How to avoid common summer gardening disasters

Shannon Lee | Improvement Center Columnist | June 23, 2015

When you are dealing with Mother Nature, some disasters are unavoidable. That's especially true in the garden, where your tender plants are at the mercy of the wind, sun, rain, and much more. But by avoiding the most common mistakes of the novice gardener, you just might wind up with gorgeous blooms, huge flowers, tasty vegetables and a garden that is the envy of all your neighbors. Start with these green-thumb ideas.

  1. Plan out the garden space. Keep in mind that each type of plant might require different amounts of water, sunlight, and care. Choose a sunny spot, but consider: Are you going to plant flowers or veggies that need partial shade? Your best bet is a garden spot that has sun for many hours during the day, but also has a shady area for plants that are a bit less fond of the UV rays.
  2. Consider the enemy. One of the leading causes of garden disasters is the critter who enjoys your garden just as much as you do. You might be plagued with groundhogs, gophers, mice, birds, bugs of all kinds, and of course, deer -- all of whom absolutely love the tender goodies in your young garden. To avoid handing over all your hard work, look into plants that are naturally resistant to the critters.
  3. Choose the right time. You planted tomatoes and the plants were beautiful, but bore no fruit! What happened? They might have been planted at the wrong time. Tomatoes don't like nights that drop below 55 degrees but they also hate days that rise above 70 degrees, so you can imagine how tough it can be to find the right window of time in which to plant. Avoiding this gardening disaster means paying careful attention to the weather.
  4. Choke out weeds. Even the most avid gardener hates pulling weeds. It's messy, hard work, and missing a few days can lead to a jungle instead of a garden. To avoid this, lay down garden sheeting or layers of newspaper before putting down mulch. Simply cut a hole through the sheeting or newspaper and place individual plants through it. The weeds will still come up, but they will take much longer.
  5. Plant to protect. Tired of aphids raiding your garden and leaving you with nothing? This year, plant generous amounts of dill, spearmint, sweet fennel, and parsley all around the garden. These great-smelling plants attract ladybugs, which then dine on the aphids. Got other pest problems? There is always a great flower or herb to counteract potential invaders. For instance, a few bushes of cucumbers can ward off ants.
  6. Use serious compost. Forget just dropping your seeds into any old soil. Good, healthy compost is a necessity if you intend to have a beautiful garden of vegetables, flowers, or both. In the beginning, you can purchase compost from a local gardening center. In the meantime, get to work on creating your own. A good compost bucket, vegetable scraps from the kitchen, some dead leaves and maybe shredded newspaper -- mix it all together and you're well on your way to good compost next year.
  7. Plant in grids. If you are planting a vegetable garden, you might be tempted to plan in neat rows, like you have seen on so many farms. But this only works well for certain plants, such as corn, that can spread their pollen far and wide. For a smaller garden, plan on planting in grids, so the plants can pollinate in a small section, giving you better yields. Want to try something even more innovative? Get vertical.

It can be impossible to prevent all gardening disasters. Sometimes bad things will just happen, such as a run of terrible weather, a late killing frost that takes out all your plants, or a sudden invasion by pests that decimates all your flowers in the span of a single evening. But if you stick to the tried-and-true tips for a great garden, you can avoid some of the most common disasters and keep a healthy "green thumb" reputation.

Photo credit to Kevin Irby

About the Author

Shannon Lee is a freelance writer and occasional novelist with a serious weakness for real estate. When she's not writing, she and her husband are taking road trips to explore covered bridges, little wineries and quaint bed-and-breakfast inns in their beloved Pennsylvania.