11 garden mistakes that will cost you $$$

It's almost time to plant the garden! Can you tell I'm excited? I love this time of year when I'm deciding what to plant this time and looking back on my past harvests. Unfortunately I've made some gardening mistakes over the years, and it's cost me some serious cash. I did learn from my mistakes though so that's what I want to talk about today.

money saving garden hacks

First though, I need to tell you the story of the Summer of Kohlrabi. I bring this up now because it was a costly mistake, and because I mention it in my post on deciding what you should plant in your garden. That's a pretty popular post this time of year and is getting read a lot. A few different people have asked me about this story recently, so here it is: 

(skip down to the bold type if you want to just get to the garden mistakes!) 


I had just moved here in 2009 and this was going to be my first garden in about 10 years that could be as big as I wanted. My neighbor Peggy told me how she grows kohlrabi and how good it is. She told me how she cooks it and went on and on about it. I had never grown it before but I looked it up and quickly became enamored with it. It looks like a radish and kind of grows like one too, but she said it tastes more like a cabbage. 

So I decided that I need 3 packs of seedlings since it was too late to start it from seed. Each pack had 6 plants in it. This seemed like a conservative number at the time! I planted them the appropriate distance apart according to the tag which seemed silly because radish type plants don't get that big, but whatever.

Well, they did get that big. They were about the size of baseballs. They weren't as yummy as she said and I had 18 of them ready all at once! We tried to eat them...really we did, but gave up about 5 days in. The rest of the kohlrabi got so woody and hard that I couldn't even chop them up for the chickens! They ended up being tossed in the woods where even the wild deer and rabbits didn't eat them. 

So that is why you need to ask yourself my 8 questions while planning your garden. So you don't end up throwing away a dozen baseball sized, cabbage flavored, radish, root things. Incidentally, that was the last time I ever grew kohlrabi! lol

Garden  mistakes that will cost you lots of money


Planting too many plants: Plan your garden with the full grown plant in mind. Calculate how much space it will take up when it's at its peak. You can fit a lot of seedlings in a small space, but they won't thrive without ample room to grow. Trying to fit plants too close together is just wasting money since the plants won't produce to their true capacity. Also consider your time. If you can only spend a few minutes a week in your garden then you'll get better results with a small garden than a large one.

Frugal gardening harvest

Plants for the wrong zone: Make sure anything you plant has time to mature and produce within  your growing season. Find your hardiness zone and first and last frost dates to determine how long you'll have in your growing season. Even if you're buying your plants locally they may not be optimal for your zone. Nurseries are a business and many of them will sell whatever people will buy. 

Besides, how do they know that you don't have a giant sunroom in your house for that meyer lemon tree to live in year round? Planting for your growing zone keeps you from throwing money away on plants that can't produce well in your climate, or on perennials that won't make it through winter.

Planting vegetables that you won't eat: There is no use growing something you won't eat. It takes up space and time, plus the expense of the plants or seeds. Don't grow tomatoes just because everyone grows tomatoes. If you don't really like to eat them, your better of using that space to grow something you do like and buying or bartering for the 1 or 2 tomatoes you'll actually use.

Not reading tags: You can buy the right plants, but put them in the wrong places and they won't grow right at all! Read plant tags and seed packets to determine where to plant each item. It will say whether the plant prefers full sun, part sun, full shade etc. You'll want to make a sun map of your garden so you know what parts of your garden get the most and least sun. It's also important to note the expected height of a plant. For instance a pepper plant will grow tall enough to cast shade on onions if the sun falls on the other side. 

Not trying to attract pollinators: Few plants self-pollinate so you're gonna need some help with this matter unless you want to be out there with a paintbrush doing it yourself? Trust me...you don't! Attract bees, butterflies and other pollinators to your garden instead. They'll be happy to do the dirty work for you and you benefit by getting higher yields per plant! It can be as easy as planting colorful flowers like marigolds in between your vegetable plants.

butterfly on flower in vegetable garden

Buying seeds for things you grow every year: Quit buying seeds and start saving seeds! Flower seeds are especially easy to save, but many vegetables are very easy also. I've been growing beans for 10 years and only bought one pack of seeds in the beginning. Some seeds like tomatoes have a process to saving their seeds, but most other are as simple as picking out, drying and storing the seeds till next year. 

Check this out: My friend Anna made a seed packet template you can print out and make your own seed packs. Definitely do this so you don't lose track of what you saved! 

Expensive mulch: The sad truth about mulch is that it may look pretty this season but if it doesn't break down quickly enough, you'll be fighting with it next season! Skip the bags of tree bark and shredded wood and opt for something free or cheap instead. I like to mulch with grass clippings which are free after I cut the grass. You can put down newspapers first to keep even the worst weeds at bay. 

Don't skip the mulch completely though! Mulch helps the soil to stay moist longer after watering, helps prevent weeds, protects the soul from harsh weather and helps plant roots stay cooler in the summer heat. Just pick something inexpensive and with smaller pieces that will break down quickly like grass or straw.

Buying weed barrier fabric: This may be just my personal experience but these are definitely not worth the money! Weed barrier plastics work well, but the fabric just seems to catch weed seeds and give them a place to grow through. They're impossible to get out so then you have to pull it up to get rid of the weeds. (see picture) Now you're throwing it away and the ground is exposed for more weeds to grow. Put down some cardboard instead. Wet it, hold it down with rocks, or cover it with straw or cut grass to get it to stay in place. 

Weed fabric removed from garden and covered in weeds

Watering wrong: Whether it's over watering or underwatering, either one can cause your garden to fail. Make sure you read the plant tags or seed packets for proper watering. I like to group my plants that like heavy water in one area and the ones that need watered less in another. Don't forget to water from near the ground, not way above the plant! 

Buying fertilizers: First of all most store bought fertilizers are basically a chemical soup and there's no need to put all that on your food. Secondly, you probably have everything you need to make your own fertilizers at home, and most of them will be free and organic! Check out this post on 8 liquid fertilizers you can make. Make sure you add a good bit of compost in the hole when you plant for a natural boost. 

Letting the harvest go to waste: The first problem is that many people plant their entire garden at once which means you'll have all 6 broccoli plants ready to harvest within the same week. The entire carrot bed will be ready at the same time. And zucchinis? They'll be coming out your ears for at least 3 weeks. lol

To prevent this, stagger your planting. This is super easy if you're planting from seed but gets a little tricky when you're buying plants from the nursery. I start a few seeds indoors or buy a few plants from the nursery then direct sow the rest when I plant my garden. That way my second harvest is several weeks behind my first.

You'll also need to plan for vacations and preservation. If you're not going to be around for a week, ask a neighbor to pop in and check the garden and let them help themselves to some ripe produce. It's better to give away a few things than to attract rabbits, squirrels and deer when food starts rotting on the vine. 

Also get a preservation plan in place so you can save your harvest for later...because believe me, you will be sick of tomatoes in a month. I have an entire Pinterest Board of Preservation ideas. Check it out and save some pins to use when the harvest gets overwhelming!

Frugal gardening tips for the backyard gardener.

Now of course there are other mistakes you can make in your garden, but these are the mostly costly ones. Happy planting!

Related reading: Want more information on organic gardening? Check out this collection of articles on gardening.

~L

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