Rows and rows of beautiful, lush, and vibrant vegetables is what dreams are made of. Plucking your own juicy tomatoes with fresh cut lettuce and bright corn right off the stalk is picturesque (not to mention delicious). But too often, many of us end up with tomatoes that look more like prunes, a few stalks of bug-ridden corn and maybe a wilted lettuce leaf.

Vegetable gardens require tender loving care, an attention to nature, and the right elements to produce bountiful crops. If your gardens are producing less than ideal harvests, you may be to blame. Common mistakes lead to poor outcomes in gardens across America. Check for these common mistakes explained by the best in the business.

The Farmers Almanac is always a good source for help in the Garden, they explain three of the top reasons why your garden may fail before it even begins:

over planting garden

1. Overcrowding

Plants need space! They aren’t happy being too close together. If this happens, their root systems can’t actually develop and everyone is competing for water and nutrients in the soil. “The solution is to only grow your plants at the recommended spacing shown on the seed packet. If you have poor soil it’s a good idea to leave a little extra space too.”

2. Ignoring Nature

“Pests are an inevitable part of vegetable gardening, and the routine use of pesticides isn’t the answer. Instead, work with nature to outwit them. Mix in several different flowers to attract beneficial insects such as hoverflies so that, when pests descend, these natural predators will control them without you having to lift a finger.”

3. Planting Everything at the Same Time

“Planting out all your tender crops at once can be disastrous if there’s an unexpected late frost, or imagine transplanting your whole crop of pea seedlings outdoors only to have birds or slugs eat every last one!” Instead, Farmer’s Almanac recommends sowing seeds in smaller batches every couple of weeks. This way you have a backup option if necessary, and your harvest period lasts longer.

The experts at Better Homes & Gardens also have extensive experience with growing their own vegetables and helping others to do the same. They see 10 common pitfalls, but a few of them are the most frequently found:

home gardening with women

4. You’re too excited.

Planting early is a big problem for eager gardeners, but if you plant before temperatures stable out from winter, you’ll ruin tender crops. Tomato, cucumber, melon, peppers can’t survive below 65 degrees. Protect them thoroughly, or wait for warm weather.  

5. Watering issues.

Sometimes it’s hard to actually tell how much water your plants are getting. BH&G recommends a rain guage to monitor rainfall and a drip irrigation system to make up the difference.

6. Lack of Sunshine.

It really is true that all plants need is water and sunshine, but too much (or too little) of either one can also be harmful. If your plants aren’t getting at least 6 hours in full sunlight, they’ll have trouble producing bountiful foods.

7. Poor Cleaning Crew

Gardener weeding flowerbed. (Photo by: Eye Ubiquitous/UIG via Getty Images)

Nature isn’t without it’s foes. Weeds and pests can take advantage of your delicate plantings and destroy your crops. You need to care for your garden as you would any other vulnerable plant by weeding regularly and inspecting carefully for pests. Even just one mature weed can cause problems for years.

8. Bland Soil

All plants need good soil, but food crops especially need improved soil elements. It takes a lot of nutrients to create nutritious food. Improve your soil with several inches of compost or your harvest will suffer. It’s best to do this in the spring right before planting. You can also amend your soil with compost every time you sow or harvest a new cop by just sprinkling new granules around the plants.

Sometimes the best way to learn about increasing your harvest is to talk to other gardeners in your area about what has worked for them, or common problems in your area. Here are a few talking points you might want to consider.

9. What to plant

garden planning

There are some things that simply won’t grow in certain areas. Carrots don’t like clay soils, cabbage is subject to a lot of pests in humidity. Sometimes, it’s best to know what to outsource to the farmer’s market and what you can grow yourself. If your favorite vegetables don’t grow well in your area, try something new, but don’t plant things you don’t like. No one wants to eat turnips all winter just because they grow well.

10. Garden Diaries

The best gardeners keep a detailed diary about what they planted, when was the first harvest, when was the last harvest, what did well, and most importantly, how did it taste? If you can compare notes with other gardeners, you’ll be twice as prepared next year.

11. Overdoing it

A lot of gardeners will overplant and just spread as many seeds as they can to cast a wide net and hope something grow. Planting too much is a problem for several reasons. First, a lot of plants is a lot of work. Second, plants don’t like to be crowded. The Spruce recommends a 10×10 foot garden to start out, with a handful of plants you really enjoy eating. Learn how to grow them well and expand from there.

garden harvest basket

12. Missing the Harvest

Thriving plants are eager to produce fruit, but many gardeners miss their prime opportunity. For some, they aren’t paying attention and for others, it’s pure laziness. Gardening isn’t for procrastinators, it’s for planners. You have to tend to your garden carefully and when Mother Nature calls, it’s harvest time no matter what. If you miss your harvest window, you’ll be kicking yourself all year.

Like all gardening, growing amazing vegetables takes experience, practice, and a lot of trial and error. If you can get a few good fruits on your first try, that is an amazing success. Plants are uncooperative and weather is unpredictable, and getting the two to work together isn’t always easy. Keep at it and you’ll be rewarded with the bountiful harvest you’ve worked hard for.

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