Often reported vegetable gardening mistakes such as too much or too little water, or planting vegetables in an area with less than full sunlight can cause havoc to the growth of vegetable plants. There are additional gardening mistakes that are just as critical to successful gardening yet are less often mentioned. These three gardening mistakes may reduce successful transplanting of seedlings, cause potential harm to pets or young children, or impact pollination as well as the moisture level needed to produce a robust harvest. Solutions are offered to help avoid repeats or hazards from these gardening mistakes.
1. Starting seeds indoors too soon
I’ll admit it, I started seeds indoors too early twice, once because I was too eager to get the garden started and once because I wanted to test seeds leftover from the previous year to see if they would grow (and most did). For the best success rate, seedlings should be planted when they are small, which might be less that 6 inches tall. If vegetable seedlings are left in the planting flat too long, they struggle to spread and establish a root system within the small cubicles. If you are less than one to two weeks away from the proper frost-free planting time, keep the seedlings in their small containers and ensure the soil never dries. If the safe planting time is more than two weeks off, the seedlings can be transplanted to a larger container where the roots can expand.
Pots or biodegradable planting containers like those created from newspaper that are at least twice the diameter of the seedlings current container should provide sufficient growing room. Start with new potting soil. Gently remove the seedling from its current container. A table knife may be an easy tool to lift the seedling. Create a like-size hole in the larger container, slide the seedling in, and then gently push the soil around the stem. Several seedlings can be planted in a large pot, spaced 2 to 4 inches apart. A water soluble fertilizer can be used according to the manufacturer’s. Water carefully, keeping the soil moist. To avoid seedlings growing too large indoors, check with your local County Extension Service or the internet for the proper outdoor planting date in your area. Subtract about two weeks from the date to start the seeds indoors.
2. Planting vegetables dangerous in the presence of small children or pets
Not intended to scare but rather to make parents aware that certain vegetable plants, like potato sprouts and green-skinned potatoes, and tomato vines and green tomatoes can be dangerous if eaten. Potatoes may turn green before or after harvesting if exposed to sunlight. The green portion of the potato skin, which contains an alkaloid called solanine, can be cut off, making the potato safe to eat according to the University of Illinois Extension Service. Tomatoes start green in their growth process. Though green tomatoes are not safe to eat raw, green tomatoes are safe to eat after frying.
Placing a fence around the entire garden or at least around the potatoes and tomatoes may prevent small children and pets from reaching the green portions of these plants. Infants in particular like to place non-edible things in their mouth. If you suspect your child or pet has ingested the green portion of potato or tomato plants, seek medical attention.
3. Planting in rows instead of blocks
If planting a large garden of the same vegetable, planting in rows is acceptable. However, many gardeners plant only a packet of the same vegetable. Instead of planting a long row of one vegetable, plant several side-by-side short rows to create a block. This is particularly important for the successful pollination of sweet corn. Planting in blocks can make harvest time easier. Blocks of plants, like a crazy quilt design, are also pleasing to see.
Take planting in blocks one step further. Plant similar families of vegetables near one another. The Colorado State University Extension suggests cucumber and squash as companion vegetable plants. Setting plant families in blocks can aid in watering, where plants like beans or carrots need more water than squash or cucumber.