I have read a lot of articles on what to do in the garden, but I have never read anything about what not to do. Here are a few tips to help you avoid some mistakes, and you can guess how I know about many of them.
Don’t plant before the soil is fully prepared. Beds need all grass removed and lots of organic matter, such as compost, added before one seed or plant goes in. If you don’t have time to do it right at first, you'll never have time to do it over. Instead of trying to remove grass, which is back-breaking and virtually impossible, make a "lasagna" garden right on top of grass.*
Don't buy plants if you don’t have a place to put them. Telling yourself you will find a place may lead to the plant languishing in a pot for weeks or being planted in the wrong place. This one is a real problem for me, because I often feel compelled to rescue plants from parking lots and garden centers. I have some beautiful plants that came from Lowe’s clearance rack; however, many of them have had to play musical plants after I planted them just to get them in the soil, then later had to move them because it was not the best place to begin with. Plant the right plant in the right place, and it’s easy to have the proverbial “green thumb.”
Don't neglect to mulch every square inch of soil. Mother Nature abhors a vacuum; therefore, something will grow on any bare ground, and almost certainly it will be weeds. Mulch improves the soil, makes plants healthier, reduces watering, keeps the soil cooler, cuts down on weeds, and looks nicer. Mulch can save gardeners up to 80% of manual garden labor, and that’s extremely appreciated in the heat of August when you would just like to have time for activities other than only gardening.
Don't put off cleaning up after planting an area. If you don’t pick up every single empty pot before moving on to another job, you will be so tired you may leave it until later. Put tools and equipment away so you know where they are when you get ready to work the next time. Always put hoses away immediately so you don't trip over them, kill a strip of hose-shaped lawn grass, or make a chew toy for your dog.
Don't make a new bed without a good border. Rock or stone is permanent and landscape timbers and railroad ties are semi-permanent. They will help keep the soil and mulch in and grass out. Bermuda runners can creep in overnight after a good rain or if you go out of town for just a few days, so be vigilant.
Don't plant aggressive, invasive plants in your beds. Be wary of accepting plants from anyone who tells you they are "vigorous and multiply rapidly." What that really means is they will take over your whole yard within a year and you will never get rid of them.
Don't ever plant mint of any kind in your flower beds. It is almost on par with bamboo and is just about as hard to get rid of. Be careful with certain artemisias and monardas for the same reason. They are good candidates for the bed down by the mailbox where the hose won’t reach or confined to containers.
Keep the hummingbird feeders filled and plant lots of colorful flowers to attract butterflies. All the hummingbirds I have seen so far this year have been on flowers instead of the hummingbird feeders. Be sure to add some dill, flat-leaf parsley, and fennel for the black swallowtail butterflies and milkweed for the monarch butterflies to lay eggs on and their caterpillars to eat.
Don't try to work for hours at a time in the heat of the day. Follow the shade, take breaks, stay hydrated, and switch up the chores. Instead of weeding for hours at a time, weed for a while, plant for a while, spread mulch for a while, and sit in the shade and read for a while.Your garden should be enjoyable, so take time to relax and smell the roses, lilies, and garden phlox.
*Editor’s Note: The term “lasagna garden” is a method of creating garden beds without “breaking your back.” This method is attributed to Ruth Stout who promoted a method of making garden beds by layering organic matter and mulch so that eventually, with time, the turf or grass underneath decomposes, thus eliminating the need to manually dig up the turf.