Does it feel like everything wants to kill your garden? Here are 5 questions to ask to help you troubleshoot a gardening failure.
Gardening Failure: 5 Ways to Troubleshoot
Everything wants to kill your garden.
Does it ever feel that way to you?
It does to me. And even when you don’t have deer or cutworms or late blight or hornworms …
… or goats or nematodes or cucumber beetles or stinkbugs or rabbits or vine borers or squirrels …
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… or cabbage moths or gophers or powdery mildew or rats or aphids or leaf-cutter ants or mole crickets or actual moles or communist guerrillas …
… sometimes your crops just fail to do what they’re supposed to do and you can’t pin down the cause.
Trouble in the Pumpkin Patch
A few years ago I planted a couple thousand square feet with pumpkins, placing nice hills about 8–10 feet apart, clearing the weeds, putting composted manure in the hills, and doing everything right.
The vines grew all over the place, running wild down the hill and into the cocoa orchard next door. Yet the yield was lousy. I got a half-dozen small- to medium-sized pumpkins from all my hard work. I would have done better just buying pumpkins from a road-side stand.
I tried again the next year in a different spot and my pumpkins seemed to struggle with a nutrient deficiency that kept the leaves small and yellow and the fruit hardly worth picking.
The next year I moved and planted pumpkins in yet another spot, this time in thick, black clay. I dug beautiful hills and dumped in fish and compost and they grew well.
For a while.
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Then the vine borers killed most of them, leaving me only three or four pumpkins at the end of the season.
This week I am planting pumpkins again on a brand new piece of ground.
Fourth time’s the charm, right?
Never Give Up, Never Surrender!
Whenever you feel like giving up, it helps to remember the words of Commander Peter Quincy Taggart.
“Never give up! Never surrender!”
That doesn’t mean you should double down on failure, of course. Just because I keep fighting with pumpkins—and tomatoes, which is my other Achilles’ heel—it doesn’t mean that I should.
If you really desire to grow a particular thing and it keeps eluding you, that’s fine. Keep fighting. Keep trying. Keep testing different varieties and different approaches.
Yet if you find yourself failing and getting discouraged with all gardening, it’s time to change your approach.
Assess What Works and Test Varieties
Smart people learn through experience. If you had great luck with a particular variety of carrot, then by all means, plant it again!
If your kale all died but your mustard thrived, you might just give up on a kale and plant mustard instead. I learned that cauliflower and broccoli did well for me in North Florida while Brussels sprouts did not. I quit growing the latter.
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Here in the tropics, I have learned that pak choi grows much better than most other annual greens, so I’m planting more of it. Instead of giving up on my gardens when my cauliflower and kale transplants gave up the ghost, I noted that my pak choi was thriving and decided to double down.
It makes sense to plant lots of different things in order to determine what does well in your garden and what doesn’t.
If have have good success with Kentucky Beans but bad luck with Scarlet Runner beans, then plant more Kentucky Beans. If sweet corn fails on you but Hickory King dent corn does great, plant more Hickory King and eat grits instead of corn on the cob.
5 Troubleshooting Questions When You’re Dealing With Gardening Failure
If you’re not having much success with anything at all, then it’s time to see what else might be going wrong.
- Am I Watering Enough? A lack of water is a major limiting factor for plants. Don’t let them go thirsty.
- Am I Planting Too Close? Crowding veggies together will lead to poor yields and stunted growth. Go wider and thin sooner rather than later.
- Am I Buying Crummy Seed? Don’t skimp on seed. Buy from good companies with good reputations.
- Have I Offended the Gods? Did you build your garden over an ancient tomb? Did you cut down a sacred oak tree? Or bring home a voodoo doll from your Caribbean vacation? If you are a pagan, you might consider offering a sacrifice. If not, talk to your pastor about organizing a prayer meeting and/or exorcism.
- Are You Dealing With Deficiencies? Poor soil leads to poor yields and disease issues. Be sure to add compost to your beds and provide your plants with plenty of macro and micronutrients.
Don’t let gardening failure get you down. Look at it as a learning opportunity, and be ready to adjust what you plant and how you grow what you plant as problems arise.
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Each year, you’ll learn more and more about what grows well in your garden and how to keep it happy.
Never give up! Never surrender!
What Do You Think?
How do you deal with gardening failure? Share your experiences and your best suggestions in the comments!
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David The Good is a Grow Network Change Maker, a gardening expert, and the author of five books you can find on Amazon: Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting, Grow or Die: The Good Guide to Survival Gardening, Totally Crazy Easy Florida Gardening, Create Your Own Florida Food Forest, and Push the Zone: The Good Guide to Growing Tropical Plants Beyond the Tropics. Find fresh gardening inspiration at his website TheSurvivalGardener.com and be sure to follow his popular YouTube channel.