Trial and Error-Never Give Up!

Take it from gardeners who have been at it for years: you can't avoid making mistakes, but you can learn to recover gracefully.

"There's nothing you can do that can't be undone or fixed," says Jan Curry, who admits she has committed her fair share of flubs in her garden in Overland Park, Kansas. "I don't call them mistakes," she says. "I always say, 'That wasn't a mistake, it was an experiment.'"

What are some gardening tips that can help me become a better gardener?

Here are some tips and ideas from gardeners who have learned from trowel and error:

  • Dating game: check seed packets: seeds should be dated for planting in the current year. Old seeds often have a poor germination rate. If you save seeds from year to year, check their viability by germinating a few seeds on moist paper towels.
  • Free advice: descriptions on seed packets and plant labels tell you when to plant and what conditions a plant likes.
  • Timing is everything: Check the frost dates for your area (just do a Google search for “frost dates” and the name of your city). Knowing the date of the first frost in fall and the last frost of the winter will help you plan the best time to set out transplants and sow seeds. Remember, these dates are averages, so watch the weather, too.

  • Mind games: you think you'll remember when you planted the tomato seeds or fertilized the roses, but you won't. Buy a calendar or start a garden notebook, and start taking a few notes. With every passing day, you'll be creating a valuable, very closely focused, garden reference work.
  • Be ruthless: thin your crops to the recommended distance apart. Proper spacing gives plants room to grow and allows air to circulate, which helps control many blights.

  • Go figure: allow space for annuals, perennials, shrubs, and trees to grow, or you'll regret it sooner than you think.
  • Look up and think ahead: a sunny spot in March may be in deep shade by the end of May.
  • Move the car: Your car will tolerate a frost outside in the driveway, but seedlings set out in the garden in spring may be killed by a sudden frost. Move them into the garage, if necessary, and park the car in the driveway.

  • Change the scenery: if a plant doesn't seem to thrive where it is, dig it up and move it to a more favorable spot. You'll both be glad you did.

Gardening is a learning experience, with many learning from trial and error as a fundamental method of problem solving in order to get the garden to grow successfully. Learn from your gardening mistakes and improve your skills. Use tips from other gardeners and your own experience with what works best to get your seeds to germinate and your plants to grow.

©2023 W.Atlee Burpee & Co