If you’ve been gardening for years and years, you’ve probably made many mistakes — and hopefully learned from them. If you’re still a novice, gardening can seem overwhelming.

The main thing is: keep it simple. Stay small. Don’t plant too many fruits and veggies only to see them die — and then get discouraged. Focus on growing a few plants. Know the type of soil and amount of sun they need, and enjoy yourself. Grow more once you’ve mastered a few.

Here are the top 10 things to watch out for when planting your garden:

1. Don’t start out too big. Sometimes, new gardeners think they’ll be able to stop buying food from the store and grow what they need to eat. If you haven’t gardened much before, however, it will be overwhelming. Start out with just a few veggies and fruits you enjoy, and then grow more during following summers. Each veggie and fruit has its own challenges, and you don’t want to get discouraged. Focus on a few and grow them well.

2. Know when to start your seeds. Many people start them way too early — and the plants get leggy and fall over; and it becomes difficult to plant them outside. Or people plant their seeds too late, and they don’t grow fully outside by the time the frost comes. Know each plant’s growing times.

3. Know what grows well in your area or zone. Don’t plan on massive pumpkins or watermelons if you live way up north. Plan on them being smaller. Think about the length of day: In what environment will onions do best? Or peppers? Consider going to a farmers’ market to see what people are growing, or ask a cooperative extension agent.

4. Know how much water your plants need. Sometimes, people over-water, and plants get soggy and waterlogged. Other times, they under-water. It all depends on the plant. Watermelons, for instance, need more water than lettuce.

5. Pay attention to fertilizer. Don’t just grab any bag of fertilizer at the store. Check to see what your plants and soil need.

6. Don’t overreact to certain pests. Sometimes people think they should eradicate every bug in the garden. But certain bugs, like spiders, are good. Don’t use pesticides unless you absolutely have to. Know the problem before you try to apply a solution.

7. Check out the soil’s health. People tend to worry about the health of the plant, when they should be worrying about the health of the soil. If you have a healthy, nutrient-rich soil, you’ll likely grow healthy, nutrient-rich plants. Test your soil to see what it needs; don’t just throw on any type of fertilizer.

8. Use mulch. It holds in the moisture, cuts down on watering and helps with soil health. It will help prevent the top of the soil from drying out, and it will cut down on weeding. But be careful what type of mulch you use. For instance, if you’re using straw, make sure it doesn’t have weeds or grass seeds in it. Wood chips usually work well.

9. Know where the sun lands in your yard. You have to know your whole yard. If you don’t, set out a camera to take a picture every 10 minutes to track how the sun moves across your property. You don’t want partial-sun plants in bright sun, and you don’t want plants requiring full sun in partial shade. Know where the sun is in your yard, and plot your garden to correspond with it.

10. Pay attention to plant spacing and plant depth. Some smaller tomatoes need to be just six inches away from each other, while others should be a couple feet. Research how far apart to grow your plants, to make sure the air can circulate around them.

Erin Rhoda

Erin Rhoda is the editor of Maine Focus, a team that conducts journalism investigations and projects at the Bangor Daily News. She also writes for the newspaper, often centering her work on issues of sexual...