8 Things NOT to Do In the Vegetable Garden

8 Things Not to Do In the Vegetable Garden

Whether you are just starting your first vegetable garden, or have been growing for decades you are bound to make mistakes.

I know I make oodles of mistakes each year.

Some are new mistakes, but for some reason I repeat old mistakes every now and then.

I have made enough mistakes over the years I could probably fill another complete website full of my vegetable garden follies.

Fortunately, through my mistakes I have learned what to do and what not to do in a bunch of situations.

Here are eight things NOT to do in the vegetable garden along with an extra bonus tip at the end.

Do Not Over Fertilize

Many new vegetable gardeners may get the idea that really slapping on the fertilizer will help the plant grow even more. And the more fertilizer you use, the bigger and better the plant will get.

Avoid Over Fertilizing VegetablesWell, after many a burned and stunted plant I finally learned that when it comes to fertilizer more is not better.

Fertilizers should really only be used when there is a nutrient deficiency in the soil. Plants are going to only take up nutrients as they need them, and any others that are added to the soil will only go to waste. This is especially true when it comes to nitrogen.

Sure, there are some plants that will benefit from a small dosage of fertilizer, such as corn, and organic amendments like compost are always a good bet.

Do Not Use Synthetic Fertilizers

Staying with the fertilizer rant, avoid using synthetic fertilizers, such as Miracle-Gro.

Miracle-Gro is a chemical fertilizer that is not helpful at all to your vegetable garden. This is especially true if you want organic vegetables.

If you have used, or are still using fertilizers like Miracle-Gro, don’t poke your bottom lip out.

I think every gardener at some point have used the “Blue Stuff O’ Death” at one time or another especially when first starting out.

I’m not hugely proud of it, but I did use Miracle-Gro when I first started gardening. I used it because Miracle-Gro was all I knew at the time.

The problem with the Miracle-Gro plague is you find it everywhere.

Walk into a Lowe’s, Home Depot, or Wal-Mart Garden Center and the shelves are lined with nothing but Miracle-Gro and other synthetic fertilizers. This is where most of us shop when looking for gardening supplies, so it’s easy to think that’s what you are supposed to use.

It’s not.

Throw those bottles of synthetic fertilizers away and opt for creating your own organic compost, use earthworm castings, fish and seaweed emulsions, and leaf mold instead.

In fact, if you use these amendments you can reduce, or even eliminate the need for fertilizers all together. Your vegetable garden will grow ten times better and be far more healthy.

Do Not Plant In Too Much Shade

Planting vegetables in a shady area is a really big no-no. There are a handful of veggies that do not mind a little shade, such as lettuces and peas, but most vegetables need at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight in order to thrive. Less than that and you could end up with underperforming plants.

Shade is something I battle with every year because I have two huge maple trees in my backyard. Luckily, these trees shade a section of my vegetable garden during the hottest times of the day – between 11 am and 4 pm.

Unfortunately, I planted my first (and second) 100 sq ft garden in complete shade. It resulted in a rather disappointing outcome growing only three tomatoes from two plants, and two banana peppers from one plant.

If you are starting your first vegetable garden make sure to watch the sun throughout the season to find the area that gets the best sunlight. It’s better to check the sunlight in the spring, summer, and fall because what is sunny in early spring might be shaded in summer once the trees have filled with leaves.

Do Not Forget to Amend the Soil

We are going to step back a minute to compost. I mentioned previously about using compost, earthworm castings, and other organic amendments for your vegetable garden.

Amend Garden Soil with Plenty of CompostThere’s a saying in gardening that goes something like this, “Feed the soil so it feeds the plants”.

This is extremely important and should be embedded in your gardener brain. If you start out with vibrant, healthy soil you will grow vibrant, healthy plants.

Let me say that again.

If you start out with vibrant, healthy soil you will grow vibrant, healthy plants.

I just can’t say that enough.

Amending your soil in the spring, throughout the season, and in the fall with copious amounts of organic matter is the absolute best thing you can ever do for your garden. When it comes to compost and other soil amendments you really want to pile it on.

With adding compost, more is better.

Do Not Over Water

Just like over fertilizing, over watering is a very common mistake many gardeners make.

When I started my very first tomato plant I watered that poor thing to death – literally.

I would grab the water hose and water and water and water. Then, I’d water again. I did this every single day because I thought if I really socked the water to it the plant would grow like gangbusters.

It did grow well …. for a little while.

Then after a few weeks of the water onslaught it all of a sudden died. I dug it up and took the whole plant to a friend of mine who told me it had root rot. I had watered the thing so much that the roots of the plant actually died.

Keep in mind that most vegetables need about an inch of water per week. A good rule to remember is to keep the soil consistently moist, but not soggy.

I like to use the “finger check” method to see if a plant needs water. Simply take your finer and stick it in the soil about an inch or two deep. If the soil feels dry to the touch, water the plants. If the soil feels moist, do not water and re-check again the next day.

If you want to get fancy you can purchase a soil moisture meter to help determine whether the soil is moist or not.

I always recommend mulching around plants. You can use straw, dried grass clippings, unfinished compost, dried leaves, or non-colored bark mulches as an excellent mulch for the vegetable garden.

A thick layer of mulch will help conserve soil moisture and even help keep weeds from getting out of hand.

Do Not Plant Seedlings Too Deep… Except Tomatoes

Tomatoes are the only vegetable that you can actually plant deep. I made the mistake of planting some cucumbers deep so only the top two leaves were above ground.

A week later, I was re-planting cucumbers because the first two died. Every vegetable except tomatoes should be transplanted so the soil line of the seedling is level with the soil line of the garden.

Tomatoes are the rare exception because the tiny hairs found on the stem of the plant will actually form roots. Planting the tomatoes deep will cause the plant to grow a bigger, stronger root system.

So, when transplanting vegetables into the garden make sure to keep the soil lines the same, except for tomatoes.

Do Not Start Out Too Big

Once you get the gardening bug it is difficult to restrain yourself from wanting to go full bore and plant an expansive vegetable garden. The temptation is great.

The temptation was so great for me that I went all out my third year of gardening, and it was too much. I was completely overwhelmed by everything.

Keeping up with weeds, watering, mulching, tending to the plants, trying to figure out what bug was eating this and what’s these yellow spots on the leaves, and what do I do about this powdery mildew ….on and on.

Stop the insanity! I was in way over my head.

If you are just starting your first garden resist the urge to plant a huge garden right off the bat. Start with a few easy plants like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, green beans, or lettuces.

Once you start getting comfortable growing those vegetables, expand on to a couple more vegetables. As your experience and confidence grows, start diving into more difficult vegetable to grow, like broccoli or Brussels sprouts.

Avoid growing a huge garden during your first at-bat. Doing so can lead to you becoming overwhelmed and frustrated.

Do Not Use Broad Spectrum Pesticides

Insect pests can be down right trifling when they start their endless pursuit of destroying your precious vegetables. You spend a lot of time, blood, sweat, and tears just for some little winged thing to come along and mess it all up!

Spotted Cucumber BeetleThat’s when it becomes far too easy to run to Lowe’s and buy the most potent pesticide known to man and just start spraying it around like Rambo.

The problem with this is that you may end up killing the nasty insect that wreaking havoc, but you are also killing the beneficial insects like bees, ladybugs and lacewings that might be visiting your garden.

You could also be coating your plants with the awful chemicals and ingesting them later down the road when you are enjoying that first fresh salad from your garden.

When ever you come across a pest issue it is important to identify the culprit first. Once you have the pest named then you can come up with selective means of deterring, or eliminating, the pest from your garden.

You want to use a method that targets that pest and that pest alone so that you do not harm any potential helpers in your garden. Many times there is an organic solution for dealing with a pest that is much better for the health of your garden, and your family.

Bonus Tip: Do Not Step On Seedlings

Not stepping on your seedlings sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? Once you get your vegetable garden filled to the rim with new plants it can actually be easy to accidentally step on a plant behind you.

Well, at least it’s easy for me.

While planting my tomatoes last season, I stepped on a tomato.

I had just finished transplanting a Cherokee Purple tomato and went on to the next spot to transplant the next tomato plant. I kneeled down, transplanted the tomato, then took a couple steps back to admire my newest member of the garden.


I heard that all too familiar sound of a stem breaking. I felt a bit queasy. I swayed from the dizziness. I was too scared to look down to find what had made that sickening sound.

After a few minutes of praying that I had not done what I think I had done I looked down.

Sure enough, my foot was on top of the Cherokee Purple I had just transplanted, and it was in a couple pieces.

Luckily, I was able to salvage the plant, but it goes without saying to watch where you are stepping while working in the garden.

Better Me Than You

I hope my mistakes will help you avoid some doozies in the vegetable garden, and provide you with some tips on what to avoid when growing your awesome vegetables!

32 Comments on 8 Things NOT to Do In the Vegetable Garden

  1. My biggest mistake is forgetting that trees grow and eventually shade the garden. Just because the garden is in a completely sunny location now does not mean that it won’t evenually be in shade. Like so many other things in life, you have to plan for the future.

    My newest mistake was unbalancing my wall-o-water that I’m using with my tomato plant. When watering the plant I got extra water on one side and it fell over and crushed the seedling.

    • One of the reason I go with containers, nothing is permanent when you don’t have direct control over the landscaping. Especially this year, The decided to move the stumps where my NW garden area would have been.

  2. Larry Hultberg // July 24, 2011 at 1:35 pm // Reply

    I am using a 4″ dia plastic irrigation pipe, 2′ long as my hanging tomato planter. I use a timed drip water system, 3 minutes every 4 hrs. My concern is that the excess water will run through the soil, out the bottom, washing away all the soil nutrients. So I try to find a watering schedule that keeps the plant moist without large amounts of excess water running through. Then I also worry about roots that may be kept too wet. I have been adding about 2 cups of liquid fertilizer about twice a week, unfortunately using Miracle-Gro, which I read is NOT recommended. This year I have added a synthetic sponge around the bottom of the plant than slows the loss of water out the bottom. So far I see no detrimental effects, and have been able to reduce watering, while growth this year has been good although a little leggy. Any comments from anyone would be welcome.

    • Hi Larry – I have been admiring your hanging tomato planters on Facebook. Really great idea! They look so neat and organized.

      The sponge is a great idea and I’m sure it will take a little time to tweak the entire set up to get it working just right. By the looks of your picture on Facebook the plants seem to be growing really well and healthy. There are a ton of blooms on them!

      Perhaps substitute the Miracle-Gro with fish emulsion, seaweed extract or compost tea for liquid fertilizer. I think you would be very happy with the results! Thanks for sharing your planters with everyone. Really good stuff!

    • Hi Larry I have been reading about your overhead tomato plant waters and your problems with the excess water runoff and afraid of the soil leaching. I am a kind if very frugal gardener and my neighbors don’t mind because they get all the vegetables they want from my garden. So, I will offer you what I do to make sure that I do not over water my tomato plants here in Mississippi (and as you can imagine we have to water quite often here throughout the day) I put out pie pans amongst the tomato plants and when the pans become filled the water gets turned off because the pie pans are 1 inch deep and that means that the watering has been atleast 1 inch deep in the soil and when it evaporates out if the pans it is time to re-water. Pretty simple and save time and money!

    • I am using 5 gallon buckets for the same thing. Hadn’t thought of the the 4 inch water-pipe routine. Sounds like a better idea. I could do more plants.

  3. Can I water with compost tea every time I water? I’m using soda bottles on my tomatos and peppers.

  4. this year was my first in planting vegetable seeds.yet, the “plant for the future” paradigm eluded me (to put it mildly). apparently i shouldn’t have planted them so close to each other. now i have 10 stems coming out of a 4cm space . i imagine that their roots must be intertwined and the time has come to transplant them… how do i clean the mess? do you have any ideas? would they have a chance to grow even at that state?

    • I make pods made from good potting soil and egg cartons. That seems to work well for most, but not all seed do well in pods.

  5. When i bring up Veggie Gardener page how do i find the forum for questions?Please send answer to e-mail thanks

  6. LOVE your advice thank you! I am still a beginner gardener and for my area it was recommended to start this week w/broccoli and cabbage from seeds. So I did, in cardboard toilet paper rolls w/the unadvised Miracle Gro soil. Little seedlings appeared! I am preparing my pallets for their new purpose as my veg garden w/large bags if moisture control MG soil :(. I am in South Louisiana. Any tips? Thank you again, i am learning!

    • I imagine that could be as challenging as gardening in the PNW, but in reverse. We have a very short, and sometimes very wet growing season. And spring planting? That’s a coin toss. I was hit with 3 frosts last spring. Hence me building a green house. The wet plays merry hob with my tomatoes. So I am working on a ground watering system using rain water collection.

  7. I love garden
    Enjoy looking at pinterest

  8. So is the Miracle Gro soil bad too? I have been using that kind of soil and lasagna layers (soil, newspaper, leaves, compost; then repeat layers) to grow my garden for a couple years. My garden has grown pretty well and I have harvested a lot of fresh produce from it. Should I switch to a different soil? Recommendations? I am still learning.

  9. Thank you for the worse 8 things you could do in your garden.. My biggest mistake usually is over watering. We are in our new house now with lots of land 15 acres.. so where I am planning to put the garden, is too far for a hose, and too far for me to continue to carry water.. So it will work out for me this year. Thank you again for the hints! Happy Gardening to you!

  10. Another thing you should never do is add fertilizer and lime/calcium to your soil at the same time. Fertilizer + Lime = Ammonia = dead plants. Learned that the hard way!

  11. Yvonne McKellar // March 19, 2014 at 7:47 am // Reply

    What can I purchase when I take back my Miracle Gro that I just purchased to fertilize with.

  12. Love the hints and trying them out! What a blessing it is to eat your hands fruit! or rather the fruit of your hands! Well just to say it is a blessing to garden by oneself!

    i have fun and help through your tips!
    Thank you very much!

  13. great article. very helpful to a new gardeners like me.. thanks a lot.

  14. Would mulching tomatoes and other veggies in the garden with a mulch of cedar be a bad idea. I can get tons of it from a local tree trimming co. But wasn’t sure if the cedar would cause any problems. Thanks for any input.

  15. I recently read an article on container gardens that really helped me. We use 55 gallon food safe barrels cut in half for our container garden. Well as you know when you put soil in a half barrel it is heavy. This article told how to use soda bottles, or actually any plastic containers as a fill in the bottom of the barrels to take up space. We did this and not only are the containers lighter I don’t have to worry about drainage. Remember to put the tops on the plastic containers that you use for fill. Hope this is idea will help you all.

  16. If you set up your garden so you do not have to walk in it it is actually better. You won’t step on things but also you won’t compact the soil which is bad for the roots. Fish emulsion as fertilizer is awesome every 3 weeks and I use organic humus in my soil. My tomatoes are huge : )

  17. Danielle Paxton // June 26, 2014 at 11:48 pm // Reply

    I cant seem to findcthe happy medium in Southern Arizona for watering 🙁 I think I got 2 small tomatoes last year.. andcthey werecon the plant when I bought it lol

  18. Has anyone heard of using a milk mixture for tomato plants? If so, what’s the verdict on this process?

  19. I started my garden this year in plastic milk jugs outside. We live in Michigan and this gave me a big jump start to my garden.

  20. I must agree with a lot of your comments but my husband and I started a garden several years ago we planted tomatoes bell peppers japalenoes Beans and don’t remember what else we did use Mircal Grow and had some of the biggest tomatoe and pepper plants I have ever seen. We picked so many tomatoes and peppers we filled the freezer gave away a lot and had veggies till late late Fall the frost was the only thing that stopped them and they tasted very good also So I can’t agree with you on that part about its use but I do agree with a lot of the rest enjoyed your post thanks Liz

  21. As a master gardener, I agree with most everything in your article except about the use of “synthetic” fertilizers. Yes, it’s best to use fertilizers that are organic and can actually add to the development of your soil, but plants do not distinguish between natural and synthetic components of fertilizers and do just fine with either. The best thing a gardener can do is get a soil analysis done to determine exactly what their soil needs and fertilize accordingly.

  22. you are right about over fertilizing….when plants are young and growing adding nitrogen, like fish emulsion really will boost growth…but use only in the early stages of growth…use maybe two or three times….and then switch to compost tea or good balanced organic fertilizer….here is a hint: use leaf blower, gently, to dry off plants after rain and to circulate air…might work…

  23. Hi
    Last year I plant a sinqua and cucumber and it was bitten.
    Do you know why it was bitten, more than bitten Melon.?
    Can someone help answer that any reason why.?
    Thank you

  24. How do I keep squirrels out of my peach tree?
    They take the green ones so I never get a peach

  25. Great article. Thanks.

  26. I had a dead tree fall tgat was next to my garden and it had been there the last 2 season’s anyways the trunk of the tree was ful of diff bugs, well my garden was doing wonderful now my plants have all but stopped growing they still look super healthy but have not even grown an inch in one month.could it be the bugs from the dead tree that fell? ??? Thank you Deb

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