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Beginner gardener mistakes

Here are some common beginner gardener mistakes and tips to avoid them:

  1. Not pulling weeds before they set seed: Pulling annual weeds before they seed is important to prevent them from spreading and taking over your garden .
  2. Overwatering or underwatering: It's crucial to maintain proper watering for your plants. Check the soil moisture daily and water the plants at the base, avoiding spraying water on the foliage .
  3. Not using organic compost or soil amendments: Using compost and organic fertilizers can provide essential nutrients to the soil and improve plant health .
  4. Deadheading too early: When flowers are done blooming, it's important to let them fully reabsorb energy from the foliage before cutting them down. Cutting them too early can prevent them from flowering again the next year .
  5. Ignoring irrigation issues: Flower drop and lack of fruit formation can be caused by irrigation problems. Plants like aubergines are sensitive to overwatering or underwatering, so keeping the soil consistently moist but not wet is essential .
  6. Not addressing pests and diseases: Common garden pests like black fly, scarid flies, and slugs can damage plants. Monitor your plants regularly and take appropriate measures if pests or diseases are spotted .
  7. Not planning for seasonal changes: Plan your garden to have plants that will provide interest and continuous growth throughout the year . Consider the use of raised beds, mulching, and proper spacing to optimize plant health and garden aesthetics .
  8. Pricking out seedlings at the wrong stage: Prick out seedlings when they reach the cotyledon stage, as it allows for easier handling and minimizes stress on the plants .
  9. Using inadequate or incorrect soil preparation: Ensure proper planting depth and firming in the soil to avoid air pockets and promote healthy root growth .
  10. Neglecting to rotate crops: Crop rotation is important to prevent nutrient depletion and control pests and diseases. Plan your planting scheme to rotate crops each year .

Remember, gardening is a learning process, and mistakes are part of the journey. By staying observant and willing to learn and adapt, you can become a successful gardener.

(someone): So if you can stand some in your garden, I'd leave it, I'd let it flower, but then I would get it out before it set seed.
(someone): It is a very natural plant and if you can get it somewhere else, if you have a wild area, something like that, it goes into those areas really well, I think. And it does a job, it does a job, definitely. But Emma says the most important thing with annuals, all annuals, is pull them before they seed. And most annuals pull very, very easily. They haven't got the long tap root, they're not perennial, they won't, you know, you don't have to yank them out or dig them up, they'll pull very, very easily. So just get them before they start to flower.
(someone): Okay, and edible as well, apparently, so you can scatter them on your salads. Absolutely delicious. Right. Now, on to herbs. I've recently bought some reduced-priced herbs in pots from the supermarket, and I'd like to try and grow them on in the garden. Is this possible? I have basil, chives, and parsley. Well, obviously, these are supermarket herbs. They're reduced already, so that suggests they're perhaps on the turn. But supermarket herbs do die really quite quickly. Emma, talk us through why that is.
(someone): Often it's because they're probably grown hydroponically. They normally absolutely shed loads of seed in one very small pot with hardly any soil in them.
(someone): So therefore, there's nothing to lose by me drill sowing into those areas to see if I can get future crops.
(someone): the first time ever managed to get two aubergine plants. They're flowering beautifully, but my worry is, Chris, that the first flower that came through then shriveled up, went brown and fell off. I've got other flowers on the aubergine plant. Are they all going to do the same?
(someone): They shouldn't do, it sounds like an irrigation thing to me. They're quite sensitive to irrigation, so if it dries out too much it might flower drop, so all the flower might shrivel. They're an interesting plant because obviously they're Asian originally. I've seen them growing wild in Laos and they'd grow really baking hot conditions with very little moisture. So I think they like just a little, if you're over-watering or under-watering, they're quite sensitive to that. So what I would say is just keep that soil damp. A bit like, you know, if you wash up and you've got a damp tea towel, that sort of dampness. It's not wet, but it's damp. If you can keep the soil around that sort of level, I think you'll stop that sort of bud drop, we call it. But once they set through, you don't have to worry about that anymore. I've got a little one on my balcony at home. It's a miniature, just so delicious. It's full of flower at the moment. So I'm quite attentive to it because I want to make sure I don't
(someone): It's a discipline isn't it, remember I always say the watering is the most crucial job and you kind of need to just check it daily really, you need to get into that routine. It's quite typical if you get a flower drop and no fruit forming, that is more than likely an irrigation issue. You need to keep that soil evenly moist, not too wet, just enough moisture in there and they'll retain the flower and the fruit will form, it happens with a lot of plants.
(someone): So, we can't talk about failures without talking about black fly. I mean, it's just been a nightmare for me. Has it been the same?
(someone): Absolutely. When I took out my broad beans in June, there was so much black fly. They even covered all the pods and my hands were stained black. for days and i really remember the ladybirds turning up thinking oh they'll sort this out and then no you'd have needed a you'd have needed a one foot by one foot ladybird to sort that out um so it has been i think they just again really enjoyed that hot spring has been an exceptional year i think that if i was going to do it next year and i was worried it's going to happen again i might look and i use this as a last resort but you get organic deterrent sprays and you you start putting them on every couple of weeks as the plant grows and they make the leaves taste bitter and that's all to deter the black fly but I'd kind of only do that if it was a last resort. I'm hoping this year was a bit of an unusual year.
(someone): And the reason for that is quite simple, is that it contains a lot of trace elements, manganese and borum and zinc and stuff like this. And a lot of fertilizer doesn't have that. So it tends to give the plants a much stronger start. They tend to be stockier and bat off pests and disease a lot easier. So I start with that and then I'll move over to the comfrey about sort of mid-June, maybe early June and that's got a lot of potassium in it, it's very high in potassium potash and that's very good for encouraging the plants to flower. So two sort of phases really, seaweed early start of the season and then move on to your comfrey a bit later. Okay so make sure those containers are you know properly supported with that feed but
(someone): if it's in your garden and you're looking after your soil then feed not so necessary. Okay that's really interesting. Okay let's carry on by thinking about some more flowers and we've got a question from someone who's added a lot of bulbs including daffodils, alliums and tulips to their garden last autumn. So what special care do they need to keep those bulbs coming back year after year? Chris have you got some advice here?
(someone): Yeah, well rule one really is don't deadhead too early, don't cut them down too early. I think a lot of people go, oh they look a bit messy now, the flower's over. Again, come along with a mower and shave them all off. If you do that, if they're a naturalized bulb, which means they could be growing in a border or in a lawn, they just won't flower next year. You need to let the bulb reabsorb the energy from the foliage. So the general rule is about five,
(someone): You soon get used to having that fresh food on your plate and there's no comparison with stuff that you buy out of a shop.
(someone): So go on then, what are your failures?
(someone): I've had a big trouble when it was hot early in the season with stuff bolting so spinach, which is one of my favourite crops, that kept bolting in the heat and that's partially because of the heat but also I think a watering regime. I should have been tighter with my watering to stop that happening. So that's been a bit of a disappointment really. I had some potatoes go over a bit early as well. I didn't have as many as once and I think again that's probably a watering issue. So yeah, not everything's been a result I don't think and I think I will put that partially down to spinach. It's been quite a freaky spring, a hot freaky spring.
(someone): I think that's interesting. The watering has been our biggest challenge. This is our first year with a greenhouse. really exciting but I think we've been complacent with our watering so we had some blossom ender on our tomatoes and we had aubergine which just they had spectacular flowers but they just never set fruit and I think you know you I think it's easy to look out and see it chucking it down with rain and forgetting that your greenhouse is still as dry as ever.
(someone): It's a discipline isn't it, remember I always say the watering is the most crucial job and you kind of need to just check it daily really, you need to get into that routine.
(someone): Oh absolutely I always over plant my bulbs so I tend to go for what almost like the classical spring bedding display if you like, I'll put in pansy, forget-me-nots are a big favourite of mine, you can even put port wallflowers in, actually also use rainbow chard is a great over plant, you can even grow a bit of lettuce, a bit of cut and come again salad as well, so don't be afraid to plant over your bulbs, they look spectacular when they burst through that foliage in the springtime as well.
(someone): And you don't think you run the risk of the bulb rotting because you're watering the plants on top?
(someone): Well, that's all down to compost. This is quite important because people can skimp on compost. If you go to the garden centre or you go to a DIY store and you buy, say, three bags of a tenner, that's not for pots, not for growing. So make sure you buy a decent peat free organic compost because that will be designed to drain properly and you will have no issues with rotting bulbs at all.
(someone): That's really helpful and I must say I was thrilled that somebody who's so new to gardening and is so keen and has so many questions. If you too are new to gardening and you've just taken it up this year because of lockdown or whatever, do get in touch. I'm afraid it's a bit old school. You have to write an email. It's podcast at But get in touch, let us know what your thoughts are. Have you had any great successes? Have you had any disasters?
(someone): So you're digging it back into the soil and improving the soil very much at the same time. So I like ones that I know that aren't going to be there or get heavy roots down and tap roots down and end up being a problem for me. I like them to be annuals, things that I know are going to expire.
(someone): Yeah, okay. One thing I must say is that the grass has grown absolutely non-stop and it was so wet it's hardly been mown. So never mind no mow May, it's basically no mow. That's the end of it really. Obviously, I do want to get it back into a kind of a garden lawn again. What's your advice for a garden that's full of long, wet grass?
(someone): Well, you're going to have to cut it. I think that you'll have to wait for a dry day and then you just put it on a really high cut. You don't want to scalp it because otherwise it'll just take a while to recover. It will recover, but you'll just end up with a yellow lawn or a lawn that looks very tatty. So obviously, I've mowed lawns. I remember mowing one in Africa. I had a community football match where it got about a foot long, so I tilted up the blower at an angle and went up and down it and gradually got it back lower and lower that way. So height of cut is important. Just make sure you go in with a really high cut and then gradually take it down to the height you want it afterwards.
(someone): I'm good, Fiona. How are you doing?
(someone): Yeah, really well, thank you. My goodness, it's been wet, hasn't it? It has.
(someone): It's rained a bit, hasn't it? It's one thing or the other, isn't it? I saw a brilliant cartoon, I think it was a gardening magazine, where there's just this hand coming out of water saying, thanks for the rain, but you can stop now.
(someone): I tell you, it's not hands coming out of my soil, it's weeds everywhere. What about you?
(someone): Yeah, well, it's perfect weed condition, isn't it? I mean, I obviously get so busy in the spring and early summer that I don't have the time that I usually have to be down in the allotment. And it's just incredible, the growth rate of it. So I've had a bit of a battle on there, really. It's looking all right now, but it's been a perfect, perfect weather, really, I think, for weed growth.
(someone): really fleshy aren't they? I've noticed they're quite weak to be fair. So they've grown really quickly but they're actually quite easy to get on top of.
(someone): Yeah they're pulling all right. You can kind of tell when a plant's put a lot of growth quick because the internodes, the gaps between the nose and leaf joints, tend to be much longer, sort of elongated. So there's been certainly a lot, I think there's been
(someone): So you need to be getting in there, hoeing that out before you've got it everywhere, basically. You make life a bit easier on yourself.
(someone): I think quite a good rule of thumb is to put the foliage of weeds on your compost heap and then the roots, big roots of things like docks and dandelions and bindweed and whatever, don't for goodness sake put those on the compost heap but maybe think about drowning them. Put them in a bucket of water for a number of weeks and then that will eventually kill them but you also might get some sort of nutrient value from those roots into the water which you can then use to water your plants.
(someone): There's a few old boys on my allotment site that make the sort of perennial weed root tea, that's for sure. And they don't mind using it. It's not going to do any harm, is it?
(someone): Yeah. Yeah and watering yes I think most of the country had a really particularly dry April and if May is the same how would you recommend watering wisely?
(someone): Well I think that's the timing of it when you do it is absolutely essential so you want to be doing it early in the morning really so that it's not transpiring you're not losing it and I think also none of this standing there with a hosepipe malarkey I've never been a believer in that obviously if you've got millions of plants you might need to do that but Otherwise no, you need to be watering your plants at the base because basically then you can check your soil, check the health of the plant, do they need picking over, can you take cuttings off them, there's all these other jobs you can take in while you're in the process of watering.
(someone): So this is a wonderful question we've got here. I've just started my first garden, which I want to manage completely organically. That's great to hear. What's the one thing you wish you'd known before you started? I love this. I think this is going back down memory lane. Let's go to you, Chris. What's the one thing that you wish you'd known before you started?
(someone): Well, I suppose in a little way, it's be prepared, not everything to go your way. You take it for granted that you have a knowledge and it's all going to go your way. And gardening just isn't like that. Like life, wisdom is born from error. It really does sort of work that way. I'll give you an example. When I was a head gardener at Westminster, I wanted to grow some mechanopsis. And it's very dry soil there, right in the centre of London. And everybody said to me, you fool, Mr. Collins, you'll never grow mecanopsis, which is a Nepalese woodland plant, beautiful blue flowers. So I put it in. I sold it from seed even. I put it in. And the first year it came up and it looked amazing. And the second year, never saw it again. It just gave up its ghost. So I just don't think you're ever really in control. of the situation. So don't be put off if things don't go your way. Obviously, I'm going to say this, do a bit of homework, your soil's important, your aspect's important. Don't think you can just walk away for three weeks and come back and everything's going well. You need to give it your love every day. So just make sure you get those basics right. But at the end of the day, you know, have a go. Emma, what's the one thing you wish they'd told you before you got into it?
(someone): When it flowers it starts to get quite woody and then it will be lower in nutrient content and it will take a much longer to break down. So just keep an eye on it really. I can't sort of say a calendar date to dig it in. It's really sort of using your judgment. But I would say you need to plan forward and think what your next growing. So if you've got sort of transplants or something like that, you can be put sort of incorporating it about three or four weeks beforehand. You might want to leave a little bit longer, sort of four or five weeks if you're going to be sewing stuff directly because Vetch, when it decomposes, it does actually release a chemical which stops seeds germinating. So you do need to leave a sort of four or five week gap between sort of incorporating it and sowing seeds direct.
(someone): And Anton, do you dig it over or do you just cut it down and leave it on top of the soil?
(someone): OK, so a lot of people are getting into sort of no dig growing and some people say, well, you can't use green manures because you have to dig them in. Well, that's not actually true. There's other ways of dealing with it. But I certainly find if you just chop it up finely and leave it on the surface, it tends to dry out and form a sort of thick mat. So what I do is I would then cover it with some leaf mold or compost and that will stop it drying out and help it to break down. And then you've got that nice sort of lush layer of leaf material breaking down and releasing its nutrients.
(someone): I have sown a whole bunch of tomatoes and I even sowed some aubergines and some chillies. They've all germinated. I'm really thrilled. I've got lots of different varieties. Some of them are seeds I saved myself last year, so I'm quite proud of that. They have all put out their lovely, you know, first set of leaves, you know, the kind of leaves that you see in the children's pictures, you know, you see those those beautiful sort of uniform pair of leaves that seems to happen on every single type of seed virtually. I'm obviously at the point where I need to prick them out. I kind of don't want to in a way because it's all so neat and tidy and I know when I prick out that they're going to take up
(someone): masses and masses of space, but more importantly, when should I genuinely prick them out for a chance of success? Well, yes, I'm right in the middle of all the pricking out with the same similar sorts of plants that you described. Always, I was taught, always prick out at the cotyledon stage. The two leaves you just described are the cotyledons and the cotyledons are basically inside the seed before germination and they come out of the seed and unfold and that's why they don't look Descript that's why they don't look like what we call true leaves the leaves you'll see later they're literally the packed lunch of the seed so what happens is they can come out the cotyledons come up to the sun they can start photosynthesizing straight away and then the plant can crack on so I like to prick out there and the reason is quite simple is I think that means that you don't check the plant as much the plant
(someone): Descript that's why they don't look like what we call true leaves the leaves you'll see later they're literally the packed lunch of the seed so what happens is they can come out the cotyledons come up to the sun they can start photosynthesizing straight away and then the plant can crack on so I like to prick out there and the reason is quite simple is I think that means that you don't check the plant as much the plant very small you can be very very delicate with it you can move it on and you're not checking if you leave it till later and it's starting to produce true leaves it's got a bigger root system you're more likely to check and when I say check that means it will slow the growth down more likely to slow it down so prick out at cotyledon stage always always always never handle anything by the roots or the stem always handled by the cotyledon itself so get a dibber get right under the seedlings lift it up very gently, but always by the leaves. If you tear a bit of the cotyledon leaf, the plant will survive. If you damage the stem or the roots, game over, okay, and then you can plant it into an individual pot. Now if you're germinating inside like I do, you'll see these tend to be quite leggy because the light levels are quite low and the light's coming from one side, so what you can do at cotyledon stage as well, which is why I like pricking out at that stage, is I can bury it quite deep, right up to its cotyledon, up to its neck,
(someone): Well, the other thing that can end up killing off your seedlings, particularly if you end up overwatering them, is the scarid fly. First, you'll see these little flies dancing around on the top of your compost. They tend to sort of fly in quite a sort of jerky flight. They're quite small to look at. They might just look unsightly, but once they lay their eggs in your compost, the little grubs will eat away at the roots of your plants and they can eat away at the stems as well and that causes your plants to wilt but obviously your reaction is then to water them a bit more which is actually making things worse. So scarad flies can be a problem particularly if you used old compost and you haven't sealed the bag up properly they'll then come and lay their eggs in there. My experience is that they are worse in larger seeded things which take a while to germinate because that's really attractive to the scarid flies. Sometimes you might find they don't germinate at all and you might blame the seeds or blame yourself. And then when you actually take the seeds out, you find there's a sort of seed there with a mass of maggots eating away at the shoots. Not a pleasant sight really, but at least it explains what's gone wrong.
(someone): I think also it's worth remembering it's a packet of seeds. It probably costs less than a cup of coffee. So brilliant that you've sown some. Disaster area. So again, it just it's great. Just keep trying.
(someone): Have you got two kids that are running around? Is there a dog? That kind of thing. Are you going to be out there having barbecues? How you're going to use it is quite important. I would then sort of sit down and just have a little sketch about how you want it to look. Always think of your garden as a cube. Never think of it as flat because you can then plant up there. You'll have probably high fences. You can plant up the sides, bring everything up. I would be tempted, if it was mine, to go for raised beds because that means you can bring in some decent topsoil, you can make them out of sleepers, bring it in, it might save you a lot of hassle trying to turn the heavy soil you've already got round and make it workable. And if you did want to keep it open ground, put in a soak away at the lowest point of the garden, maybe some gravel channels, which are like 30 centimetre deep holes that you fill with gravel, that'll help. But I think stick with that. Maybe you want a nice hard standing area, put your chairs on, and then do your raised beds and that could be you can grow a little bit of veg in those, flowers, it's manageable, easy to work with. Always remember wildlife, maybe cut a hole in the bottom of the fence, what we call the kick board or the gravel board. If you cut a hole in that, you might get hedgehogs coming in, you've got a little bit of movement to and forth of wildlife. You can put a bug hotel in.
(someone): On a Forsythia I'll take the whole shrub back a quarter basically. So you're almost framework pruning it in a way if you like. You can leave some other growth on if it's a smaller shrub but I think it also prolongs the life of the shrub if you're giving it that kind of pruning. Some shrubs like Kerria which flower on wood that's very new you can cut that right down hard even so some plants you can even cut harder but just about making sure the plant puts on new growth for next year's flower because it will flower on the growth that's put out this year. The other thing I'll be doing is looking at making sure my abacus don't get blown everywhere. Things like Phlox, Deronicums, Helianthus, Macleas, big tall flowering abacus plants. I'll put some bamboo around the base of them and I'll put twine around that bamboo and I'll just bury it quite deep and I'll raise it up as the plant's growing so I've protected it from any wind. If you don't want to go to all that faff you can buy nice kits that will do that for you so you can pull up the stakes as they grow but that's quite important because you don't want to go all this far in and then find you have one windy night which we had on Saturday and then find you get a load of damage.
(someone): or heavy rain will do that won't it?
(someone): I think we've had cool nights, quite cool nights. And I think, like Emma's described, it's just a natural reaction of the plant. My advice to everyone listening, don't panic. It's not going to affect your yields. You'll still have some lovely tomatoes if the sun can come out. Yes.
(someone): I haven't got any leaf curl, I'd just like to say. Someone's watering potly. All right, so some nipplewort has apparently grown in amongst somebody's lavender. What do we think of that, Chris?
(someone): Sounds a bit painful, doesn't it? It's the last place you want your nipplewort.
(someone): Well listen I don't even know what nipplewort is so could you explain that first of all?
(someone): Well it's an annual plant an annual I suppose many people describe it as a weed or I'm not keen on that word myself an annual what an annual does is it overwinters a seed then it germinates grows flowers and set seeds in the growing season so then it produces more seed it can do that multiple times during the season This nipplewort is a nice, quite beautiful little plant I think. It's got small dandelion type flowers, quite tall with thin stems and spade shaped leaves. You'll sort of see it growing next to roads or railways or along fences because it's seed probably moves, dandelions, very like a dandelion seed, fluffy. And so it gets carried in the wind in the slipstream. So that's how it spreads.
(someone): Otherwise no, you need to be watering your plants at the base because basically then you can check your soil, check the health of the plant, do they need picking over, can you take cuttings off them, there's all these other jobs you can take in while you're in the process of watering. You want those plants to get their roots down to make them stronger for the summer ahead. And I kind of find watering is my bonding session really with my plants.
(someone): I like the way you say water deep and get it right down into the soil. Don't spray it around the foliage and I think a good long drink is better than lots of little short ones. I think another tip which is to keep the dampness in the soil is to mulch it. Now I know that's a word that we use often but mulching is really putting down some sort of covering onto the soil to protect it, to protect the moisture within it and you can actually use lawn cuttings for instance if you Press them down around the stem of the plant after you've watered and that will actually keep the soil moist. It'll stop the sun coming down and baking it.
(someone): Yeah, any kind of organic mulch, I mean it does multiple jobs doesn't it? It will help retain moisture. As it rots the weeds are easier to pull out because they can't get in such a grip on it. You get nutrient feed off it, you might even get a late frosting mate, it'll help protect from that. And I just think mulch adds a bit of order to the border as well. It might kind of smarten stuff up. So yeah, definitely a good thing to do.
(someone): the bare root plant is going to be local you're going to have any plastic any of that any of that kind of feed artificial feed or chemical treatments anything like that you're just getting the plant.
(someone): They're also cheaper I have to say Chris because the plants are smaller you mentioned whips for trees and hedges and such like but sometimes they only have one or two years growth and that keeps the nursery cost down so yep you're quits in by buying bare root.
(someone): I think if you were going to plant a hedge or a little woodland little coppice or something like say in a school grounds with the kids or something like that bare root wick trees are the best you can do because you can plant nice and thick you will get a certain amount of loss but they nurse each other because you can plant them quite densely and you'll get guaranteed survival and you'll get that little coppice or you'll get that hedge.
(someone): Chris what tips would you give for bare root planting?
(someone): Well the main thing I think is to make sure you get your roots and your upper part of the plant, the stems, correctly at the soil level. That's really, really important. So what I do is I literally have a, I call it a template, but it's literally a piece of 4x2 wood. So I just dig my hole and lay that at the top so I can measure the root area below the ground and the stem area above it. And that acts as a template. It's very good for planting trees and it makes sure you're not planting too high or too low which can cause fungal infections and drainage problems and all sorts. So getting that plant spot on at soil level is rule one and making sure you firm in, there's no air pockets left so the plant can take up water properly.
(someone): I'm also a big advocate, I try and keep as much of the allotment planted as I can to be honest with you. At this time of year all my broad beans are going to go in so I'll probably start them in root trainers to be honest with you in the flat and then I'll plant them out nice and thick into some of my beds and they'll kind of sit there through the winter for an early crop next early summer and I quite like to see greenery I know you're the same I don't like to see bare spaces I need to plant I'm also I mean I'm quite happy to leave I've got leeks in they'll sit there brussels sprouts cabbage they'll sit there to the winter that I've already put in and I'll also have one little last bash at filling stuff out with the coolest sort of quick crops salad crops so I'll try and keep it as active as I can
(someone): That sounds very sensible to me if you can be growing produce on it that sounds one of the best options.
(someone): I think it's also important if I put down any sort of mulch make sure it's well rotted I mean compost if I've got compost but I want to use that I want to utilize that it's like black gold in it I want to be much more specific with that compost to be honest with you but some people put down straw but just be a bit aware that if you put something down that's quite neat and fresh it will take the nitrogen out of the soil. The microbacteria that break it down will use nitrogen and you can end up depleting the soil a little bit. So the more rotted the mulch you put down the better really.
(someone): And I know another common thing people use as a sort of cover or mulch is
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