Rookie Mistake: Neglect

I believe that there are a lot of people that are going to need to learn how to garden in the next few years, and most of them haven’t had the benefit of growing up surrounded by gardeners. There are a lot of blogs and books that cover the more refined aspects of gardening, but I think one of the things that needs to be covered is the mistakes we all make. As Anne Shirley says, ” That’s the one good thing about me. I never do the same wrong thing twice.” With any luck, I’ll make enough rookie mistakes that you will be saved most of the trouble of making them yourselves.

Neglect is a mistake I’ve made many times. Back east it just meant losing the ground I’d cultivated to weeds. Depending on what I’d planted, and how long I’d paid attention before forgetting about it, the plants might or might not survive. Out here, the implications are a little more serious. Technically, we live in a desert. Most of the vegetables, herbs, even shrubs and trees, that we want to grow are not desert plants. That means that neglecting to water in most cases, and in others neglecting to give appropriate shelter, may easily result in a total loss of the crops in as little as a week.

Clearly I’m a natural gardener . . .

 If I’m honest about it, the problem with that picture is basically neglect. The succulents on the right, you’ll notice, couldn’t be happier with dry air and the occasional soaking. Although the jade plant could use a trim. It’s the more delicate vegetation that doesn’t care that I have other things on my mind when I get home, distracting me from the regular watering it should be getting. It’s an easy mistake to make. We’re busy, we have other priorities, and the plants aren’t very good at reminding us. However, if I plan on eating anything out of that window box, I basically have to start over. What managed to sprout is unlikely to mature, and even if it did, it’s not enough lettuce to grace a sandwich, let alone make a salad.

There are a lot of factors to take into account when you are considering neglect. The biggest is making sure that the plants have the moisture they need to grow. This is particularly important when seeds are trying to germinate or after something is transplanted. In both cases, it’s not strong enough to go searching for water like an established plant. If the water isn’t readily available, it won’t have the strength to send out deeper roots and will probably die. Watering is so important out here that I know it will have posts of its own. For the moment, let’s just say that forgetting to water is a bad idea. However, there are plants out there that are perfectly happy to be watered when you remember and otherwise left to their own devices. In a garden, those are generally called weeds. Weeds will compete with the desired plants for food, sunlight, and water. Unless you are cultivating native plants, the weeds probably have the advantage of being accustomed to this climate, giving them a distinct advantage over what you are growing. There are two main ways to combat weeds. You can remove them or you can cultivate such strong, healthy plants that the weeds just don’t have a chance. The first is almost inevitable, but with any luck, the second will help out as the season goes along and your plants mature.

There is one other point of neglect that gardeners face. They neglected to do their research. Gardening is something that you can just do- but the results tend to be better if you have some idea what you are doing. Particularly out here where the conditions are harsher than the lusher parts of the country. Learning how to keep water in the soil without oversaturating it, learning which plants can handle the heat and dry air, learning how to baby the ones that can’t but you want to grow anyway, will help make the garden successful. Much of my own research will be on native and foreign plants that actually like the conditions we have here so that watering and weeding require less work. After all, most people who are starting gardens out of self-defense, or even just for the superior food, are probably working 40 or more hours a week and only have so much time to devote to the garden itself. Time spent reading could potentially save time spent watering and weeding.

In my case, I expect the blog will help to keep me from neglecting my garden to any major extent. After all, I don’t want to have to publish pictures of a shriveled, brown garden that was made that way through very avoidable mistakes. For you, it could be anything from the meditative calm of the morning while you’re tending to it to the ever-rising grocery bill that keeps you from neglecting your garden. My hope is that this is a rookie mistake I won’t make again and you won’t have to make in the first place.

2 responses to this post.

  1. To mangle a quote, “Tomorrow is a new day, fresh, with no mistakes in it.”

    One of the many reasons that I love to use native plants is that, once established, they need very little care from me – including (and especially) watering. Of course, like all plants, they’ll need care during establishment and it’s very important to match the plant’s requirements with the growing space that you’re providing it.

    Some people do very well with container gardening. I don’t, despite being designated a “Master Gardener.” I’m perennially bad about remembering to water. That said, I rarely overwater, which kills more plants than underwatering. For seedstarting, I have the best success with Gardeners’ Supply’s seed starting systems.


  2. Yep, I saw that one when I was looking up the quote I used. She’s got so many good ones, it was a little hard to stick with the one I was looking for in the first place.

    My ultimate goal is to make gardening, specifically my gardens, as idiot-proof as possible. So far, that appears to mean working with nature rather than against it as often as possible. I just started reading your blog, and I expect I’ll be using it for steering me in the right direction for gardening in arid areas.

    When it comes to container gardening, I have to confess, I have serious skills. Not only have I killed mint- I’ve killed cacti. I’m really hoping I’ve had time to outgrow those particular skills. Thank you for your comments and suggestions- I’ll be using them!


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