Readers share their biggest garden goofs

Garden mistakes can be instructive -- or hilarious.

When Craig Summers Black wrote about all the things he wished he done differently in the garden – from planting tree ferns upside down to growing an invasive variegated artemisia that had visions of taking over the world (starting with Craig's yard), he struck a chord with readers.

Many sympathized by sharing their own stories. They told of deer and bunny encounters despite trying all the recommended ways to avoid losing plants to these furry predators.

Dave M. has experienced both. Here's his deer tale: "Our neighborhood is home to many wild deer and rabbits, which usually visit at night. One day, after losing one too many garden plants to these creatures, I decided to escalate. I bought a motion sensor light control and wired it into an extension cord. I ran the cord out to the garden, and plugged a 500 watt work light and a radio (under a 5 gallon bucket) into the cord. I tuned the radio to the local classic rock station and turned the volume all the way up. Thus when anything walked into the garden at night, they got blasted with light and sound. This worked like a charm! For two days, that is. The deer quickly learned that the sensor only works when it is dark, and began to visit the garden early in the morning after it began to get light. Aaargh!!

Natalie Husse's bunny story takes on new resonance in light of the increasing popularity of vegetable gardening: "In my first year of vegetable gardening, I took some really regrettable shortcuts," she says. "The most memorable (read: moronic) was how I built my first garden fence. Since I wasn't sure if I'd be good at gardening, or even like doing it for that matter, I did not want to spend a ton of money on my new hobby. So, instead of the $50 rabbit-proof metal fencing, I bought the $10 'wildlife-proof' plastic fencing, figuring there couldn’t possibly be that much of a difference, right?

"Every day that first April, I would see the neighborhood rabbits sitting around the fence yearning for the delicious contents of my garden. Daily, I would mock their desires with my superior fencing. I would laugh at their feeble attempts to confront my rock-solid fortifications. Ah yes, I was sure my efforts (and well-played frugality) had paid off.

"That is, until that fateful morning I went out into my garden to weed and water and discovered that every plant in my garden had been decimated. My lettuce had been chewed to nubs, the strawberry plants reduced to mere shreds, and the terrors they brought onto the spinach were just too gruesome to even mention.

"I ran along the edge of my fence to see where they could possibly have gotten in. I found one hole, and another, and another … six holes all where I had seen the rabbits sitting just days before! This whole time they had been plotting this raid, slowly chewing holes into my plastic fencing. That afternoon I begrudgingly went back to the hardware store and bought the $50 fencing."

Peter Gonczlik relates the common tale of planting too much and too closely together, but he isn't sure he's going to be able to break himself of the habit: "I don’t know if I’ll never do it again (it’s natural to be greedy during spring planting season after our long upstate New York winters)," he says, "but this year I’m going to try to give my plants more room and put fewer of them in."

Jim Charlier also understands about planting too closely: " I read the label and consider myself to be a reasonably smart human being, but I always err toward planting too close and not paying attention to the the mature size of the plant. For some reason, I never believe the tag, though they have no reason to lie to me. Which leaves me to replant each spring, delaying growth for new purchases yet another season. I guess if I keep moving them, they'll never reach their full mature size, solving some of my problem. Kinda."

He adds: "I really, really regret having planted Chinese lanterns. Now I'll never get them out of the garden. I will be pulling them for years and years to come. And whoever inherits this house (for I realize I am just a steward of this house) in future generations, will be pulling them, too. And their children... and their children..."

And one more good from Jim: "One summer, years ago, I kept throwing the squirrel-bitten tomatoes into the compost bin. Don't do this. We had thought the composting would eradicate the seeds over winter. When it came time to spread the compost, we were apparently spreading tomato seeds through all of the garden – under bushes, in the perennials, through all of the vegetable path, and even in the hanging baskets. We spent the summer weeding tomatoes from every nook and cranny of the yard, even from cracks in the driveway."

Carolyn Hopper discovered the hard way that while deer avoid daffodils, they love tulips. "I’m sticking with daffodils for spring," she says. "I fell in love with tulips on a visit to our son-in-law in Portland, Ore., a year and a half ago, planted them with great care, and then saw evidence that our local deer family thought they had discovered gourmet dining at the Ritz Hotel. I know deer like tulips, but thought our fishing-line maze would keep them out. Ha!"

Greg Schifsky wrote: "The worst thing as a (retired) gardener that I ever did was plant English ivy or any sub-specie of it. It's ruining forests as I write this and all invasive weeds are unfortunately leading to the rapid destruction of native wildlife habitat.

"Another garden mistake was constructing a fish pond using concrete and rebar; where the shallow end of the pond bottom meets a slope to the deeper end created a "hinge-like" effect. During mild earthquakes, the hinge works and causes a leak. Better to use pond lining poly material instead."

Mary Collins' mistake as an inexperienced gardener had a delightful happy ending: "This is a true story," she says. "Thirty years ago when I was a single mom with two babies, I set out some tomato plants in my backyard. Two days later, they were all dead. I consulted the bachelor next door who asked how I planted them. I explained how I carefully set the tomato plants in the ground at the correct depth, watered them, and how I even rinsed off all the dirt from the roots first to get them nice and clean. I couldn't understand why they died. My neighbor laughed hysterically until I was almost in tears. He said, 'You're not supposed to wash the dirt off the roots! That's what holds them in the ground!' Lesson learned. Long story short: I married my neighbor who has been taking care of me for 30 years now!"

Now you can help: We have new garden books to give away to three of those who told us about their mistakes. Who do you think they should go to?

Coming Monday, April 20: Ten garden bloggers from around the country -- including Diggin' It -- will reveal the six plants they can't live without.

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