No Green Thumb? How to Troubleshoot Garden Problems
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We've been there. Inspired by the warm weather, you pick up a few tomatoes plants from the hardware store, section off a bit of yard, and excitedly anticipate fresh juicy tomatoes. Weeks later, they are looking a bit peaked. By the end of the summer, you are lucky to have harvested 1 or 2 less-than-stellar cherry tomatoes. (But boy, are you proud of them! I remember splitting one tiny tomato three ways in celebration).
At that point, you either declare that you don't have green thumb or you do a little digging (no pun intended) to figure out what went wrong. Determined to figure this gardening thing out, we did the latter. Here are a few things to consider if your last gardening attempt was a flop.
1. Location, location, location.
It's a simple rule of thumb: vegetable plants need sun. When you are planning a garden, think about the sunniest spots in your yard. In the winter, the angle of the sun is lower, but there is little leaf coverage to block the rays. So when evaluating where to place a garden, look up at the tree tops and think about how much shade they will provide once spring and summer roll around. Consider any shade that buildings would cast as well. You would never want to plant up against the north side of your house for this reason.
If you have a shady yard, you might still be able to get away with planting some greens such as lettuce, kale, and parsley if you get a few hours of sunlight in a certain spot. They will still provide, albeit not as robustly as if planted in full sun. Your other vegetable plants, such as tomatoes, beans, root vegetables, etc. will all need at least 8 hours of sunlight. That sunlight provides the energy they need to produce all of that delicious fruit!
A wonderful alternative for those of you with shady yards is an indoor hydroponic garden. These can be beautiful and prolific!
2. What's under your feet?
Soil can make or break a garden attempt. Some places have naturally rich dirt, others not so much. If you live in a subdivision like we did at one point, chances are the soil around your house is undesirable fill dirt. This often lacks the minerals and nutrients that plants need to absorb through their roots to grow and thrive.
The soil on the little farm we have now has a lot of clay. This poses an entirely different problem: drainage. If we plant something in the ground, it is as if we have hollowed out a clay pot that fills with water each time it rains. This past year, we received over 71 inches of rain - double the average! When plants sit in poorly drained soil, their roots can rot and they actually start to wilt because they cannot take up water and nutrients.
Other soil problems can range from too rocky to too sandy. If your soil seems fine enough but you are still having problems, you can take a sample to your local garden center for testing.
As I mentioned earlier, we've had the problem of too much rain this year. It was nice not to have to water, however if we had planted directly in the ground, our entire garden would have surely drowned. In addition to allowing us to customize the soil, planting in raised beds alleviates this issue as well, letting excess water drain so that plant roots do not rot. You can either build your own raised beds like we did or purchase kits complete with lumber.
If you do not get much rain, you'll want to be sure to water your garden regularly. The key is not to flood them once a week (which causes issues like tomato splitting), but rather a nice soak each day. The easiest way to accomplish this is with the use of soaker hoses on timers. If you have a planted a patio garden in pots, there are some wonderful inventions that take the hassle out of watering.
If something got to your veggies before you did, have heart. There are plenty of organic ways to keep pests at bay. Check out our article for an in-depth guide to identifying and combating unwelcome garden visitors.