t add a thug to your garden.

It’s easy to get caught. Keep in mind a plant may be invasive in one climate zone but not in another, or one variety may be trouble while another is well-behaved.

I’m dealing with the aftermath of Sweet Autumn Clematis, which devoured my arbor and climbed onto the roof of the house a few years ago. It also launched countless seeds that floated off into the neighborhood and beyond. I’m still digging out shoots from its root system, which traveled around the corner of the house in search of new opportunities.

Don’t overwater. Check the moisture in various areas of your yard regularly, especially low-lying areas. Different spots get different amounts of water no matter what you do. You may not willfully overwater, but leaving your irrigation on rain or shine can lead to too much water. Overwatering drowns plant roots; it leads to root rot and plant death. If you must keep your irrigation on, install a rain sensor. Follow the guideline to water less often but deeply. That helps plants develop a deeper root system, which will better serve them in wet and drought.

Avoid overhead watering during the peak of the day. Water droplets can scorch ornamental leaves and garden crops.

Plants under the soffit of your house are protected from rain. Pay attention to them. They may need spot watering.

Containers often require water even after rain and overhead irrigation. The foliage many times forms an umbrella, which allows rain and irrigation to roll off.

I’m sure gardeners reading this column, regardless of experience, know these are only a few of the areas where we can make mistakes. Each year offers new opportunities.

Reach DEBBIE MENCHEK, a Clemson Master Gardener, at dmgha3@aol.com.