Strolling through a garden center is like walking through a candy store. There are so many beautiful colors and scents that it’s almost impossible to walk away from the most tempting assortments. Even the most seasoned gardener will sometimes venture into the “should not plant” zone. Beginners are especially prone to purchasing plants that are not likely to thrive because of some very basic gardening mistakes. Experts at several area garden centers agree on some basic problems when it comes to gardening. Granted they all specify that there are many variables when it comes to gardening. There are vegetable and flower gardens, as well as raised gardens and container gardens. They all require different types of attention. Still, certain problems kept coming up high on the list of the most common gardening mistakes.
Watering is a real problem for gardeners. Jane Glader, nursery manager for Benedicts’s Home and Garden in Monroe, explained, “Watering is the key to life.” Depending on what you are planting, you need to know how often and how much to water. “There are some products to help with keeping plants moist,” she said, referring to everything from moisture control potting soils and pretty glass watering bulbs and globes. “Timers on sprinklers also help the garden.” She also noted that it is important to get the roots developed well. “And don’t forget the importance of weather, soil types, and the amount of light necessary for gardens,” she added.
Eugene Reelick, owner of Hollandia Nurseries in Bethel, believes in starting with a good foundation for your garden. “You must prepare the soil properly, which means you need to know the pH value,” he stated. “Soil pH is the measure of acidity or alkalinity. What always amazes me is that people will spend hundreds of dollars on plants, but won’t spend $10 to send a soil sample to UConn or Cornell. They’ll analyze if for you so there’s no guessing.”
He, too, stressed the importance of proper watering: “Irrigation is key. Soak it well; let it dry, and then soak it again. Follow Mother Nature’s example. She soaks the earth thoroughly, then lets it dry out.”
“Gardeners are a very enthusiastic bunch,” said Jeffrey Deorio, vice president of Reynolds Farms Nursery and Country Garden Center in Norwalk. “They enjoy the peace of mind gardening can bring. While it is very uplifting and good for the soul, there are some missteps that should be avoided.”
Mulching is one of Deorio’s biggest concerns: “Mulching provides many benefits to plants and trees. It helps retain water, suppress weed growth, keep weed trimmers at bay from damaging stems, and adds organic matter to the soil over time. However, too much mulch can be a problem…when we think more is better, the trouble begins.”
Too much mulch can actually prevent water from getting to the soil, according to Deorio, as the mulch acts like a repellant, and plants become very dry. Plant roots can also suffocate from excessive buildup of mulch. All plants need air to survive, so go easy.
“The best practice is to keep mulch away from stems, and only lightly covering the soil below the plants spread,” Deorio advised, “and try to avoid creating tree volcanos, which occur when mulch is added to a point where it looks like the tree is sprouting from a volcano. This can suffocate roots and harbor voles and other pests, slowly killing the tree. Remember, less is more.”
Reelick addresses the issue of deer, a concern for many area gardeners: “It’s important to know which plants the deer will eat and which ones they will avoid, and there are various sprays, and even plants, that will help keep the deer away. Always go to the professionals.”
Deer are not the only predators — Rabbits, chipmunks, moles, and insects can also destroy a garden. Homeowners must be vigilant and protect their gardens. Sometimes a spray will do, but often a fence will be required. The plants’ health must also be monitored. Look closely to make sure there are no yellow spots or other unusual signs. Many an insect has found a plant to be the perfect place to lay its eggs, and the host plant will surely pay the price.
Location, the experts agree, is also key. “It all comes down to location when planning a garden,” Reelick said. “Sometimes people don’t notice the obvious. When you pick a location, do it when there are leaves on the trees so you’ll know the amount of sun and shade, which will directly affect your gardens, in that area.”
Kris Barker, president and owner of The Gardener’s Center and Florist in Darien, agreed that “not choosing the right plant for the right place is a big mistake. All plants have a mature height and width that they will achieve. Respect that,” he said, adding that it’s a common mistake to plant plants too close, which will likely cause root and light competition. “Plus, it just looks silly,” he notes. Another piece of advice from Barker: “Keep mulch away from the crown of plants, where too much moisture can cause moisture and disease,” he explained.
Light is also a key factor in promoting a healthy garden. Underestimating full sun conditions, especially for vegetable gardens, is a problem.”The most common vegetable plants need at least 6 – 8 hours of direct of sun,” Barker contended.
Because we live in Fairfield County, it’s important to know that we can’t always rely on the weather. There are times when we get too much rain and that can ruin as many gardens as a drought can — especially if homeowners don’t water enough during the dry spells. Keeping invasive plants and weeds out of the garden is also crucial. There’s no room for laziness in gardening. Just remember that there are gardening experts as nearby as your local garden center. Take advantage of their advice.