Six Lessons I Learned from Garden Failure

How a rough season in the garden killed my plants, tested my patience and made me a better gardener.


Garden failure happens. I know, because it was a rough season for my garden. Between hailstorms, squirrels and an energetic toddler with a stick, I have witnessed some epic garden casualties. It’s times like these that I have to remember patience and acceptance– and embrace every garden failure as a learning opportunity.

It’s a harsh reality, but it’s true: failing can teach you a lot. Plants die sometimes for no apparent reason. And sometimes you’ll make a mistake– like the time I planted a hydrangea in my New Mexico garden. That poor plant failed SPECTACULARLY. (It did not like the climate AT ALL.) Just remember that every mistake is a learning opportunity that will help you become a better gardener in the long run.

Here’s a list of my failures this year:

Garden Failure #1: Sowed seeds too late.

The ideal time to sow seeds outside in spring can be a very narrow window, and it varies from year to year. This year, we had a very early warm, dry spring. By planting way too late, I ensured that the garden didn’t get hit with late freezes. But early summer temperatures made nearly all the lettuce, arugula and spinach bolt and go bitter before I could harvest anything.

Lesson learned: Plant early and plant often.

garden failure

#2: No carrots.

After a great harvest of heirloom carrots last year, I thought I’d have an even better season this year. Nope. Something kept chewing off the tender carrot tops as they emerged. I was baffled at first but found out too late that it was squirrels.

Lesson learned: Squirrels’ appetites can change from year to year. Also, pest netting is a must.


Garden Failure #3: Transplant failure.

Transplanting is risky business for all plants. Many will go into shock, sometimes so severely that they appear to die completely. While most of my transplants pulled through, several, including ornamental grasses and roses, did not.

Lesson learned: Plant more than you need, because some transplants won’t make it.

garden failure#4: Oh, hail. Lots of hail.

Need I say more? My garden had to deal with some extreme hail this summer. The storms that swept through totaled cars, damaged roofs and injured people and pets. You can imagine the damage these hailstorms caused in my garden!  I was lucky: some people in town had total garden losses from hail this summer.

Lesson learned: Invest in hail netting and accept that I can’t control the weather.


Garden Failure #5: Toddler terrorist.

You know how parents of young children always have a romantic notion that it’s great to garden with the kids? Guess what, it’s not always so great. Sometimes they just don’t get the concept of “No! Don’t pick that until it’s ripe!” My three-year-old son harvested many fruits and vegetables WAY BEFORE they were ripe. (If you have kids or grandkids, insert your own heavy sigh here.)

Lesson learned: Kids will be kids. And gardening with kids is a little easier when they’re older.

garden failure

Garden Failure #6: Dead plants. Again.

I’ve met many people over the years who say they have a “black thumb,” and they kill every plant they touch. But when I ask them how many plants, exactly, that they’ve killed, it’s usually only 2 or 3. Then they just stopped trying.

Here’s the thing: I’ve killed dozens of plants over the years. No gardener in history has ever avoided dead plants. It doesn’t make you a failure, it’s just proof that 1.) you can’t control nature and 2.) you have to keep learning.

Lesson learned: Failing to keep plants alive DOES NOT make you a failure at gardening.


Final thoughts

In gardening, some things will thrive, and some things will flounder. And some will die. Don’t let the fear of failure stop you from trying! For every failed crop, you’ll have several pleasant surprises. Even my discovery of edible weed recipes is considered a “win” in my book.

Are you feeling down about a recent garden failure? These quotes always cheer me up. Feel free to share them!

“I tried, it died.”

“There are no gardening mistakes, only experiments.”

“One must fail at gardening in order to succeed.”

“A gardener learns more from the mistakes than the successes.”

When we give up trying to bend the garden to our will, we find it has beauty of its own. Failure happens. It’s just a part of the journey. Happy gardening!

Editor’s Note: For another great My Story column, read 5 Life Lessons I Learned While Foraging for Wild Foods




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