Conquering Common Garden Problems

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Cool spring mornings are behind us—the summer heat is here. As your garden seedlings grow taller each day, you can almost taste the fresh tomatoes and peppers and smell the juicy cucumbers and squash.

But as you take your daily garden stroll, you may notice something’s wrong. Maybe your pepper plant is droopy and wilted, or yellowing, or covered in little black spots. Maybe your lettuce is being chomped down to size by unknown critters. Or maybe you’re worried your basil plant just can’t take the heat.

Don’t panic! These are common garden problems all gardeners must overcome to reap a bountiful harvest. Whether you tilled and planted half your yard or are just growing a pot or two of tomatoes, it takes a lot of work, patience, and just a bit of faith to keep a garden healthy and growing.

Take a look at the tips below to nurture your garden all summer long.

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How Much Water?

Am I watering my plants too much or too little?

This may seem like a simple question, but it’s an enigma for many new gardeners. Don’t worry. Several factors come into play when watering your precious sprouts. Let’s take a more in-depth look.

  • As a general rule of thumb, your garden should receive about two inches of water a week. Slow watering is best. It allows the water to travel deeper into the soil. Water too quickly, and the moisture evaporates before it can help plants grow stronger, deeper roots. It’s why garden drip systems are so successful.
  • If your soil surface is soggy or wet to the touch, hold off on watering just yet. But if your soil feels dry an inch below the surface, it’s time to get out your watering can.
  • Different types of soil hold water for different lengths of time. Sandy soil will dry out quickly. Clayish soil dries out much slower, but can cause roots to rot. Loamy soil is ideal—it’s the best mixture for proper water retention.
  • If a plant’s leaves are turning yellow, or even brown at the tip, it’s likely receiving too much water. Plants needing more water will begin to wilt, droop, or their leaves may become dry and crispy.
  • Climate is everything when it comes to watering your garden. If you live in a cool, wet climate, you won’t need to water as much. But if you’re used to dry, hot summers, some plants may need to be watered daily.

At the end of the day, experience may be the best teacher for keeping your garden watered and healthy. With time, you’ll learn to notice if your tomatoes need more water while your lettuce needs less. In my experience, new gardeners tend to overwater their gardens more often than underwater them. Just be careful not to kill your plants with kindness.

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What’s Up With These Weeds?

Nothing in life is certain except for death, taxes…and weeds.

If you plant a garden, weeds will find their way into it. The key is to keep them manageable. It’s okay if they’re a mild annoyance, but not if they’re growing thick and large enough to stunt your garden’s growth.

Here are a few ways to help with your garden weeding:

  • Traditional gardening is often the most difficult when it comes to weeds. Consider a raised bed or container gardening. Both of these methods are much easier to manage unwanted plant growth.
  • Make sure your soil isn’t too clayish. Clay soil is denser and holds onto weed roots. Weeds are quite easy to remove from a loamy soil.
  • Pull a weed the moment you see it. Don’t let it grow and come back to pull it later. The roots will have grown much deeper and could damage your plants when pulled. And mature weeds will seed and spread throughout your garden.
  • Use a weed barrier—like landscaping fabric or a few inches of mulch—to slow weed growth in your garden. Just know, weed barriers can also prevent proper watering, so avoid placing them too close to your plants.
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I Think Something Ate My Garden

Tomatoes, bell peppers, lettuce, and beets—they’re all delicious. Unfortunately, some six-legged creatures also agree.

Insects, diseases, and fungi can do serious damage to even a healthy, growing garden. So keep an eye out for these common pests or diseases:

  • Aphids

Aphids are small, green bugs that appear in mass to suck nutrients out of plants. They multiply quickly and can be hard to control. Look for misshapen, curled, or yellowing leaves. Be sure to check the undersides, aphids love to hide there.

  • Squash Bugs

Similar to aphids, but looking more like stink bugs, squash bugs hide on the underside of leaves to extract nutrients from them. Look for misshapen, curled, or yellowing leaves. Squash bugs often cause more damage than aphids, but will only target squash, zucchini, pumpkins, cucumbers, and melons.

  • Tomato Hornworms

Few things can eat your tomato plants faster than a tomato hornworm. They’re green, fat, and grow up to five inches long. As masters at blending in with foliage, look for them if you find chewed or damaged leaves near the top of your tomato plants.

  • Grasshoppers

Like hornworms, grasshoppers are experts at munching the leaves of nearly any plant in your garden. Look for leaves with holes or chewed edges. If a bunch of bugs jump away when your foliage is disturbed, it’s a pretty obvious sign you’ve got a grasshopper problem.

For more info on garden pests and how to manage them, take a look at The Old Farmer’s Almanac.

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It’s normal for your garden to have a few problems as it grows. Pulling weeds, worrying about water, and daily plant health checks are all part of a gardener’s life. These obstacles get you out into the warm sun and fresh air, digging in the dirt. Remember, it’s the journey that makes the harvest so much sweeter.

By the sweat of your brow, you’ll eat your fresh veggies!

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