My biggest gardening mistakes

Do as I say, people, not as I do!

Hello, friends!

Today I’m going to lay it all on the line. I’m not perfect. I’ve made some pretty big mistakes in the garden. But it’s not all for naught: If I fess up and admit my blunders, I can help you avoid making them yourself.

  1. Planting morning glories.

    About 10 years ago, after my yellow jessamine up and died, I needed another blooming vine to climb the arbor over my front gate, and I wanted instant gratification (mistake #1!)

    What vine grows quickly and blooms right away? Morning glory! I scattered some seeds and when I woke up the next morning (OK, I’m exaggerating, but it seemed that way) my arbor was completely covered in beautiful, purple blooms. Score!

    Fast forward, and this morning I spent 20 minutes pulling up seedlings from all of my garden beds — including those at the side of the house and even in the backyard. This has become a ritual that must be performed every week or so to avoid a tangled mess of vines climbing all over my mailbox, fence, porch and other plants, including my tomatoes, which are growing in raised beds in the backyard.

  2. Planting roses in part shade.

    Believing the plant tag, I purchased double Knockout roses for the partly shady area in my backyard. They’re supposed to handle more shade than the single-flowered version and survive just fine.

    Oh, they survived, alright — I just wish they hadn’t. They’re tall and spindly and horribly misshapen as they desperately try to reach for sunlight. And I’m forever wrangling errant stems with my trusty pruners.

  3. Buying a wrapped large tree.

    When one tree in my backyard-long row of Leyland cypresses died, I bought the biggest replacement I could find (again with the instant gratification!)

    The nursery had all their evergreens tied up like Christmas trees so I couldn’t really assess the shape of the tree. And, unlike a Christmas tree, it would have been very difficult to untie and shake out a 10-foot-tall, balled-and-burlapped tree that weighed more than I did. So, I bought it in blind faith and hired a landscaping crew to plant it while I was at work one day. What could possibly go wrong?


    When I arrived home, the new tree looked absolutely nothing like its 16 naturally shaped neighbors. It was tight and triangular, well, like a Christmas tree.

    Seems the nursery was selling trained and sheared Leyland cypresses. No sign. No warning. No heads-up.

    Also, it died shortly afterward, having been planted improperly. Good riddance.

  4. Planting flower boxes outside my fence.

    I never water them. That, too, is on me.

    Tell me about your biggest missteps in the garden, and I’ll compile them and post your cautionary tales for the betterment of the group. Fess up here.

👉👉If you’re enjoying this newsletter, why not share it with a gardening friend? 


💡 If you do one thing this week…

Dump standing water from outdoor pot saucers, children’s playsets, inverted trash can lids, tires — wherever it’s accumulating — to avoid allowing mosquitoes to breed in your yard.

📬 Ask Jessica

DEAR JESSICA: Can you identify this bug? At first, I thought they were ladybugs and I left them alone. They are now eating the leaves and young buds of my plants and multiplying daily. I carry a cup of salted water around for slugs, and now I’m using it for these bugs, but they survive swimming for hours. And they are very smart; as soon as you touch the leaves, most of them fall to the ground and others fly off. What is the best way to get rid of them? — Lita Au

DEAR LITA: That’s a scarlet lily beetle, whose diet consists of plants in the lily family, especially Asiatic lilies and fritillaries. And the results can be devastating.

Left unchecked, these invasive insects will devour leaves, stems, buds and flowers, destroying plants entirely, leaving nothing but a mangy stem. And because leaves are necessary to store up energy for plant survival, the perennials may not return next year.

Their numbers can be great, in part due to a unique defense mechanism: their larvae coat themselves in feces, making themselves unappetizing to hungry birds. Talk about smart!

The beetles themselves don’t have any natural predators, so their population has the potential to run rampant. Cornell University is experimenting with a control method in heavily populated lily beetle areas by releasing parasitizing wasps, which lay eggs inside the larvae so that they never develop into beetles. So far, they have seen some success.

But since you don’t likely have a supply of parasitizing wasps lying around, the simplest strategy would be to pick the beetles off by hand and remove larvae from under leaves, dropping both into a bucket of soapy (not salty) water as you go.

Neem oil (extracted from the neem tree) has shown effectiveness in killing larvae, but must be applied every five to seven days throughout summer. Another insecticide, spinosad, which is made from soil bacteria, is another option. Follow package directions carefully and spray only in the evenings to avoid harming beneficial pollinators.

👏 Sunday shoutout

Howard Weinick has created this charming, inviting sitting area “in between my house and garage as an example of creating a spot of serenity in a small space,” proving you don’t need a large area to have a garden. Well done, Howard!

📧 Send me your feedback!

I welcome your comments and suggestions, so please send them along — as well as any topics you’d like to see covered and questions you’d like answered in the Ask Jessica section.

Until next week, stay safe. Be well. And always keep your mind in the dirt. —Jessica

Did someone forward this newsletter to you?