17 Common Garden Problems (& How to Fix Them!)


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raised beds vs in ground beds

Garden issues do not discriminate. Even veteran gardeners find themselves frustrated with yellowing leaves, seeds that refuse to sprout or slow growing plants at one time or another. When issues begin to arise in the garden, stay calm! Take notes on the look of the plant and the soil. It is important to check the leaves, stem, blossoms, and fruit to get a clear idea of the problem and the cause, so then it is easier to map out a solution.

Yes, it can be frustrating, but do not worry when garden issues strike! We are here to help! Remember, as humans, we cannot control everything. The environment, pests or disease (fungal, bacterial or viral) are a few likely causes of garden problems – all of which are out of our control. Yes, some of these situations are more difficult to combat than others, but the key is to stick with it. Pray over it! Don’t give up on having a beautiful garden!

Here are a few common issues, possible causes and solutions to get back to the garden you know and love!

Seed/Seedling Problems

Problem 1: My seed refuses to sprout!

Seed sprouting

If a seed has yet to sprout, it could just be that it needs a little more time to germinate. Is the weather ideal? Be sure to plant seeds at the proper time for the climate and do not be afraid to replant if you believe it is necessary. Check out this article to learn the temperature seeds germinate.

Check the soil. Is it too dry? Too wet? If the soil is too dry, water it. If it is too wet, the seeds may have rotted and replanting is necessary for any growth. If you are wondering if your soil is healthy enough, check out this article with easy steps to test for healthy soil.

Birds. Birds may be the cause. Birds love seeds. Maybe they ate the seed. Obviously, replanting is necessary. Also, if this might be a recurring issue, think about covering the garden with bird netting or some sort of container over the top of the seed or seeds to deter it happening again.

Fresh seeds. Be sure to check the expiration dates on your seed packets. If you use your own seeds from the previous season, be sure it is no older than a year or two. In general, as seeds get older, the germination rate goes down. If you believe your seed may have been too old to germinate, it is time to replant with fresh seed.

Problem 2: My young plants are wilting and dying!

Seedlings dying

Check the soil. Dry soil could be the cause of seedlings wilting and dying. Be sure to keep the soil evenly moist. A great practice for growing from seed indoors is to bottom water.

Do not overwater the seedlings. A fungal disease called Damping Off, which is most common in high humidity and warm temperatures, could be the cause. Treat soil with fungicide and be sure to use a sterile seed-starting mix. Here’s what I use.

Rotting roots and/or stems is another possibility. Again, be sure not to overwater. Add compost to the top of your soil every year.

Gardeners who use synthetic fertilizer may run into fertilizer burn, which can cause seedlings to wilt and die. Fertilizer burn is not even possible in a garden that has organic fertilizer! If you are using a synthetic fertilizer, though, follow the instructions on the bag. Young plants often need a half to one-quarter dose of the full strength amount of fertilizer.

This is also a case where an old seed could cause an issue. Be sure seeds are no older than a year or two. In general, as seeds get older, the germination rate goes down. If you believe your seed may have been too old to germinate, it is time to replant with fresh seed.

Cutworm damage

You may have a creepy crawly problem! Cutworms are creatures you do not want to invite to the garden. Check the base of the plants for cutworm larvae and be sure to keep the garden clean of debris, weeds and plant residue. Remove the dead plant completely. When replanting, use paper towel or toilet paper rolls to protect seedlings from these bad bugs. The cardboard will eventually fall apart and turn into compost (no cleanup!). Once this happens, the plant should be strong enough to stand up to those cutworms!

Root maggots

Root maggots, another possible cause of wilting/dying seedlings, occur when flies or moths lay eggs in the soil. Floating row covers will prevent this from happening to new plants.

Problem 3: Small plants die after turning a brown color. (Leaves and stems may or may not have dark spots)

It is highly likely that plants with this leaf pattern have a plant virus. Remove all infected plants and their leaves, stems, etc. from the garden and garden area. Remove all unwanted insects and weeds.

This could also be caused by fertilizer or chemical burn. Fertilizer burn is not even possible in a garden that uses organic fertilizer! If you are using synthetic fertilizer, though, follow the instructions on the bag.

General Plant Problems

Problem 4: My plants look weak, frail, and skinny.

If plants are looking this way, they may not be receiving enough sunlight. Always plant a garden in a location where it will receive six to eight hours of sunlight per day. Make sure plants are not too crowded. Also do not allow larger plants to shade smaller plants.

Do not overwater. If this is the cause, stop watering and let the soil dry out. A good watering practice is to water when the top three inches of soil is dry. Work on improving drainage by mixing in peat moss, vermiculite, perlite or compost to the soil.

Too much nitrogen in the soil may be causing weak plants. As always, avoid too much synthetic fertilizing. We recommend organic fertilizing, specifically with compost, that way you don’t have to worry about this problem.

Problem 5: My partially or fully grown plants are wilting!

Wilting tomato plant

Check the soil. If the soil is too dry, water thoroughly. A good practice is to water when the top three inches of soil is dry. If the soil is too wet, stop watering until it dries out and work on improving drainage by mixing in peat moss, vermiculite, perilite or compost to the soil.

Disease could have hit the garden. Keep the garden clean and continually remove all weeds. Two more specific possible causes of grown plants wilting include root rot or vascular wilt, which are both fungal diseases that affect plants. Rotating crops can help combat this from happening in the future. Be sure not to overwater and grow disease-resistant varieties of plants if possible.

Root knot nematodes are worms that can cause harm in the garden. Rotating crops can also help avoid these creepy crawlies! Also plant resistant seed varieties whenever possible.

Problem 6: My plants are growing slowly and the leaves are light green or pale yellow.

Yellowing leaves

If plants are growing this way, they may not be receiving sufficient sunlight. Is your garden receiving six to eight hours of sunlight per day? Are your plants crowded? Are larger plants shading smaller plants? Fix these issues if they are present!

Another possible cause is cold weather. Protect plants with floating row covers or hot caps can help keep plants warm.

Check the soil. How is the pH? The ideal pH for soil is 7.0. If soil is too alkaline, try adding a sulfur product or more compost to improve the pH. The soil may also have a nutrient deficiency. Again, compost is the answer! Is the soil compacted? Compost! Work on drainage!

Again, be sure you are not overwatering! If this is the cause, stop watering and let the soil dry out. A good watering practice is to water when the top three inches of soil is dry. Work on improving drainage by mixing in peat moss, vermiculite, perilite or compost to the soil.

Check for unwanted insects or diseases. If one side of the plant is turning yellow before the other side, this may be Yellow or Wilt Disease. In this case, the entire plant should be removed.

Leaf Problems

Problem 7: The leaves and/or stems on my plants have green, yellow and/or brown spots/patches. The leaves are puckered and the growth is stunted.

Yellow leaves with brown spots

It is highly likely that plants with this leaf pattern have a plant virus. Remove all infected plants and their leaves, stems, etc. from the garden and garden area. Remove all unwanted insects and weeds.

This could also be caused by fertilizer or chemical burn. Fertilizer burn is not even possible in a garden that uses organic fertilizer! If you are using synthetic fertilizer, though, follow the instructions on the bag.

Problem 8: The edges (also called margins) of the leaves on my plants look shriveled and brown.

Potassium deficiency in plants

This could be caused by dry soil. Try watering to see if the problem is resolved.

This could also be caused by fertilizer burn. Fertilizer burn is not even possible in a garden that uses organic fertilizer! If you are using a synthetic fertilizer, though, follow the instructions on the bag.

The garden may have a potassium deficiency. Test your soil and follow instructions or just add compost.

Have the plants had to endure inclement weather? Keep plants at an ideal temperature during cold weather with floating row covers. Be sure to plant during recommended times for each plant.

Problem 9: My leaves look distorted – they are curled and or/puckered.

Wilt disease

This could be caused by wilt disease, which affects the vascular system of the plant. Immediately remove the plant if you believe this is the case. To avoid this in the future, be sure to rotate crops year by year and grow disease-resistant varieties when possible.

Aphids may be the issue. Destroy them by spraying them away with water and/or insecticide soap or neem oil. Aphids can also spread viruses. Remove any plant that seems to have a virus. See above to avoid disease in the future.

We do not recommend using herbicides, but if you have used them in your garden, then they could have caused this problem. We always recommend weeding by hand.

Problem 10: The leaves on my small plants are curled and the edges are rolled. The veins of the leaves are light colored and the surface of the leaves looks distorted.

This is most likely damage from a weed killer. Again, we always recommend weeding by hand and discontinuing use of any sort of weed killer.

Problem 11: The leaves on my plants have tiny white dots!

Spider mites

This may be caused by spider mites. Use an insecticidal soap, neem oil, or treat the plant with a registered miticide to get rid of spider mites.

If spider mites do not seem to be the problem, this may be an environmental issue of air pollution. Wash the plants with water and allow them to dry before it gets dark.

Problem 12: I have found a powdery white substance on the top parts of the plant.

Powdery mildew

This is most likely powdery mildew, which is a fungal disease. It most often happens when leaves are dry and the weather is humid. Make sure plants have enough space for air circulation and that they are planted in an area with full sun. Think about planting disease resistant plants. You can trim off the leaves that have the most powdery mildew.

Problem 13: I have found holes in my leaves and plants/fruits that look like they have been chewed or gnawed.

Holes in leaves

You probably have a pest problem. Likely pests are insects, birds, rabbits, slugs or rodents. Try to identify the type of pest and avoid it accordingly. Try floating row covers or fencing to block unwanted pests. Neem oil is safe to use to deter or kill unwanted pests but doesn’t harm beneficial insects.

This could also be caused by high winds or hail. Protect the plants with barriers or floating row covers when necessary.

Problem 14: My leaves look shredded or stripped from the plant.

This is likely another pest problem. Likely pests include rodents, deer or slugs. Try floating row covers or fencing to block unwanted pests.
Neem oil is safe to use to deter or kill unwanted pests but doesn’t harm beneficial insects.

Problem 15: The blossoms on my tomato or pepper plants are rotting.

Blossom end rot

Has the weather been wet lately and then suddenly very dry? If this is the case, mulch to even out the soil and be sure to water evenly.

A calcium deficiency could be to blame. Add lime.

Check the soil for compaction. The plants may not be getting sufficient nutrients and water if this is the case. Add compost!

The plant may have a root injury caused by being planted too deep. This may not be curable at the moment, but be sure to plant at a proper depth next time.

Harvest Problems

Problem 16: My plants are not producing fruit!

Did you plant at the recommended time of year? The weather may be too hot or too cold for your specific plant.

It may be as simple as your plant is not mature enough yet. In this case, just wait a little longer!

Maybe your plants have not been pollinated. It is possible to hand pollinate by using a brush or simply shaking the plant so that the pollen will fall to other flowers. If you are not comfortable trying this method, use pollinator attractors and DO NOT kill pollinating insects!

The soil may contain too much nitrogen. Again, we do not recommend using synthetic fertilizers, so add compost and avoid synthetic fertilizers next time.

Problem 17: My plants are producing fewer fruits than I expected. They are small and not very tasty.

The moisture in the soil may be uneven. At this point in the season, I would recommend mulching to retain soil moisture. Be sure to water evenly.

Did you plant at the recommended time of year? The weather may be too hot or too cold for your specific plant.

The soil may not be rich enough. Add compost.

Conclusion

Again, no gardener is immune to garden issues because we cannot control the environment, so do not be discouraged! It is important that gardeners keep a close eye on seeds, plants, and fruits in order to catch and resolve issues as soon as possible. This list is meant to help any and every gardener out there find, fix and avoid garden issues. We love gardening and we want everyone else to love it too, without being frustrated. Hang in there! Giving up is never the solution!

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Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;

Proverbs 3:5



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Corey Leichty

Hi, I’m Corey and I love using gardening as a way to provide food for my family, learn life lessons alongside my wife, Andrea, and teach life lessons to my two sons. Do you have gardening questions? Not finding what you are looking for? Please feel free to Ask a Question (Click Here!) and I will get back with you as soon as I can!

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