Garden FAILS. What I’m doing differently this year

It’s only February, but I am already chomping at the bit to get started on this year’s garden. Considering there is still about a foot of snow on top of my garden beds, I still have quite a while before I can even think about starting seeds. Hello, last frost date in JUNE. But it’s alright. There are still seeds to be organized and shopped for, supplies to be collected, and plans to be made.

Besides the actual growing of the plants, the planning is kind of my favorite. I pull out some graph paper and colored pencils one early spring day and plot my gardening schemes for the coming season. But before I do that, I want to reflect on my previous year’s garden and determine what changes I want to make going forward.

One of my favorite parts of gardening is that there is always room for growth. Each year I learn a little more and do a little better. And each year there is always something that just flops and does not work out at all how I planned. Today, in preparation for garden planning, I want to share with you my biggest FAILS in the garden last year.

Buying plants too early

Far too early this spring I brought home some hellebores from the nursery. I knew it was too early, but I was desperate to plant something, so I did it anyway. I carried them back and forth inside for as long as I could bear, and then took the plunge to plant them outside. Still, too early. The original plan for these was to be a spring container on my front porch with some sweet little pansies. I did not initially realize how much hellebores dislike transplanting, so they were not looking happy in the planters. I eventually moved them into my perennial bed, but they weren’t happy about that move either. They were still looking pretty rough at the end of fall. I’m hoping they bounce back next year. The hellebores I planted the previous fall looked incredible all season, and next time I plant hellebores, I’ll plant them in the fall and avoid moving them around so much. And maybe (just maybe) I’ll restrain myself and wait to buy plants until its actually warm enough. We’ll see.

Neglecting the soil

On the whole, my new raised beds did alright. We put them in this spring, and filled them with a load of raised bed garden soil from our local garden center. It was half potting soil, half compost. I filled the bottoms of the beds with cardboard, leaves, and branches before adding soil, and topped with compost after planting. I also fed about once a month with Espoma’s garden tone and tomato tone in the tomato beds. I am not sure what part of the equation was off, but the plants weren’t the healthiest, and my suspicion is that it had something to do with the soil. It was also an especially hot summer for us, so I had a hard time watering super consistently.

My determinate roma tomatoes started out strong and healthy, but as they started fruiting the plants started looking more and more rough. Three of the four plants produced fruit with blossom end rot, and one plant produced healthy fruit. All within the same bed. So that is a bit confusing but from what I’ve read the inconsistent moisture probably caused the blossom end rot. I still was able to harvest a lot of good-sized fruit though, so it wasn’t a complete fail!

My indeterminate tomatoes, however, were almost a complete wash. I had two plants, both brandywine varieties, not even try to produce a single fruit. We were able to snack on tons of sun golds and yellow pears, but the plants looked sickly the whole season. Almost immediately after planting, the leaves curled up and it took a while for them to start flowering and producing.

For both tomato beds, my best guess is that it was likely a soil issue. Going forward next year, I’d like to test the soil in these beds, and really focus on adding in the right amendments instead of just guessing. I am still learning about building healthy soil, and my knowledge is still very limited. This is definitely an area I’d like to grow and learn more in! This year I really learned first hand how vital good soil is. All other efforts are basically null and void if your soil isn’t healthy!

Not planting practically

I also want to be more mindful about watering next year and diversifying the types of plants I grow. Mostly the tomatoes were affected by the soil issue, and that is what I put most of my time into. I’ll still grow tomatoes next year, but I think I’ll stick to romas for canning and maybe one or two tried and true varieties for snacking. Trying new varieties is fun, but this year they didn’t produce and took up valuable real estate in my little garden that I would have rather used to grow more food.

Another thing I’d like to do differently next year is grow things that are a bit more practical. I love growing tomatoes and trying all the new and exciting varieties, but that isn’t the most efficient use of my space. I have 3 more raised beds for next year, and I’d really like to try to grow onions, garlic, and potatoes. These are (supposedly) relatively easy things to grow, and these are the things I am buying every single week at the grocery store because they are staples in our diet. There can still be room for fun and experimentation, but I’d like to take a more practical approach.

Along those same lines, I’d like to grow less lettuce in the spring and more kale and spinach. Garden lettuce is delicious, and I enjoy eating it, but we always end up with more than we can possibly eat and it goes bad quickly, with no way to preserve it. Kale and spinach can be frozen, and we just eat more of it than we do lettuce.


In my other bed, I had three pickling cucumber plants as well as a handful of different pepper plants. Something I am constantly working on is not over-planting! I always try to fit too many things into one space. My initial plan was to trellis the cucumbers, but I never got around to it and before I knew it they had spread everywhere. As a result, only two of the pepper plants survived. Surprisingly, both did pretty well! I harvested lots of cayennes and mini belles right up until our first frost. The cucumbers were very prolific, and I harvested basket after basket. It seemed like every single day I was pulling out handfuls. We are still working through our supply of pickles in February!

The problem with pickling cucumbers is they have to be harvested very small. If you don’t get to them right away, they get very bitter, very fast. And with the heat we had this summer, even some of the smaller ones were tasting quite bitter. Pickling cuts down the bitterness for the most part, but every once in a while there is one that just tastes off. I’ll definitely be growing cucumbers again, but I think I’ll grow a more versatile variety that can be used for pickling or eaten fresh, and maybe one less prone to bitterness. I also need to trellis my cucumbers to get the most out of each plant.

I hope that this helps you avoid some of the pitfalls I had in my garden last year, or maybe even makes you feel a little less alone in your gardening fails! Let me know what your biggest gardening flop has been, we can laugh and learn from our mistakes together!

Until next time,



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