Gardening and growing is all about experimentation: adapting to your climate, your weather and whatever else comes your way. Gardening disasters can be frustrating, but the only failure is to not learn from your mistakes.
Here are our top 5 gardening disasters and how to avoid them.
1. Poor Timing
With all the excitement at the start of the gardening season it’s tempting to sow early to get a head start, perhaps using grow lights, cold frames or a heated greenhouse. Your seedlings may start off okay, but raise them too early and you risk having them killed off by frosts later in the spring when you need to move them outside to use the space for something else.
Spindly or leggy growth is a common problem with early-sown seedlings. Low light levels in late winter in most locations will have your seedlings reaching for the available light, only to flop over – avoid this by following the guidance on the seed packet which will show the earliest times for sowing indoors and planting outside. Give particular care to tender fruiting crops such as tomatoes, cucumbers and melons.
It’s a good idea to become familiar with the typical weather patterns in your area. If you know that the last frosts are likely to be over by mid-May, start with this date and work backwards. For example, tomato seedlings will take 6 weeks to grow before they are ready to be transplanted outside, so you’ll need to sow them around the end of March, 6 weeks before mid-May. Equally, starting your seeds too late can also be a problem – you might spend all season tending to your precious plants, watching the flowers blossom and the fruit start to grow, only to find that the crop doesn’t ripen as the weather cools. This is more of a problem with plants that require a long growing season, such as melons and peppers.
Avoid planting too early or too late by having a plan in place before you start. The Garden Planner will show you when to sow your seeds based on the weather in your area, and will send you email reminders.
2. Poor Care of Seedlings
After weeks of raising seedlings, it’s tempting to take them straight outside on a bright, sunny day – but the shock of cold temperatures and cool breezes can make them wither within hours, and they may never fully recover. Instead, start by taking seedlings out for just an hour in a sheltered place with no wind, then bring them back indoors. Increase the time they are outside gradually over a week or more, a process known as hardening off.
Greenhouses, cold frames or equivalent can be good holding places, sheltered from drying winds and with good light. But keep an eye on the weather forecast for frosts – just one cold snap overnight can kill off weeks of hard work, so cover them in fleece, turn on the heat, or bring them indoors if frosts are forecast.
3. Putting All Your Eggs in One Basket
Planting large swathes of one crop in one place at one time is a risky strategy. Pests can quickly demolish an entire crop overnight, or they can all be lost to frost or other poor weather. Even if you are successful in growing a bumper crop, you may then have a large glut of produce which can at best be frozen or canned, or at worst will go to waste. Avoid this by planting in succession – in other words, sowing small batches at a time a few weeks apart. Holding some back under protection will ensure you have spares that can quickly be put into the ground if any gaps appear.
As well as raising spare plants, it’s also worth growing flowers as companion plants to attract beneficial predatory insects such as hoverflies to your garden. Some flowers can also act as sacrificial crops – nasturtiums for example are great for distracting aphids from your precious salad leaves.
4. Being Too Ambitious
It’s easy to get carried away with sowing all the seed you’ve bought, only to find several weeks later that you have successfully raised 30 tomato plants for your small back yard and it’s far too many for the amount of space you have. Avoid this by considering how many plants you can realistically fit into your growing space.
The Garden Planner can be used to work out how many plants you can grow in the area that you have. The coloured outline around the plant indicates how much space that plant needs, and dragging out a row correctly spaces the plants. The Plant List will then summarise how many of each plant you’ll need (but sow a few extra just in case!).
5. Poor Forward Planning
When things are growing well, it’s easy to be optimistic – that the rainy spell you’ve just had before you take a summer vacation will continue, only to experience the sunniest weather for months and find lots of dead and dying plants on your return. Or to think ‘I’m sure everything will be okay in windy weather’ and then find row covers, cold frames and other garden objects strewn over your garden, with the seedlings and plants inside damaged. Avoid problems by planning for the worst while hoping for the best. For example, it’s a good idea to install irrigation before you plant out, or to ensure structures and objects are correctly built and will last through the worst of the weather you’re likely to get.
The unexpected can nudge you toward gardening creativity, so it really pays to be flexible and to go with the flow. A key skill when gardening is to learn from your mistakes, but if they can be somebody else’s mistakes rather than your own you’ll have saved yourself some disappointment and increased your chances of success!