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Common Reasons for Gardening Failures

Most of us enjoy gardening and eating the fruits of our labor.  For many people, the vegetable garden it not a luxury -- they depend on the food they raise to eat.  What happens if the garden fails?  It means a long, hungry winter.  Here is a list of the most common reasons gardens fail and how to fix the problems.

  • Plant varieties are not zone compatible.  Symptoms of this problem are that your perennials do not make it through the winter and annuals do not do well despite good gardening practices and soil. The zone the seeds grow in is usually on the seed packet.  If you do not know what a zone is, the zone shows how cold the average temperature is in the winter.  You can find your zone on the USDA map of zones.  Once you know your zone, you can buy seeds that grow well in that zone.
  • Your seeds are too old to germinate properly.  If you are using stored seeds to plant your garden, you need to make sure the seeds are planted within a year of harvest.  Seeds are alive, and they can die if they are treated badly or grow old.
  • Plants are getting too much water.  Plants stop growing and turn limp.  Soil may have mold on it.  First, make sure that the drainage in your vegetable patch is good.  If you stop watering and the plants still look like they have a problem, you need to fill in the low spot with sand or topsoil.  Otherwise, look on the seed package to see how much water the plant needs.  When in doubt, water frequently but do not water much each time. 
  • Plants are not getting enough water.  If the leaves on your plants are brown, curled up with brown edges, or wilting, you need to water more.  Most vegetable plants need at least an inch of water a week.  Again, check the seed packet for watering instructions and follow them.
  • Invasive varieties are taking over.  If you have a weed that is spreading over your garden and chocking out your plants, you need to take immediate action.  Remove the invader so that your garden plants can get the sunlight and nutrients they need.   If the invader was planted by you, move it to a pot where it cannot invade your vegetable garden again.  Better yet, destroy that plant.  Invasive species can damage the ecosystem where they invade.
  • You haven’t rotated plantings.  If your yield is lower this year, you have more problems with insects and diseases, and the garden is harder to keep going, you probably have not rotated your crops properly.  Each season you should plant your vegetable plants in a different part of your garden.  Rotate by family -- so if you grew cabbage there one season, don’t try to grow broccoli or other members of that family there this year.  Moving the plants around makes it harder for insects to find them and also makes it harder to spread diseases from year to year.
  • Your vegetable beds are over fertilized.  Fertilizer burn looks like lack of water.  The plants will turn brown, curl up at the edges, or wilt.  The soil will have a salty crust on it.  The short term solution, in addition to reducing the fertilizer, is to flood the garden to force the fertilizer deep in the soil.  Fertilizer burned plants will never recover, so if it is early in the season, you may want to replant.
  • Beds are under fertilized.  Plants seem weak and are just not growing as they should.  Leaves may turn yellow and limp.  You need to have a soil test done to determine what fertilizer the plants need.  You can get the soil test bag and instructions from your Extension agent.  Your bed may have plenty of nutrients, but the pH is off and the plants cannot absorb them.  The soil test will include pH and suggestions for adjusting it.
  • Beds are over mulched.  Trees, shrubs, and other plants show symptoms of under watering despite getting adequate water.  The mulch may be absorbing the water instead of leaving it for the plants.  Mulch is good, but too much of a good thing can still be a problem. You should only have one to two inches of mulch in the vegetable garden, flower beds, and fruit beds.  Trees and shrubs can have up to four inches of mulch around them. 
  • No protection against pests.  Whole plants are gone, others are dug up and the roots eaten, bite marks are on the stems or leaves.  This means rabbits and deer are using your garden as a buffet.  You will need to fence your garden to keep these pests out.  Additional pests, such as gophers, you may need to build a raised bed.  You can put a layer of fencing at the bottom of the raised bed to keep anything from digging up you plants.  Combined with the deer and rabbit fence, it will go a long way toward keeping your garden safe.
  • Plants are getting too much sun.  Plants look visibly parched, the get burned edges on the leaves, and also show the symptoms of underwatering.  However, water doesn’t fix the problem.  You will have to spread shade cloth to give the plants shade in the afternoon.  This is especially true if your climate is a hot one.
  • Plants not getting enough sun.  Most vegetables require at least six hours of sun a day.  Without that, they grow spindly in an attempt to reach more sun.  The leaves will turn yellow instead of vibrant green.  They may even fall off the plant.  The remedy is to move your garden someplace that gets adequate sun.

Gardening is a fun and relaxing hobby once you get everything set up.  If you are having trouble with your garden, Make sure you are not making the mistakes above first.  Then contact your county Extension agent for information that can help.


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Fertilize Container Plants

Because container gardens are usually grown to show off a lot color, the plants in them require more frequent fertilizing.

It's good to feed them every two weeks with a water-soluble complete fertilizer like a 20-20-20 or a hyrdolized fish fertilizer.

Regular feeding will help them fill in faster, and produce more flowers.

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