15 Ways You’re Destroying Your Garden
Sometimes, a green thumb isn't always enough.
A lush garden, full of sweet-smelling flowers and delicious vegetables, can instantly boost the curb appeal of any home. But cultivating such a stunning display of plant life is easier said than done. Even for those who consider themselves blessed with a green thumb, there are countless mistakes that can accidentally damage plants and hinder their growth. So, before you make an error that causes any hard-earned plants to wilt and wither, dig into these surprising ways you’re destroying your garden.
Using the wrong tools
You might not think there’s much difference between the tools on the shelf of your average garden store, but not being discerning about that purchase could harm your garden in the long run.
“Using the wrong tools could potentially damage your plants,” says Nick Crowley, owner of The Wonderful Garden Company. “Something which we highly recommend is using bronze garden tools as they are much less damaging to your garden and offer many benefits. Bronze or copper garden tools help to prevent infection of plants, enrich your soil with trace elements, deter slugs and snails, ionize surface water, and help to alkalize the substrate. These are all benefits which you don’t necessarily see from regular garden tools, which could be harming your garden.”
Watering plants when it’s hot outside
You might need more water when it’s hot outside, but watering your plants when the temperature soars is an all-too-common misstep.
“The most common mistake—and one of the most difficult to undo—is watering plants during a sunny day when the temperature is highest,” says Bryan Stoddard, founder of home and garden website Homewares Insider. “In such a situation, the plant may become shocked, and that affects and slows down the growth. When the weather is hot, the water drops will evaporate and will not reach the roots of the plant.”
Think those worms in your garden are destroying your plants? Think again!
“When I used to work in the worm business, I would sometimes listen to customers who thought that garden worms harm their plants. Some would think they eat roots. Others thought they contaminated the soil. Neither are true,” says bug expert Jeff Neal, owner of The Critter Depot. “Garden worms are highly beneficial to lawns and gardens due to their castings (worm poop) and because they aerate the soil, allowing water to reach deep roots.”
His advice? “If you see worms in your soil, don’t kill them. Keep them, and encourage them to populate.”
While you may like the look of a lush garden with no sparse spots, planting too close together can do more harm than good. With root vegetables, overcrowding can hinder a plant’s development. And with plants that grow primarily above ground, overcrowding can mean that taller plants block smaller ones’ access to life-giving sunlight.
Using too much fertilizer
You can have too much of a good thing in your garden, particularly when fertilizer is concerned.
“The most common damage done to a lawn or garden is in the over-application of commercial fertilizers,” says horticulturist Stan Miklis, owner of Texas-based Caliper Farm to Market. “The home owner may erroneously think, ‘If a little does a little good then more will do better.’ Especially the nitrogen will burn and damage the garden… Follow label directions or use an organic fertilizer that breaks down slowly.”
Though plants do need sufficient water to thrive, over-watering them can cause serious damage in a short amount of time. “It is a fine line between keeping your soil moist enough to supply your plants with water and watering so much you drown their roots [and] cause diseases,” says award-winning green designer Pablo Solomon.
Cutting too much of a plant
While pruning plants is necessary to prevent overgrowth, “Cutting too much [or] cutting at the wrong time of year,” can do serious damage to your garden, says Solomon. “Do some research on how, when, and how much a given plant should be pruned.”
Using shears that have recently trimmed a sick plant without washing
Every good gardener trims their plants. But using an unwashed plant trimmer could be the reason your garden is looking lackluster.
“Cutting with tools that you have not cleaned after pruning a diseased plant can result in problems,” says Solomon. To keep your plants as healthy as possible, make sure to rinse your shears when moving between different species in the garden and after trimming diseased plants.
Installing a shed or fence in the wrong spot
Adding shed to your garden may provide you convenient access to your tools, and installing a fence may keep unwanted visitors out, but putting either up in the wrong spot can quickly kill your plants. “Putting up a fence or shed…will put plants in shade that need sun,” says Solomon. To keep shade from killing your sunlight-seeking plants, discuss your plans with a garden expert or landscape architect before you start building.
Taking down trees
Similarly, there are plenty of plants that like a cooler, shadier climate—and removing trees around your property can instantly rob them of the environment they’re most comfortable in. It’s a bad idea to remove “trees or fences that provided shade for plants that cannot survive much sun,” says Solomon. “Some plants are extremely light sensitive one way or the other.”
While judicious use of herbicides can keep weeds at bay, applying them too liberally can leave your garden barren. “In your zeal to avoid hand-weeding by using ‘weed killers,’ you might inadvertently kill plants and trees that you love,” says Solomon.
Relying on your existing soil for adequate nutrients
You may assume that the soil in your garden is already the perfect environment for plants, but in many cases, it doesn’t have the vitamins and minerals required to keep those flowers and vegetables growing strong.
“Do not rely on the ground in the garden and think that it contains all the nutrients you need,” says Stoddard. “Once a week, feed the plants with liquid fertilizer. Put these or similar resources in the ground you want to thrive, and you can always make your own compost.”
Planting high-maintenance plants
If you’re new to keeping a garden, you’d be wise to plant mature plants—and even wiser to avoid high-maintenance ones. “Planting plants from seeds is not an easy job, especially if you are a beginner in gardening,” says Stoddard. “In that case, it is best to get a plant that is easier to grow and over time try your luck with the more demanding ones.”
If you’re skipping mulch, you might be setting your garden up for failure. Mulching your garden can reduce weed growth and deter pests that can keep your plants from thriving.
Not shooing away animals
While it may be cute to see a bunny munching on the veggies in your garden, over time, letting animals take their fill of your plants can have a deleterious effect. In addition to reducing your overall crop yield, letting certain animals roam freely in your garden may put you at risk for harm. For instance, a cat using your garden as a litter box can increase your risk of developing toxoplasmosis, an infection caused by the Toxoplasma gondii parasite, a frequent cause of fatal food-borne illness. And for more ways to make your home look magazine-worthy, steal these 40 Simple Tricks for Boosting Your Home’s Curb Appeal.
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