It’s always been my excuse every garden disaster is actually a learning experience, bestowing upon me knowledge of what not to do. You’d think that by now I’d quit killing plants, and while the numbers are down significantly these days, I still manage to do in a few every growing season.

And that’s where other gardeners can benefit from those “mistakes.” Here’s a comprehensive list of gardening gaffs from National Garden Bureau and what to do about them, that might just prevent some trial and error efforts of your own.

One: Neglecting to take growth into account. Unlike rearranging the living room furniture that can look great today and next year as well, a shrub or a tree once situated will continue to grow and change. Eventually it will reach a mature size, but that might take years. To avoid this common mistake, take close note of plant tags which commonly list growth rate and maximum mature size.

Avoid the temptation to clean up fading spring flowering bulb foliage. Leave the leaves to allow them to feed the bulb for next year’s blooms. Photographs by Lynette Walther.

Two: Watering too much. The No. 1 cause of houseplant deaths is overwatering, and it is a frequent mistake that can negatively impact gardens as well. Also watering the wrong way or watering at the wrong time of day can actually sicken and kill plants. Foliage soaked late in the day can stay wet overnight and that can foster disease or rot issues. Poor drainage can exacerbate the problem. Understanding existing conditions of garden sites and watering needs of specific plants is critical.

Three: Watering too little. We don’t wait until plants wilt and turn dry to water. By then it is often too late. Young and recently planted or relocated plants may need more frequent watering if rainfall is not enough. Shrubs and trees can require up to three or more years of regular irrigation to become completely established. Group plants and shrubs with similar water needs together. If you are not sure if it is time to water, dig a small hole or insert a finger into the soil to feel if it is dry well below the surface. Surface tension of soil will often restrict the penetration of water to the first half inch or so of the soil. Often a deep watering is required to reach roots and thoroughly soak the soil.

Four: Pruning that prevents flowering. If you are wondering why your hydrangeas did not bloom, it could be that they were pruned incorrectly or pruned at the wrong time of year. Some flowering shrubs set blooms in the late spring or early summer and pruning after that time can literally cut off next year’s bloom.

Five: Fertilizer burn. If a little is good, that does not mean a lot is as well. Chemical fertilizers are powerful compounds that when applied unevenly or incorrectly, can burn plants or lawns. Be sure to read label instructions and follow them to avoid this common mistake.

Six: Cleaning up flowering bulb foliage. Once the daffodils and tulips bloom, and while we wait for the perennials to emerge, the temptation is great to trim back, knot or braid up the foliage. But resist! The bulbs require that foliage to continue to photosynthesize and help feed the bulb so it can bloom again next year. The solution would be to locate those bulbs near shrubs or perennials that emerge or leaf out early to help hide unattractive foliage and let it do its job.

Seven: Mulching incorrectly. Mulch can help the appearance of gardens, help prevent weeds and conserve soil moisture while moderating soil temperatures. Those are all great things for any garden, but when applied incorrectly, mulch can create problems especially around trees and shrub. While mulch applications should be about three inches thick for best performance, avoid mulching right up the trunks of trees or shrubs. Mulch against a trunk can cause rot or provide cover for rodents that will chew and destroy bark.

Eight: Spray kills. While we generally do not recommend spraying herbicides and pesticides, in some cases it may be appropriate. That said, avoid spraying any garden chemical when conditions are windy or in the heat of the day. Thoroughly clean instruments when finished.

Nine: Jumping the season and planting too early. Of course we are itching to garden, but we’ve long been warned “April is the cruelest month.” Expect the unexpected in the coming weeks. Planting too early can end up setting the garden back. Be aware of final frost dates and watch weather forecasts. Better to plant a week or two too late than too early.

Ten: Mistaking hibernating plants for dead ones. As the sun shines brightly and the days warm up the instinct is to get those gardens cleaned up. But haste can make waste if we pull or dig up plants that might look dead, but which are just a little late in emerging from hibernation. Give it a few more weeks, maybe even until late May or June before calling it quits.

Lynette L. Walther is the GardenComm Gold medal winner for writing and a five-time recipient of the GardenComm Silver Medal of Achievement, the National Garden Bureau’s Exemplary Journalism Award. She is a member of GardenComm and the National Garden Bureau. Her gardens are in Camden.