When Gardening Failure is an Option

Posted on May 2 2011 - 2:47am by Mike Lieberman

I’ve talked about not having a perfect garden before, but I still get questions and comments about failing when gardening.

People will say that they are scared of failing or making a mistake. They want things to be perfect.

My sage advice to them is, “You will fail when you garden.

It’s impossible to avoid. It doesn’t matter what you see on other blogs, read in books and magazines or watch on TV. It ain’t all perfect.

Once you get over and realize that, it makes it that much easier.

When making those mistakes the most important thing is that you learn something and continue on. You don’t want to keep repeating the same mistake over and over again. Pretty sure that’s the beginnings of insanity.

I’ve made plenty of mistakes on my fire escape and balcony gardens and will continue to. Since I’ve started my garden from scratch there are two important things that I’ve learned from failures.

The first is that you shouldn’t plant spinach in the warmer weather and the other is that mint needs space to grow outside of the container.

Lessons learned and I’ll move on.

Who cares how perfect and great everything seems on other blogs, magazines and the TV shows. Learn from your own experience and keep on going.

What are some gardening failures that you’ve learned from?

34 Comments so far. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. Kahoelzl May 2, 2011 at 10:54 am -

    When a tomato crop fails, do a soil test BEFORE planting a second crop that also fails. I gotta add nitrogen if I want anything to grow.

  2. Jecka May 2, 2011 at 11:52 am -

    You can see some gardening fail in my blog right now, actually. At the moment, my strawberry plants are dying… probably because of some fungus gnats that have decided to live and reproduce in the strawberry bed’s soil. Ugh.

    What I’ve learned from this is to put a layer of sand on top of strawberry plants’ soil. I wish I knew about this sooner though! πŸ™

  3. Mike Lieberman May 2, 2011 at 1:41 pm -

    Hey now you know about it to prevent it in the future. That’s what matters.

  4. Mike Lieberman May 2, 2011 at 1:42 pm -

    Before planting anything again in the containers I usually reamend the soil and add compost to it.

  5. shagadelic98 May 2, 2011 at 2:08 pm -

    Cilantro doesn’t like the heat!

  6. Melissa Willis May 2, 2011 at 2:10 pm -

    I’ve learned that pumpkins will completely take over anything they can, zucchini & squash take up a lot of space, growing beans for drying (like pintos and black beans) is not worth the water they require in a small garden, buying soil is expensive, starting seeds indoors is not as fantastic as it could be without a grow light (I’ll put it in next years budget), and roots from neighbors trees will invade garden beds and suck up all the water they can while stealing it from the poor tomatoes & peppers it was intended for…I could go on & on, but I’ve also learned that growing your own veggies is priceless and you have to learn to laugh along the way.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences. I always appreciate reading what you write. Cheers!

  7. BodynSoil May 2, 2011 at 2:13 pm -

    Gardening is not only a means to grow your own produce but an act of connecting with nature. Expecting the garden to be perfect is setting yourself up for failure in and of itself. I have been an organic gardener for 35+ years and still have epic failures as you can never plan the course nature brings your way. The beauty of gardening is that you can always plant something else in the spot of a plant that doesn’t product in the manner you thought it should.

    One thing that I have learned over the years: horseradish is really great to grow but can be invasive if you accidentally chop it up and turn it into various parts of your garden.

  8. loveislove May 2, 2011 at 2:40 pm -

    I have a 10% ‘back to nature’ mantra with my garden. The bugs and squirrels tend to pick their favorites and leave the rest alone, and as long as they don’t get out of hand, I try to remember that we are on their turf and let it be.

    In terms of things that haven’t worked for me… I agree with the post below… starting seeds indoors with no grow light, not a good idea. Peppers need a heating pad to germinate indoors. (they like it toasty) And don’t forget to check the bottom of your containers for drainage holes!

  9. Danielle Jimenez Williams May 2, 2011 at 3:21 pm -

    Have you ever read the $64 tomato? When I started gardening someone gave this to me and I’ve taken every lesson to heart. Sometime you will fail, or you won’t live up to your ideals. We all have gardening lessons we learn. πŸ™‚ My big one is that plants will usually figure out how to survive given the right mix of soil air and water. Also make sure there are drainage holes….lots of drainage holes.

  10. indigo.ottyr May 2, 2011 at 4:31 pm -

    Oh my goodness! Too many to mention and I try to repress the memories of the mistakes and just retain the info of what I learned from the mistake!

  11. Mike Lieberman May 2, 2011 at 7:26 pm -

    Hahaha. Yea I ripped that up too :-/

  12. Mike Lieberman May 2, 2011 at 7:27 pm -

    Exactly. You can’t and don’t do it in a bubble.

  13. Mike Lieberman May 2, 2011 at 7:27 pm -

    That’s what’s up.

  14. Mike Lieberman May 2, 2011 at 7:28 pm -

    So true. They are smarter than we are.

  15. Mike Lieberman May 2, 2011 at 7:28 pm -

    I like the back to nature idea.

  16. Mike Lieberman May 2, 2011 at 7:28 pm -

    That sounds like a lesson learned the hard way.

  17. Jonedwardssr May 2, 2011 at 9:27 pm -

    Never plant mint in a garden, plant it in a container. Otherwise it will try and take over your entire bed.

  18. Edward May 2, 2011 at 11:14 pm -

    I tried lentils in the heat of Texas summer last year…I know how you feel about the spinach…whoops. πŸ™‚

  19. Mike Lieberman May 3, 2011 at 2:02 pm -

    That’s what I’ve heard.

  20. Mike Lieberman May 3, 2011 at 2:02 pm -

    I hear that…

  21. Samantha Weber May 3, 2011 at 2:59 pm -


  22. Katherinekelley May 3, 2011 at 10:32 pm -

    On the happy side, if your plants bolt, you are helping bees and getting seeds. πŸ™‚

  23. Mike Lieberman May 4, 2011 at 6:01 am -

    True. True.

  24. Louiethe8th 1982 May 5, 2011 at 3:56 pm -

    Just found ur site today…Good vids and articles!! I have raised beds and containers outside and a small hydro setup inside. Well a pepper plant wasnt producing very well outside so I brought it in to the hydro garden…BIG mistake!! Aphids took over…Never bring an outdoor plant into an indoor garden!!

  25. Kieran May 5, 2011 at 8:27 pm -

    Excellent post! I’ve been failing all the time with my garden, but I feel quite OK with that. I’d rather make the biggest mistakes now, while I’m not dependent on the garden to supplement my diet, than several years down the line if/when I’m gardening because I have to.

    I get the sense that the failures get less as you get more used to the species (and breed — also important) of vegetables you’re growing, your local microclimate, etc, etc.

  26. Mike Lieberman May 6, 2011 at 3:30 pm -

    Hahaha. I’ll trust you on that one.

  27. Mike Lieberman May 6, 2011 at 3:30 pm -

    Hopefully the failures become less and less…

  28. Jo Ann May 8, 2011 at 10:16 am -

    I learned from last year Topsy Turvy is not the way to grow tomatoes and Im experimenting with companion planting. Nice blog.

  29. Mike Lieberman May 9, 2011 at 2:14 am -

    I’ve heard mixed things about them. Thanks for the comment.

  30. Cassandra Beer July 21, 2011 at 6:12 am -


    Let’s see here…
    1. Don’t plant vining plants next to roses.
    2. Don’t plant cukes, squash, pumpkins, melons, etc. where they will take over the husband’s lawn.
    3. Grow an extra seed or two in the window so you know what it looks like and you don’t pull up all of your expensive heirloom seeds, thinking they’re weeds.
    4. Don’t ever buy a package of mixed pepper seeds. You may just feel obligated to try to cram 200 tiny seeds into a 64 sq. ft. bed.
    5. Don’t plant $100 worth of hostas in full sun.
    6. Don’t plant spinach next to the pond. Between the light bouncing back up and the bugs, you’ll just barely see green before it bolts and gets carried away.
    7. Make sure to research how to preserve your food before you plant enough to carry you over the winter. (Just throwing okra straight into the freezer gives it the consistency of slushy snot.)

    And, THAT’S what I learned last year. Sure there will be more to follow. This year, over half of my gardening chores have involved research. πŸ™‚

  31. Mike Lieberman July 21, 2011 at 6:59 am -

    Mmmm….slushy snot.

  32. FrugalGardener May 2, 2012 at 7:10 pm -

    We are not making mistakes, we are making experiences!

  33. Mike Lieberman May 2, 2012 at 8:39 pm -

    True dat.

  34. Amy April 23, 2014 at 12:52 pm -

    I’m failing miserably right now. It is my first attempt at growing anything. My biggest mistakes have been:
    1. starting too early
    2. growing to much
    3. growing certain vegetables in the wrong season,
    4. mistaking what was a “sucker” and practically ruining a tomato plant AND…
    5. “pruning” a determinate tomato plant… lol
    6. Above all, overwatering.

    Sigh. I have learned so much, worked so hard, and alas… I finally have one small little tomato growing on my “pruned” tomato plant. I have killed strawberries and lettuce, and my pepper plants are… I’m not really sure! Haha…

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