4 Common New Gardener Mistakes—and How to Avoid Them

Plan ahead to ensure gardening success.

planning garden layout

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Many new gardeners are taking up growing their own plants and food for the first time, and part of my job, as a permaculture consultant, is guiding them through this process. While most new gardener mistakes are easily remedied, it is, of course, always better if you can avoid them in the first place. So, today I thought I would share a few of the most common mistakes to help you to avoid them. 

Remember that even the most experienced gardeners will make mistakes, but the key thing is to respond properly. As long as we recognize and learn from our mistakes, we can always go on to create and maintain beautiful and abundant gardens.

Mistake #1: Not Designing and Planting for Your Specific Garden

One of the most common mistakes I observe is new gardeners following generic advice without thinking about their own particular garden. In order to develop the best designs, make the right choices, and ultimately create the most successful gardens, it is crucial to observe a particular site.

Before gardeners make important choices about their spaces, they must look at climate, microclimate, sunlight, wind, water, and soil. An understanding of place is necessary in choosing the right growing method(s) and selecting the right plants for the right places.

Many new gardeners leap immediately to creating traditional annual gardens. But growing your own does not necessarily have to mean growing fruits and vegetables in neat rows in raised beds or in the ground. In certain settings, a different growing method—such as forest gardening, with plenty of perennials—can generate more abundant yields and deliver better results.

Designing and planting for your specific garden does not just mean choosing the right plants for a place. It also involves selecting the most suitable growing methods for the site. Making the most of resources available may sometimes mean thinking outside the box.

Mistake #2: Putting the Cart Before the Horse

Another mistake that I often see gardeners make is rushing onward to create a garden without thinking about the systems that should first be put in place. 

Creating growing areas and sowing and planting is not the first job when starting a new food-producing garden. It is crucial, for a sustainable garden, to think about long-term use of resources and how to create closed loop garden systems.

In my opinion, it is important to think about two things—water and fertility. In terms of the former, wise water management should be considered and integrated into the garden design and layout from the outset. Harvesting rainwater, catching and storing water on the property in plants and soil, and setting up sustainable irrigation systems is crucial for enduring success. 

When it comes to fertility, setting up a composting system of some kind should be a top priority. For this, there are many different options to consider, but all new gardeners should aim to set up a composting system as soon as possible—certainly before any plants are chosen or seeds go in the ground.

Mistake #3: Not Planning Ahead or Thinking Longer Term

Planning ahead does not only involve understanding place, water, and fertility. It also involves making sure that gardeners think longer term when it comes to planting and garden maintenance. 

It is beneficial to be a little more organized as you seek to establish a food-producing garden. Plotting out layout and creating a planting schedule can help new gardeners avoid many common mistakes. Think about successional sowing, and crop rotation, and how you will use and adapt to change in your garden over time. 

Mistake #4: Placing All Your Eggs in One Basket

Things can (and will!) often go wrong in a garden. While there is plenty that we can control, there is also plenty that we cannot. 

Diversity is key. Growing as wide a range of plants as possible, implementing companion planting, and attracting plenty of beneficial wildlife are diverse approaches to the challenges you face. These can help you avoid putting all your eggs in one basket. They can help make sure that, even when some strategies or plantings do fail, there is a much greater likelihood of some success.

There are plenty more specific new gardener mistakes that we could cover, of course, but these overarching ones can have the biggest impact over time. So these are the ones you should strive hardest to avoid.