Common Mistakes Urban Gardeners Make

I compiled the following list for a Coursera course assignment:

Planning. Don’t hurry your garden projects, do your homework first, so that you know your taste and your sites. If you are a new homeowner, you may want to wait for one year to know your yards better - existing plants, pests, and light, etc. - and start from small gardening projects. Planning includes budget, timing, site selection, garden design and more.

Choosing Plants. Plants may grow fast or slowly; may be difficult to propagate or easily to spread; may or may not bloom; may like cool or hot weather; may require less or more maintenance; etc. Plants that spread quickly may eventually become weeds if you don’t want to have them in your garden any more. Marilyn Lewis of MSN Real Estate lists 12 plants that you may want to avoid to have in your yards.

Reading Labels. A label with seeds or a plant that is for sale usually contains information like annual or perennial, hardiness zones, mature size, spacing requirement, light requirement and watering requirement of the plant. To avoid getting wrong plants for your gardens, you should at least read the labels carefully. Talking to good or professional gardeners, or doing your own research in advance before purchasing will definitely help.

Selecting Sites. Common mistakes with selecting gardening sites include: the soil is not well-drained; the site will get too much or too little sunshine for your plants; or the site or the project is too big.

Maintaining Soil. Common mistakes with soil maintenance include: planting the same crop year after year without crop rotation or companion planting; and tilling soil when it’s too wet. Planting the same crop year after year damages soil fertility and increases soil-borne diseases and soil-dwelling insects. Working soil that is too wet results in soil compaction.

Planting and Transplanting. Common mistakes with planting or transplanting plants include: planting too deep or too shallow; transplanting without loosing the roots first; planting too early when frosts are still possible or too late when the temperature is too warm or hot for transplanting; transplanting in bright sunshine; and transplanting without thoroughly watering. The best time of a day to transplant is evening.

Overwintering Plants. There are many “annual” plants can be perennial if you dig them out and keep in warm places during winter time. Keeping them outside in winter will kill them, for example, dahlia.

Watering. Common mistakes with watering include: watering in bright sunshine - it can burn leaves; watering in evening - it can cause fungi, snail and slug problems; and shallow watering - it may encourage a shallow root system. The best time to water plants is early morning.

Pruning. A common misunderstanding is that plants don’t need pruning or pruning will hurt or kill plants. Indeed, for most of trees or bushes, pruning is necessary and will make them healthier and look better. Most of trees or bushes can be pruned in late winter or early spring, some can be pruned any time, but some can only be pruned in summer.

Composting. Making your own compost is not difficult, but it’s not easy either. Some essential mistakes to avoid include: placing compost bins/piles in direct full sun - it can make it too dry to compost; putting diseased plants, weeds’ seeds and seedpods into compost - it may not be hot enough to kill the diseases and seeds; putting meat and bones into compost - it’ll smell and attract pests.

Mowing. One common mistake of mowing is mowing too low. Mowing too low makes your lawn difficult to maintain moisture to keep it healthy. The best time to mow is when it is going to rain.

De-weeding. Leaving weeds’ seeds, seedpods and flowers on your lawn or garden bed may just spread the weeds. If you cut and leave dandelion flowers on your lawn, it’s very likely that they’ll continue to grow and bear seeds, and the seeds will mature and spread.

Fertilizing Lawn. Common mistakes with fertilizing lawns include: not fertilizing at all - grasses need nitrogen to grow to compete with weeds for spaces and nutrition; using wrong fertilizers - you want to use fertilizers that are high with nitrogen and low with phosphate and potassium; fertilizing too much - it’s better to feed less than more; fertilizing when it’s hot and dry - fertilizers can burn your lawn when it’s dry and hot. I once fed my lawn with compost provided by the City of Toronto, and it contained a lot of weeds’ seeds.

Gardening needs time, efforts and patience. Choosing professional landscaping over DIY may not be a good idea because you know your taste the best. With DIY projects and abundant resources and help you can find nowadays, you’ll become a gardening expert of your own garden given time. Do it yourself, and make our world a better and more sustainable world.

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