These are the common gardening mistakes beginners make according to Charles Dowding - and how to avoid them

Friday, 24th April 2020, 4:05 pm
Updated Tuesday, 12th May 2020, 12:36 pm
Are you thinking about giving gardening a go? (Photo: Shutterstock)
Are you thinking about giving gardening a go? (Photo: Shutterstock)

With the weather getting warmer and sunnier as lockdown continues, now is the perfect time to try your hand at gardening.

But as with any new hobby or skill, you’re bound to make some mistakes when you first get started.

These are the most common gardening errors that beginners make, according to grow-your-own vegetables YouTube expert Charles Dowding, and how you can avoid them.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Sowing too early

Some online advice might have you sowing your seeds at the totally wrong time of year.

Dowding says that sowing carrot seeds in January is unlikely to produce a rich harvest - and you shouldn’t sow your runner bean seeds until May.

Despite the weather getting warmer, this time of year can still yield frost and cold winds are common - these factors can kill off tender plants.

When planting seeds, carefully read the instructions, as their packets should give you guidance on when to plant them.

Vegetables such as courgette, squash, runner beans and sweetcorn, can be particularly vulnerable to frost.

Overwatering

Your first instinct might be to keep your garden well watered, but this could be doing more harm than good.

At the seedling stage especially, there’s less need for new moisture. Little roots can also be easily flooded and can die due to the lack of air.

A simple tip you can employ is to pick up your seed trays. A well-watered one will feel heavier than one in desperate need of water - but make sure it’s not too weighty.

Doing this regularly will help you learn what needs watering and what doesn’t.

Loosening soil

Some gardeners think that plants require soil to be loosened, by digging or rotavator, in order to spread their roots.

Dowding, however, advises that firm soil is better for your plants as it has its own natural, healthy structure of drainage and aeration.

Your plants should get all the nutrients they need if you simply use a good compost mulch of at least two inches.

Spacing seeds or plants too far apart

A common piece of advice found online is that you shouldn’t overcrowd your seeds or your plants - but this could lead to accidentally placing them too far apart from each other.

This could end up in under-use of the space in your garden, as well as extra effort to maintain the unused space, which can be taken over by weeds.

As a starting point, you should space your plants or seeds about a third closer than recommended and you might find yourself surprised by how many extra plants can healthily fit in your garden, Dowding says.

He says that vegetables that are regularly planted too far apart from each other include onions, lettuce and beetroot.

Overfeeding plants

Again, it might be in your nature to try and provide your plants with as much food and nutrients as possible, but this could end up doing some damage.

Dowding suggests feeding the soil life instead with a mulch of compost on top of the soil and leaving it undisturbed. Plant food is then available through biological interactions, such as the working of naturally occurring mycorrhizal fungi.

If you overfeed your plants, you can end up causing an imbalance in growth and potentially encourage more growth of leaves rather than fruit.

Over complicating transplanting seedlings

Dowding does not recommend harding off, providing that you are covering your new plantings in spring with fleece, until the weather warms up.

Vegetable seedlings that don’t need transplanting include carrots and parsnips, which you should just plant where they are to grow in the garden.

Compost confusion

Dowding says that gardeners often spend time picking out garden debris which they think is unsuitable for the compost head, when in fact, he states it’s actually okay to add blighted tomato leaves and stems, bindweed roots, citrus peel and rhubarb leaves, which will die if they are continually smothered by other composting materials.

Make sure your compost heap has solid sides in order to keep the warmth in, and don’t turn it more than once Dowding recommends.

Use of slug pellets

When you practice ‘no dig’ gardening, these pellets are unnecessary, says Dowding.

They are also poisonous to hedgehogs and other soil organisms.

Lack of summer sowings

Make sure you’re making use of the whole growing year, says Dowding - sowing isn’t just for spring.

You can sow beetroot in late June, fennel and lettuce in July and rocket as late as early August.

Costly high raised beds

After the process of forking out for wood, membranes and gravel, you might find yourself with a lot of wasted space due to the density of each block of wood, according to Dowding.

Instead, you can create a much lower area by covering the ground you’re earmarking for your vegetables with cardboard and then covering that area with a two inch thick compost mulch.

Dowding says that you don’t need any sort of barrier at all to keep the compost in as it should settle naturally. You can grow vegetables most successfully that year, although you might need to wait a white before you can grow the likes of carrots and parsnips, allowing time for the cardboard, and soil underneath, to break down.

This story originally appeared on our sister title Yorkshire Post