April 2013 Newsletter (vol.17)   >>   10 Common Mistakes Beginners Make

1. Overwatering their plants

Result: Leaves turn yellow and begin dropping. Plant rots or simply dies.


Horticulturists know that overwatering a plant will kill it much faster than under watering it, but beginner gardeners have no idea. They often mistake the symptoms of overwatering as under watering and continue to drown their plants. They know that water is essential to plant survival, so more should be better, right…? Wrong!


Combat this by selling moisture meters and or rain gauges with your nursery stock. Advise your customers to feel the soil before just assuming the plant needs water and have them create a regular watering schedule.


2. Planting too deeply

Result: The roots rot and are smothered. The plant slowly dies or they drown if watered too much.


Roots need air to breathe, but when they’re buried 6’ under that is impossible. Many beginning gardeners think they need to plant the tree/shrub either at ground level or they don’t account for settling.


Have planting guides printed out by the register for customers to take with them. Educate your customers! Teach them to plant trees and shrubs so that the root ball is slightly above the soil line to create a mounding effect. Dig the hole three times wider than the root ball and back fill with a mixture of the native soil and amended soil then cover with mulch to help retain moisture. Plant a $2 plant in a $10 hole!


3. Over fertilizing

Result: Plants grow too fast, do not produce blooms or fruit, becomes susceptible to disease, and may suffer from fertilizer burn. All of this in addition to wasting money and possibly polluting water.


Beginners commonly associate fertilizer as “plant food”; more is better! This tends to be the general consensus with beginner gardeners when it comes to fertilizers. Suggest a fertilizer specific for their application. A slow release fertilizer, such as osmocote , is ideal in case they do over apply as these types of fertilizers will not burn the plant.


4. Not Reading the label

Result: No results at all, adverse effects to the plant, possible human/pet harm.


Readying the label is a necessary step to prevent harm to the plant, yourself, or pets/animals. Even though it is not the most riveting reading, it is important to ensure that you will get the results you’re looking for. Read and follow the directions carefully and do not adopt the “more is better” attitude.


5. Pruning flowering trees & shrubs at the wrong time

Result: No blooms or fruit


Some plants produce blooms on new growth while others produce blooms on growth from the previous year. Pruning at the incorrect time for the plant could cut off blooms/fruit for the upcoming season. A good rule of thumb is to prune trees/shrubs that bloom winter through May (Azaleas, forsythias, redbuds, cherries) in late spring or early summer after they have bloomed for the season. Prune any trees/shrubs that bloom after May (crepe myrtle, rose-of-sharon, butterfly bush) in late winter or early spring. Again, having a plant care guide at the register is very helpful or, better yet, offer a maintenance program so the customers don’t have to do it themselves.


6. Mowing too short

Result: A weedy lawn that requires a lot of water and fertilizer.


Just because you cut your lawn really short doesn’t mean you’ll have to mow less often. Maintaining very short mow heights on a golf course works great, but they invest a lot of time and money into their program. It is not recommended to cut more than 1/3 of the height in one cutting. This stresses the turf creating an opportunity for weeds and disease to take over and unfortunately weeds are much more adaptive than turf and can acclimate to very short mowing heights.


Cut your lawn at the recommended heights based upon the variety.

  • Turf-type tall fescue & Kentucky bluegrass: 2-3”

  • Zoysia & Bermuda: ½”-1 ½”


7. Using too many colors/textures in the landscape

Result: The landscape/garden looks very busy and loses impact


Planting just one of every different kind of plant is not recommended for a landscape or garden. It is very distracting and does not help accomplish what the planting is intended to do: provide focal and flow. We’ve all driven past a house and said, “yep, they tried to landscape themselves”. You can tell a difference between a professionally installed landscape and a do-it-yourself.


Get the most bang for your buck by designing in masses, focus on one or two colors, and consider what the plants will look like in all of the seasons.


8. Planting shade trees in the wrong location

Result: Possible concrete/structure damage due to roots, increased expenses at maturity for tree trimming.


The most common mistake is homeowners planting large shade trees between the sidewalk and curb in residential neighborhoods. Although they look great in the beginning, eventually they grow too large and the roots crack the sidewalk. This leads right into the next mistake: overcrowding.


9. Overcrowding; not selecting the correct plant for the location.

Result: Increased maintenance, growth stunting, and eventual death.


Plan for the size of the plant at maturity, not the current size. Overcrowding can affect a landscape much sooner than you think and as plants grow the conditions may change. What may have been full sun at planting may become partial shade/shade in a couple years due to canopy growth.


Be sure to educate your customers of the overall size of plants. Draw a quick sketch to visually see what the landscape will look like at maturity. If instant gratification is desired then sell more mature plants or add a maintenance program for the customer.


10. Not identifying the pest

Result: Absolutely nothing or you could make the problem worse.


When you’re sick do you just take any medication to hope it cures the problem? No, so why would you handle pests any differently? You could be wasting your hard earned money and getting absolutely no resolution, meanwhile the pest population is continually growing.


If you cannot identify the pest yourself, take a picture or a sample to your local garden center or extension office. Most garden centers will happily diagnose the problem and be able to recommend a solution.