Gardening expert Frances Tophill reveals the most common planting mistake – and how to avoid it

Put down your spade until you hear Frances Tophill's ingenious tip that will ensure your plants grow tall and healthy

Frances Tophill’s common planting mistake
(Image credit: Weleda)

Spring is in full swing, and with the longer and brighter days, we’re inevitably reveling in green-thumbed activities in our gardens. However, before touching another plant, we’re taking note of the wise words from horticultural expert Frances Tophill who has revealed the one mistake we’re all getting wrong when it comes to planting – and most importantly – what we need to do instead. 

In an exclusive interview with Gardeningetc, Frances discussed garden design ideas  following the sharp rise in gardening over the past year. Her research with Weleda suggests that over a third (37%) of British-based participants intend to continue gardening post-pandemic, but only 19% didn’t let their initial failures put them off. So, with this in mind, we were eager to hear the one mistake that is holding our plants back – and we only wish we had known about it sooner. 

Frances Tophill’s common planting mistake

(Image credit: Future / Mark Bolton)

The most common planting mistake – and what to do instead 

‘The biggest mistake people make is keeping their seedlings for too long in their pots,’ Frances announced. 

‘In particular, a lot of veg seedlings, like tomatoes, get too congested and too damp, so they dampen off. Then when they start to emerge, you get excited, but then they just die. That will be because they have been too warm, too moist, and too congested for too long,’ she says. Growing vegetables in pots may sound simple, but how can we be sure we time it right? 

‘As soon as the first leaves emerge, leave them in the pot. But, then, when the second set of leaves begin to emerge, take them out of their seed trays and put them in their own little pots. That’s the key thing.’

Frances Tophill’s common planting mistake

(Image credit: Weleda)

‘They will grow really big and really strong straight away. There is lots of evidence now to say that the sooner you get them out of there, the stronger they’ll be as adult plants,’ Frances adds. Plus, now we know when to remove our seedling, we also suggest taking a look at how to repot a plant, to maximize your chances of success.

Damaged seedlings are among the reasons why most gardeners fall out with gardening, which directly leads to feeling ‘stressed out’ and overwhelmed – prompting new gardeners particularly to hang up their spade for good. 

‘You just need to be realistic. As we get back to our busy lives, you need to work out how much time you have and not do too much. If you can only grow one single plant, then just do that. It will still bring you joy, and it will still benefit your wildlife garden ideas too. Don’t take on too many plants, and then don’t take it too seriously. Just enjoy it – then you won’t be put off,’ Frances says. 

Frances Tophill’s common planting mistake

(Image credit: Future)

Now we're armed with our guide on how to transplant seedlings and Frances’s ingenious advice, we suddenly have an urge to rush outside and check on our seedlings. We have a feeling we’ve got some more potting to do. 

Frances has teamed up with Weleda - the original green beauty brand - to encourage people to reconnect with nature and support biodiversity through its #GetGreenFingers campaign. For more information, visit their website. 

Megan Slack

Megan is the News and Trends Editor at Homes & Gardens. She first joined Future Plc as a News Writer across their interiors titles, including Gardeningetc, Livingetc, and Real Homes. As the News Editor, she often focuses on emerging microtrends, sleep and wellbeing stories, and celebrity-focused pieces. Before joining Future, Megan worked as a News Explainer at The Telegraph, following her MA in International Journalism at the University of Leeds. During her BA in English Literature and Creative Writing, she gained writing experience in the US while studying in New York. Megan also focused on travel writing during her time living in Paris, where she produced content for a French travel site. She currently lives in London with her antique typewriter and an expansive collection of houseplants.