Top Garden Challenges
Anyone who has been gardening for a while knows there is no such thing as a perfect garden, but with observation and careful planning, some of our biggest garden challenges can be minimized or maybe, if we are really lucky, even eliminated completely.
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Smart Garden Planning
Smart planning is essential to successful food production. Some garden challenges may take years of trial and error to find what works for your particular situation. Some get gradually better with each passing year. While others, just changing one simple thing may be all you need. To help you get a handle on this gardening thing, we will give you some of the most frequently asked questions about garden challenges and try to give you some ideas as to how to combat those headaches.
Learn more: A Well Planned Garden
Poor Soil – The Problem
The number one thing that can wreck a garden is poor soil. If your soil is not good, your plants will not be healthy. Healthy soil rich with organic matter and nutrients will go a long way toward combating all kinds of garden challenges. Unhealthy plants are a magnet for pests and diseases, leading to many other problems. Besides the fact that unhealthy plants will not be as nutritious. Unhealthy soil will let nutrients wash out of the soil very quickly and either will dry out too fast or stay waterlogged. The most important thing you can do for your garden is to improve the soil. Healthy plants will be less stressed by the imperfections in the weather. They will be better able to withstand a little abuse or neglect than plants grown in poor, unhealthy soil.
Soil is alive and it needs to be fed so it in turn can feed your plants. Just like a strong house, your soil needs to be built. Remember those three little pigs? One built out of straw, one out of sticks, and one out of bricks. The house that stood up to that mean nasty big bad wolf was the one that was made of the best material. Your soil needs to be built out of the best materials too. Compost, vermiculture, and mulch are all great places to start. And all soil needs to be fed more of it every year. You should also do a soil test to determine what nutrients your soil is missing. Many, if not most soils are deficient in some minerals and don’t forget your PH. All of these things are an important part of building strong soil.
Learn more: Build Million Dollar Garden Soil.
Learn more: What Is Soil PH, And Why Does It Matter?
Fertilizer – The Problem
Your plants cannot grow healthy and be productive if they are not getting all the nutrients they need. One of the biggest mistakes made by gardeners is not fertilizing enough. Especially in rainy weather. Rains can make fertilizer wash right through the soil and out of reach of your plants. But be aware, that you can fertilize too much. Too much fertilizer can burn plants. Excess fertilizer can also pollute waterways if rains cause runoff.
Now that you have tested your soil you know what your soil needs more of. If your soil is good, some of your plants, the light feeders, may do fine with only the compost that you gave them at the beginning of the growing season, but heavy feeders need more. It’s a good practice to give your plants a very light feeding every couple of weeks to be sure your plants are getting all they need. Frequent small additions of fertilizer, especially things such as compost or worm tea are gentle on your plants and are in a form your plants, and the microorganisms that feed them can use. Remember, if you are practicing succession planting, to add more fertilizer before the new seed or plant goes in the ground.
Weeds – The Problem
Weeds are one of the greatest garden challenges and chores for the gardener. Weeds can steal needed water and nutrients from your garden plants, harbor bad insects, shade or crowd out your vegetables, and just make your beautiful garden look messy.
Pull a few weeds every day. Not only will you get them out when they are small and they won’t do damage to your vegetables as they are removed, but you also get to see the garden every day and can see problems as they start, before they become big problems. Removing weeds when they are small is important also because you don’t want them to go to seed. One chickweed plant, for example, can make up to 800 seeds! That’s a lot of weed pulling. Mulching is also an effective method of lessening weeds. Notice I said lessening as all gardens will have some weeds.
Learn more: 10 Way To Make Weeds Go Away
Too much Water / Too Little Water – The Problem
Your garden is a lot like Goldie Locks. It likes things Just Right. Standing water will rot the roots of your plants and if it is too dry the plant cannot take up the nutrients that it needs.
If your garden is in an area that floods, consider moving it. If that is not an option, see if you can drain the area or at the very least, make raised beds. A garden cannot survive in standing water.
Too little water is an easier fix. Provided that you have running water nearby. Remember, soaker hoses or drip irrigation are far superior for a vegetable garden than sprinklers. And watering in the early morning is preferable to late in the day or evening. Hand watering is only practical if you only have a few plants in containers.
Learn More: How To Start A Vegetable Garden For Beginners.
Too much Sun/ Too Little Sun – The Problem
Each plant is pretty picky about how much sun it needs. A tomato will not set fruit without a minimum of 6 hrs of sunlight. But lettuce left in direct light for 14 hrs a day will start to bolt. The trick here is to know what your individual varieties need. Seed catalogs or the back of the seed packet help you with this, but your climate may affect this also. After all, full sun at 80° is very different than full sun at 105°. Especially for extended periods of time.
Most important, know what your plants need. If you have an area with too little sun, plant shade-loving plants. If you have direct sun all day long in the summer, you may have to provide some shade for your more sensitive plants.
Check This Out: Garden Shade Cloth
Climate / Zone / Weather – The Problem
Every area (zone) comes with its own set of garden challenges and advantages. It is true that a person in zone 5 cannot grow an orange tree. (at least not outside in the ground) But then again a person in zone 10 cannot grow a bing cherry. (sigh) A person in Mane will have problems growing long hot season vegetables like sweet potatoes or eggplant. then again onions and garlic are a challenge for someone in South Florida. And how about dry desert areas or very windy areas? Everywhere has its own set of challenges.
There are some problems faced by gardeners that you cannot overcome, so find the things that grow well where you live and grow a lot of them. Get to know the plants that grow well in your area. You may find there are many things you have never heard of before that, once you start growing, you just love. Good places to learn the things that are best for your area are from your county extension office or a local garden club. I joined a local garden club and learned there are many perennial plants that do well in my zone 10 garden to take the place of the lettuce and greens that will not grow here in the summer. If you are in a colder climate you can use greenhouses or row covers to extend your season. If the wind blows over your corn, plant a hedge or build a privacy fence to block the wind.
The surest way to get a harvest is to diversify. Make sure you are growing many different varieties so if one plant is taken out, others may do well. If you lose the whole garden to a hail storm. Have some short-season veggie seeds to pop right in the ground so you can still salvage the season.
Critters – The Problem
And a problem they can be! *gerrr*
Whether it is rabbits, squirrels, birds, raccoons or deer, or any other of dozens of veggie or fruit-loving animals. Critters can be an especially difficult problem. Even Mr. McGregor battled those cute little bunnies in the book Peter Rabbit. If you have a garden you’ve probably battled some type of critter too. When I first started gardening, I decided to grow some watermelons. I had a backyard full of watermelons that I watched getting bigger each week. I went out each day and tapped them to see if they were ripe. One day I told my children that tomorrow we were going to try one because I thought they were just about finished. The next morning we looked out the window at my backyard overgrown with watermelon vines to see all 13 watermelons with their hearts scooped out. RACCOONS!
There are so many products designed to combat these big garden challenges. Some work better than others. Of course, the only solution that is really foolproof (at least that I know of) is fencing. I’m not talking about a pretty picket fence. I’m talking “I mean business” six feet tall, eighteen inches buried in the ground, one inch openings, and across the top too. Yes, you would need to cage the whole thing in to keep them all out. Ok, I admit, I’ve dreamed about this, but I don’t have it.
Each area has its own critter problem. Maybe yours is that cute cotton tailed rabbit. He’s cute until he gets into your garden. And don’t even think that a 6′ chain link fence will keep him out. I have seen rabbits go through a chain link fence at a dead run (with my dog right on his heels). To keep out a rabbit you will need chicken wire or smaller, at least 8″ high, from the ground up and 6″ into the ground as they can dig. This method works well for many other small creatures too…..but not squirrels.
Squirrels are my Waterloo. In years past I was always able to plant just a little extra to share with the squirrels. But this year we had a population explosion. I counted 12 squirrels in one yard a few weeks ago. That’s a lot of extra planting. (this is when I’d like to have that cage)
Deer are a problem all their own. High fences and double fences, at that, have been used successfully by many. The solution that seems to work the best for most people is the electric fence. Deer are pretty smart and learn quickly that they don’t like to be shocked and will move on to easier pickings.
Another option for the challenge of deer eating your garden is a motion-activated sprayer. It is very startling and they don’t like it.
In the book, Secret Garden of Survival: How to Grow a Camouflaged Food Forest, The author Rick Austin has permanently fenced out most intruders with a thick mass of blackberries around the perimeter. Few would-be marauders dare to cross it. He also tells of a potion of rotten eggs and other undesirables that he pours outside the garden area. For deer, he plants rosemary, one of the loveliest of all culinary herbs. The deer don’t like the scent. He uses garlic, onions and chives to repel rodents. (mint helps too)
Another place to check is with your county extension office or garden club for the solutions that work best on your local critters.
Learn more: Mint. Growing, Cooking, Using, Healing.
Too Little Pollination – The Problem
Many fruiting plants cannot set fruit with out a little bug of some type to pollinate it. You can have beautiful plants and no fruit at all or very little if you have no pollinators.
This is one of the most pleasant fixes of all your garden challenges. Just plant flowering plants that attract more pollinators. Some good choices are asters, fennel, sweet alyssum, sunflower, zinnias, marigolds, basil, lavender and my personal favorite, borage (bees just love it!). Have a variety of flowers and herbs so you have something blooming all the time.
Don’t spray pesticides. Even organic pesticides can harm pollinators.
Put up houses specially made to attract mason bees or butterflies. Keep an area under trees free of mulch and grass for solitary ground nesting bees. If you live in a dry area you may want to provide insect water stations too. Insects like all living things need water. Adding marbles or small stones to a shallow dish gives the insects something to land on without drowning. Just remember to check/change it frequently so you are not breeding mosquitoes.
If you still don’t have enough pollinators you might consider getting your own honeybee hive.
Learn More: Raising Bees
Learn More: Plant Flowers That Attract Bees.
Not Enough Space – The Problem
You don’t have a yard or only a tiny one. Maybe you are renting and can’t dig up the grass. Maybe you live in an apartment and only have a balcony.
Don’t just dream of your own garden, plant in pots. Many plants can be grown in containers. You can get some very pretty containers that will even look good in the front yard or on the front steps or lining your walk way. There are many varieties bred specifically for growing in pots. You don’t have to give up quality to grow in containers either. My daughter grew a “Patio Princess” tomato this year for this reason, and it was one of the best tasting tomatoes I’ve ever eaten.
And don’t forget going Vertical. One pumpkin plant can take up a very large area leaving you precious little space for anything else. But if you grow it on a fence or trellis It’s amazing how much more space you can free up.
Learn More: Vertical Gardening
Learn More: How To Start Container Gardening.
Erosion – The Problem
Tilled ground leaves ground susceptible to erosion either on a slope by rain or on flat ground by the wind. Both ways can rob you of that precious topsoil we talked about in problem #1.
Leaving your soil tilled may not be an option for you. Some people will plant a cover crop, mow it and leave the mowed tops as mulch and plant right in the cover crop stubble. This really helps keep wind from caring off your soil. If you are on a hill this may work for you too. Terracing may be another option for those on a hill. And of course mulch, mulch, mulch.
Learn more: To Till Or Not To Till
Learn more: Mulch For Your Vegetable Garden
Whew that was a long list! Did I include your pet peeve? If not let me know what is the major challenge you have encountered while planting a vegetable garden. Or maybe you have come up with a unique solution to one of these problems. We would all love to hear about it.