The unlucky 13 most common yard and garden mistakes

In today's "Growing Together" column, Don Kinzler explains how to avoid these problems.

Sprinkling frequently and shallowly is a common lawn mistake, causing shallow turf roots. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

I’m a good candidate to discuss yard and garden mistakes, because I’ve probably made most of them.

On the upside, since experience can be the best teacher, mistakes are a golden learning opportunity.

The following are the most commonly encountered mistakes made around the yard and garden, in no particular order. When corrected, our efforts flourish.

  1. Not providing enough room for plants to grow. Plants look deceptively miniature when purchased, but trees and shrubs especially require a certain footprint of space, usually indicated on the plant’s label. Overcrowding is common.
  2. Watering lawns with frequent light sprinklings, which causes shallow roots. Instead, apply 1 inch of water, in one application, once a week, unless rain substitutes. On light, sandy soil, divide into two applications.
  3. Mowing too short. Slightly taller turf, mowed at 3 inches, creates a deeper, healthier root system, conserves moisture and lessens weed competition.
  4. Failing to wrap the trunks of fruit trees and other thin-barked trees, which can lead to irreversible winter sunscald trunk damage, especially when young. Wrap trees yearly in late October and remove April 1 for the growing season.
  5. Using rabbit fencing that’s not high enough. Winter snowbanks allow easy access across our well-meant exclusion.
  6. Planting non-adapted trees and shrubs. National chain stores often stock material selected for a large swath of the country. Study plant labels, knowing that zones 3, 2 and 1 have the greatest winter hardiness for our region, with zone 4 plants working for most of the area also.
  7. Scraping tree trunks with lawn mowers and string trimmers. Damage is cumulative, and occasional nicks can cause long-term tree decline. Applying a ring of shredded bark or other mulch greatly lessens the risk of mower damage.
  8. Letting weeds go to seed. One purslane plant can produce 1.8 million seeds that can remain viable in the soil for 25 years, greatly multiplying our labor for decades.
  9. Believing there’s a spray to prevent or solve any weed problem. Weed control can require persistence and a combination of approaches, including hand-digging, smothering with mulch and learning which chemicals can be judiciously used in particular situations.
  10. Allowing weeds to get ahead of us in the vegetable garden. Hoeing weeds is quick and easy when the weeds are tiny and just visible. A well-sharpened hoe glides effortlessly through the soil when weeds are newly sprouting. Weeding an overgrown garden is a tough task.
  11. Planting trees too deeply. With potted trees, look for the uppermost “flare root” emerging from the trunk, and locate it just below soil surface when gauging planting depth. The flared, widened part of the trunk should be visible above ground level.
  12. Using lawn herbicides containing dicamba over the rootzone of trees. Dicamba is well-known to move downward in soil, where it can enter tree roots and cause tree decline. The rootzone spreads horizontally outward from the trunk at a distance at least as wide as the tree is tall, sometimes twice that distance, depending on tree type.
  13. Not following the label directions of pesticides. Product labels have often become booklets, which helps us use the materials wisely, but do require a few minutes of study. Failure to follow directions and rates can reduce effectiveness, or even damage the lawn or plants you meant to assist.
    Because pesticide labels are often long, failing to read and follow directions is a common mistake when controlling weeds, insects and diseases. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

ARCHIVE: Read more of Don Kinzler's Growing Together columns

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, is the horticulturist with North Dakota State University Extension for Cass County. Readers can reach him at or call 701-241-5707.


Don Kinzler
Don Kinzler, Growing Together and Fielding Questions columnist. The Forum
Contributed / Special to The Forum

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, is the horticulturist with North Dakota State University Extension for Cass County. Readers can reach him at
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