Gardening is a very relaxing activity. It can also provide a good deal of food for you and your family. If your garden fails, however, it can jeopardize your food supply. It also wastes a lot of time, effort, and the money spent on seeds and water. Here are some common gardening problems and their solutions so you can get a good harvest every time you plant.
- Growing the wrong cultivar for your area. To garden well, you must know what USDA hardiness zone you are in. If you are in a hot zone and grow something that is in a cold zone, chances are it will die from the heat before producing any vegetables. Similarly, if you plant a hot zone vegetable in a cold zone, it will likely not have a chance to produce before winter comes and freezes it.
- Plants are getting too much water. If your plants stop growing, leaves and branches are wilted or limp, leaves may be yellowed or browned, or soil is developing mold, you are probably watering too much. The seed package or pot insert should tell you how much water the plant needs to produce for you. As a general rule, water twice a week and give the plants one inch of water each time you water. That means that the sprinklers or drip irrigation are on long enough to deliver one inch of water to each plant’s roots. Use a empty tuna can or something similar, set it in your garden, turn on the water, and see how long it takes to get one inch of water in it. Water that amount of time twice a week. If it has rained that week, subtract the amount of rain you received from the amount you give the plants that week.
- Plants are getting too little water. If Leaves seem curled, burnt, crispy and/or brittle, turn yellow or brown in color or the soil in garden bed looks cracked, water more. You can mix compost into your soil to make it hold water longer. You can also mulch around the plants to hold in the water when you irrigate it. Vegetables use more water than grass because they are producing the vegetable instead of just a blade of grass.
- Invasive varieties are taking over. If you have one plant that is spreading over your vegetable plants and smothering them, you need to pull it. Make sure you get all the roots and any seedlings that have sprouted when you remove the invasive plant. If you need a plant with a tendency to become invasive, such as mint, grow it in a pot to keep it under control.
- Not rotating your crops. Do not plant the same vegetable in the same place in your garden every year. That leaves that plant vulnerable to diseases and pests. Rotate the different crop families in your garden so that there is at least a year between planting the same thing in the same place. Rotating so there are two or three years is even better.
- Over fertilizing. Plants that have fertilizer burn look similar to plants that need more water. The soil around the plants will have a whitish, salt like crust over it. If you can, flush water over the soil to drive the fertilizer further down into the soil. Some plants will recover, but most do not. You should pull them and compost them.
- Too little fertilizer. Plants seem weak or just not growing as well as they should. Leaves are mottled, limp or yellow/brown in color. Get a soil test every year in December. It will tell you which nutrients you need to add to your soil and which nutrients are fine. Working three inches of compost into your vegetable beds will add nutrients without having to use chemicals.
- Poor seed germination. If your seeds do not germinate well, you don’t get much food from them. It is best to sow seeds saved each season instead of storing them for years. Seeds are living things and lose the ability to germinate if not handled correctly. They must be successfully dried and stored in a cool, dark place. Canning jars are good places to store your seeds.
- Rabbits, deer and other critters. To protect your food from animals, you need to fence in the garden well. Rabbits and deer can decimate your crops very quickly. A four foot fence will exclude rabbits if it is made of small mesh wire. Deer, however, are another matter. Deer can clear a nine foot fence if properly motivated. The best way to deter them is to put a six foot fence around the garden. Back up four feet and put another six foot fence around the first fence. Deer cannot cross the double fence.
- Insect pests. A garden attracts insect pests. The best way to keep them from causing a problem is to rotate your crops every year, spray as little as possible, and let predatory insects and birds eat the bad bugs. Most insects are neutral. They do not damage your crops but they do not help them either. However, an infestation of bad bugs at the wrong time can decimate your food supply. It is important to monitor your garden every day for pests. Be sure to look under the leaves as lots of pests like to live there. If you find insects that cause a problem, spot treat the area they are in with Neem Oil or some other relatively non-toxic product. Avoid spraying the whole garden because you will kill the beneficial insects. That allows the bad bugs to rebound into a much bigger problem because all of their natural enemies are dead.
- Birds. Birds like vegetables such as tomatoes and berries just as much as people do. Fruit and vegetables are vulnerable to birds because the fence does nothing to keep them out. You will have to spread bird netting over the plants that birds bother to protect your crop.
Vegetable gardening can really subsidize the cost of groceries if you have the room for even a small garden. Address these problems and you are a lot more likely to get some nice produce for your efforts.