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The G Word

The G team blog on all things green

10 beginner gardener mistakes to avoid

planting tomatoes

Credit: iStockphoto

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I'll be honest with you, my thumb is about as green as downtown LA. But I finally decided to take the leap earlier this year, determined to have better tasting food and a smaller footprint.

Being a beginner gardener with the added challenge of being green, I learnt a lot of things the hard way - and I'm still learning!

If you're thinking about your first vegie patch, or a pot of lettuce on your balcony, don't make these mistakes:

  1. Not preparing the soil

    Plants like soil rich in organic matter that doesn't drain to quickly. (Unless it is an Australian native!) All the water/worm juice/Seasol won't make a difference if there is no organic matter in the soil for it to hang on to.

    Chickens are best the best solution, as their poo provides nutrients for the soil. Dynamic Lifter, cow manure and compost can work almost as well.

  2. Biting off more than you can chew

    It's best to start out with the easy-to-grow plants, such as lettuce, spinach, onions, squash, parsley, beans or tomatoes. Plus these are used all the time, so sow new spinach every couple of weeks for a constant supply.

  3. Sowing at the wrong time

    In retrospect, this was a particularly dumb thing for me to do. Plants are extremely sensitive to temperature. If you have no idea about sowing or harvesting times, try what I did: subscribe to a newsletter from www.gardenate.com, which tells you what you should plant over the next couple of weeks.

  4. Paying a lot for poor-quality plants

    Ask around for plants from neighbours or friends - they'll be well looked after, there'll be no packaging and no transport miles. They'll be better looked after than your typical store plants - and they're free!

  5. Not planning

    Figure out which areas of your yard get sun before you buy, and take into consideration how much shade tall plants (like tomatoes) will provide.

    My hard and fast rule is if you grow a plant for its fruit or root, stick it in the sun. If you eat the leaves, then the shade is fine.

  6. Overcrowding

    Don't forget to give each plant some space to grow. If you do end up with too many, put one in a spare pot and give it to a friend - they might be encouraged to take up gardening as well.

  7. Sowing an entire packet of seeds

    All you need is a couple of plants, not an entire packet of them! Just use a pinch or two, then save the rest for next year. Or share a packet with your friends and neighbours. Even better, go to old-fashioned garden shops where you can buy the seed loose, and avoid buying more than you need!

  8. Replanting too deep

    After replanting the soil, the level should be the same as before, or even a little lower - otherwise diseases can fester. Also, make sure budding leaves are not covered.

  9. Not pruning

    You can pick the flowers off some herbs, such as basil and chives, to prolong their lives and keep producing tasty food. Also, make sure you remove the bottom branches of tomato plants so they grow tall and don't leave rotting fruit on the ground.

  10. Getting upset when stuff dies

    My first foray into gardening involved lovingly watering sunflowers and trying to keep them pest free.

    A month later they were dead. The whole thing disheartened me. But a little later I leant this is normal for a lot of plants.

    Annual plants grow quickly, flower and then die, just like my sunflowers. You're probably also familiar with perennial plants - these stick around for years, flowering once a year but usually for a shorter period of time.

    Then there are biennial plants, which put down all their roots in the first year, but flower and die in the second season.

And remember, if something doesn't go the way you planned, it's just another good opportunity to compost.

-- Jacqui Hayes