Your plants should be large and healthy during the peak of the vegetable gardening season. The fruit and vegetables should be plentiful and the flowers vibrant.
This means that your entire ecosystem is in optimum health and can produce large harvests, which makes growing your own food so worthwhile.
What if your garden or individual plants look terrible? What can you do?
Now it’s time for you to investigate the root cause. Problems with the soil? Too little sun? Not enough sun?
This article will discuss how to diagnose why your garden is not performing as you expect.
First, know that you are not the only one. It happened to me. Two houses. Even after installing new raised beds and ordering new soil.
Here’s the short version:
We installed four raised beds in our front yard when we bought our house at the beginning June a few years back.
The plants were quite yellow because I had a lot of seedlings to tend to all spring. It’s quite common for a seedling to bounce back after being planted with a poor looking appearance.
The plants still looked stressed and had not grown much in four weeks. I quickly went through the most common causes of plant growth and attempted to figure out what was going on.
Below, I will guide you through each one.
Six Reasons Your Vegetable Garden Could be Struggling
If your plants are yellow or not growing properly, you will need to examine several things to determine if they are the problem.
Are you getting enough sunlight in your garden? Full sun is best for vegetables. They need to be in the sun at least eight hours per day. Lack of sunlight could be the reason your vegetables aren’t growing as large or producing as much as they should.
It’s best to move your garden into full sun. If you are unable to relocate your garden, consider growing vegetables that require less sunlight.
Tomatoes, melons and peppers are warm-weather vegetables. These might not be the best choices for partially shaded gardens.
Plant root vegetables such as carrots and beets instead, and leafy veggies like spinach, salad mix and cilantro.
My garden gets full sun so this was not a problem.
Your garden’s success depends on sun and soil. Lack of nutrients in the soil can cause problems if you don’t have enough sunlight to grow the vegetables that you have planted in your garden.
A organic fertilizer is a good choice for most gardeners. Even if you have ordered soil for a garden, it is likely that the soil isn’t as healthy as it should.
To see if fertilizer makes a difference in your garden, you can purchase it at your local garden center or online.
A whole post with a video! I have written a whole post (with a video!) about which organic gardening fertilizer you should buy and how to use it when planting seeds or plants.
Learn more about how to create the best soil for your vegetable garden .
My garden was suffering from soil problems because of a lack of nutrients. I’ll tell you more about my solution in a moment.
Vegetable plants can behave strangely depending on the weather conditions in your area. Cool nighttime temperatures below 60°F and high daytime temperatures above 85°F can lead to tomato and pepper plants dropping their flowers. You may receive less than you expected if the weather is worsening at night when these plants are normally flowering and setting fruit.
Your plants may be stressed if you have been experiencing hot, dry weather recently without any rain. If you have sandy soil, make sure that your plants get at least an inch of water each week.
Mulching soil is highly recommended as it traps moisture and regulates soil temperatures.
Madison’s weather was quite average for this time of the year so I don’t believe weather is the problem.
It matters a lot which variety of vegetable you grow. It is important to choose a variety that will thrive in your area. This will ensure a productive and healthy garden. You might want to change your mind if you have been growing the same type of crop year after year.
Over the years, I have tried many different varieties in my garden. They all vary in terms of performance, yield and plant health. Talk to your local farmers or other gardeners to find out which varieties are proving to be successful. (Read more Where to Buy Vegetable Plants.
All the varieties that I was using in my garden were tried and true, which I have done for many years. They have performed better in the past so I knew that variety was not an issue.
#5 – Water
Your garden may be inhospitable if it is located in a boggy area that the soil remains waterlogged or you are overwatering (every day). Vegetable crops prefer to dry out between waterings. Some vegetables, like tomatoes and squash, don’t like being soggy.
It is best to water vegetables right at the roots of the plants. It is not a good idea to spray your entire garden with a sprinkler daily as this can lead to more disease problems for tomatoes and squashes.
My rain gauge had recorded approximately a foot of rainfall in the past two weeks. This is a lot of water! This new garden was installed right on top the grass, so drainage may have been poorer than in a more established garden.
Are the plants wet? Although the soil didn’t appear to be waterlogged, it was possible.
#6 – Insects and Disease
Insect and disease pressure are high, especially during summer gardening season. A poor performance in your garden could indicate an insect problem or disease.
Spend some time researching the vegetable plant. This is the best way to learn. Google “cucumber disease” or “cucumber pests”. You will find information about symptoms, how they look, and what you can do to stop them from attacking your plants.
I do not recommend spraying chemicals on your garden. My garden is home to thousands of beneficial insects, including dragonflies, bees, and butterflies. All insects, both beneficial and harmful, can be killed by chemicals. A healthy ecosystem requires a variety of insects in your garden.
My Masterclass Success In Every Season has an entire section dedicated to insect and disease. I will walk you through the various vegetable families, explain the most common diseases and pests, and offer options to protect your plants. Check it out.
The Verdict and Solution
After considering all possible causes, I concluded that my garden problems were likely due to soil problems. Many of the symptoms I experienced at my previous house were due to a lack in fertility.
Just so happened that I was reading The Intelligible Gardener: Growing Nutrient-Dense Food , which focuses on building soil fertility to produce food with the highest amount of nutrients.
The author provides a recipe for an organic fertilizer that you can make for your garden. I quickly gathered the ingredients and made a batch. I placed a handful of the ingredients around each plant, and then gently raked it into the soil using my fingers.
To help me evaluate my soil and to formulate a longer-term plan, I also sent a soil sample to the laboratory he recommended in the book.
This video will show you everything you need to know about soil and npk for gardeners.
I also reached out to the company where I purchased the soil. I shared my problems with them and said that I believed the soil I received had nutrient deficiencies. The staff member collected a soil sample from me and sent it to their lab.
After a week, my plants started to grow after I had applied the organic gardening fertilizer. It was incredible to see and confirmed my suspicions that my plants were stunted due to soil problems.
Moving forward with soil problems
You should first purchase an organic fertilizer to test your soil for deficiencies. If this doesn’t help, you might need to go the longer route and send a soil sample for an even more thorough analysis.
It is not possible to solve soil problems with just one application of fertilizer. Your soil may need to be balanced for several years.
This is why I recommend that you add organic fertilizer to all of your garden beds whenever you plant seeds or seedlings.
Since writing this article, I have been testing my soil each year to see if it is improving. My garden beds continue to be fertilized with my custom blend of soil several times per season. I have received many thanks from my plants for this!
Problems with soil are not jokes! Your garden can be negatively affected by a lack of nutrients.
It is worth the effort to address this problem. You’ll reap the benefits of lush, healthy plants that produce more vegetables and fruits for your family to enjoy. Plants that are healthy can resist disease and pests better.
Do not be intimidated by soil fertility. Try some experiments in your garden to see if your plants have a significantly higher vigor in the next season.
Additional resources for creating a successful garden
I want to help you get the best bang for your gardening buck. I believe gardening is more fun if you have more food to harvest.
My mission is to make your garden thrive.
Take a look at the resources I have created to help you learn and then let me guide you through avoiding the most common mistakes that I see gardeners make. There are many advanced mistakes that can be made.