8 Common Garden Problems and How to Solve Them
Keep these fixes in mind for a successful garden bloom.
Summer gardens bring with them bountiful harvests, budding flowers and a sense of gratitude. It’s something gardeners look forward to all winter long – especially as the cold season comes to a close. There’s something special about creating a farm-to-table atmosphere where home-grown vegetables are enjoyed and fresh-cut flowers are admired.
But, with the many benefits of having a garden come a host of problems that can frustrate the most seasoned of gardeners. From pesky pests to out-of-control weeds, you can expect to be managing your fair share of garden problems.
The good news is there are ways to prevent and cure those annoying interferences. One of the first habits to form when gardening is to regularly observe your garden. Observing your plants every day will give you a better understanding of what they look like when they’re healthy; this way you’ll notice when there’s a problem right away.
With early detection and proper mitigation remedies, you can make the best out of these garden issues and continue to reap the many benefits of having your own garden.
Here are the most common garden problems and how you can safely and effectively solve them or at least keep them at bay.
Consider yellowing leaves on your garden plants their facial expression; they’re unhappy and something is off. While yellowing leaves (also called chlorosis) are caused by a handful of things, nutrient deficiencies are the most common cause. Plants need a well-balanced amount of nutrients. After heavy rains, over-watering or not enough TLC in the fertilizing department, plants can begin to run low on important nutrients.
Solution: Purchasing organic fish fertilizer will provide your plants with much-needed, quick-absorbing nitrogen and enzymes they need to thrive. You can also get your soil tested at a local university, cooperative extension or order a kit online to determine what your soil is lacking.
Powdery mildew, a fungal disease that affects a wide variety of plants, is one of the easier plant diseases to identify. You’ll first notice the white powdery appearance on the leaves of your garden plants (which look like dusty white and gray splotches), with the lower leaves being the most affected. Increased causes include lowered plant immunity, plant damage, poor air circulation or excessive humidity.
Solution: Powdery mildew starts on the underside of your leaves, so be sure to check that area regularly. Begin by cutting back visible parts of your plants that have powdery mildew. Do not compost the clippings as it can cause the spores to spread. Applying a natural fungicide like cold-pressed neem oil, or products with citric acid like Pure Crop (which is natural and bee-friendly) will help treat or prevent powdery mildew. You can also build the plant's immunity by applying microbe-boosting products like EM-1 which is so safe you can drink it.
If you’re using neem, mix with warm water, and equal parts castile soap/neem to help emulsify in water better.
They’re cute, but what they do to your produce isn’t. These furry animals love to feed on tender greens, leaving crops nibbled to pieces. In fact, rabbits will eat almost any homegrown food crop they can reach.
Solution: Protect your crops by installing a wire fence with gaps one inch or smaller around your garden beds or individual plants. Chicken wire works well, too. For extra protection, bury the fence six inches deep to prevent determined rabbits from digging under.
Collars made of tin cans, or motion-scare devices can help ward them off as well. Planting rabbit-deterrent plants such as marigolds and onions will help them think twice before enjoying a meal at your garden’s expense. The goal is to deter them, not injure or harm them.
Weeds are a part of a gardener’s life – they are the green that keeps on coming. Until they are deprived of sunlight, they will forever be a part of your garden.
Solution: The best way to handle this perennial garden problem is to stop weeds before they take over. Start by covering your garden area with a solid barrier. The most popular options are heavy-duty landscape fabric, cardboard or organic matter like mulch, leaves or straw.
For the landscape fabric, place it over the areas of your garden where you won’t be growing plants. This will block the sunlight and the fabric can last for years. You can also place the landscape fabric in your garden and cut holes in the fabric where your plants will be growing.
For carboard application, cover the ground where you wish to control weeds and then top with mulch. Aged bark mulch or straw are common materials to cover your carboard with; not only is it aesthetically pleasing but it’s fantastic at keeping pesky weeds at bay.
Last but not least, applying cornmeal will prevent weed seeds from germinating. Sprinkle it on your garden but keep in mind, it prevents all seeds from germinating so make sure your plants are well established before application.
These tiny but invasive insects attack plants in colonies while feeding off of almost every part of the plant, from stems to flowers. Aphids multiply rapidly and can make their way into almost all gardens and zones, sucking the life out of plants. They are nearly invisible to the naked eye which makes this pest a tricky one to spot.
When identifying, look for small, slow-moving bugs, which tend to hang out in droves on the underside of leaves. Common aphid colors include green, brown and gray. To get a good look at any lingering pests, use a piece of clear tape and lightly touch the bug(s) making sure some stick to the tape. Use a magnifying glass to inspect the insects’ characteristics.
Solution: For prevention and/or treatment, spray your garden plants once a week with a mixture of cold-press neem oil (a naturally occurring pesticide), water and castile soap to eliminate or reduce the population of aphids in no time. You can also purchase a ready-to-use neem concentrate like Azamax for easier mixing.
When creating a homemade mixture, the cold-pressed neem oil needs to be at room temperature for it to be in a liquid state. Otherwise, place in warm water. Use equal parts castile soap to neem oil to help emulsify in water. The neem oil directions will tell you the application rate for the aphid-repelling mixture.
Another way to deter aphids is to plant aphid-repellent flowers and crops such as marigolds, catmint, onions, garlic or chives within your garden or along its borders.
The Japanese beetle damages plants by skeletonizing the foliage or defoliating them entirely. Not exactly the best look for fresh cut flowers from the garden – and they love rosebuds. A pest to over 200 plants, these buggers certainly don’t discriminate.
The summertime beetles are fairly easy to identify, and you will most likely catch them in the act. The tell-tale signs you have Japanese beetles are skeletonized leaves, and sometimes complete defoliation. Their bodies host a metallic green color with copper-colored wings.
Solution: Neem oil is great at controlling these plant-eating pests, and in fact, it helps with mitigating dozens of other plant pests. When bugs come in contact with the natural insecticide, they pass it to their eggs, stomping out the infestation.
Another helpful solution is combining a quart of water with one teaspoon of organic dish soap. Mix the solution thoroughly and add to a spray bottle; apply directly to the pest.
For prevention, applying beneficial nematodes to the soil kills the grubs that turn into Japanese beetles. Ideally, apply nematodes in the spring before the beetles emerge. The soil needs to be moist when applying; after rainfall is a good time for application.
These slimy crawlers sneak into your garden at night and devour the leaves and fruit of your produce. A well-known gardener’s nightmare, when left uncontrolled, the plant-eating slugs can destroy your entire garden (especially when plants are young).
Tell-tale signs of a problematic slug infestation are holes in the plant, including stems, leaves, flowers and bulbs that are usually accompanied by a shiny or silvery trail of slime.
Solution: Possibly one of the best options for treating garden slugs is diatomaceous earth. It’s natural, cost-effective and fast-acting. The high silica concentration in diatomaceous earth binds to the slugs as they pass over it, pulling moisture from their bodies, thus fatally dehydrating them.
You can also trap or deter slugs naturally with barriers of copper strips (which give off a harmless electric shock), or pine needles (slugs hate the feeling of pine needles), placed around your crops.
Fresh coffee grounds placed around your crops are also another excellent option. One sniff of caffeine, and slugs “run” the other way. Fresh or used coffee grounds both work well.
If you want to simplify the process, products like Sluggo do the trick.
Blossom-end rot is characterized by a dark, rotting spot at the blossom end of the fruit, affecting many vegetable favorites like tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and melons. Most often caused by calcium deficiency, when treated early it’s fairly easy to save your plants.
Solution: First things first, pick the affected fruits to reduce the plant stress. You can cut out the rotted spots on the fruit and consume as normal. Immediately after, apply a calcium product to the affected plants to prevent further rot.