From Yellowing Foliage to End Rot, Here's How to Troubleshoot Common Vegetable Garden Problems
Even the most seasoned gardeners experience problems with their vegetable gardens from time to time. Everything from yellow cucumbers to split tomatoes can turn your harvest into a heartache. Here are some common issues you might encounter, plus ways to identify, avoid, or manage them.
Blossom End Rot
If you've ever noticed brown or decaying matter forming at the bottom of vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, and squash, then you have experienced blossom end rot, which, says Kelly Funk, a garden expert and the president of Park Seed, happens when plants are in a calcium deficit. To fix this, she recommends checking your soil's pH and salt levels, managing fertilization according to the needs of the particular plant type, and checking in on their moisture. "Irregular watering could be the culprit," Funk says. "Use watering systems or create a schedule. Blossom end rot could start if roots are damaged or weak and can't deliver healthy nutrients to the fruits."
Yellow leaves could also mean a soil imbalance, notes Funk. Nitrogen or iron deficiency, watering issues, too little sunlight, or pests like whiteflies or aphids are the most common culprits in this case. Funk says to begin with the best dirt possible when starting your plants from seeds and to test your soil before making any amendments. You can also install watering systems or create wells if your plants are dehydrated. "Companion plants such as cosmos or edible nasturtiums help repel some common garden pests."
There's nothing quite like tomatoes picked at the peak of ripeness, but a sudden thunderstorm can cause your previously perfect tomatoes to split and crack before you can remove them from the vines. "When the plants are flooded with moisture at a time when they're acclimated to dry conditions (and have more crystalline cell structures), they literally bust at the seams," explains Lindsay Springer, the head of plants and nutrition at Gardyn. "These spiral or radial cracks in the fruit skins are not just an aesthetic nuisance, but also make the tomato more susceptible to microbial infection." To combat this, Springer suggests keeping moisture levels even. "Choose tomato varieties that are less prone to cracking," she says, adding that each variety responds differently to environmental stressors.
If your kale plants are full of pinholes or your Swiss chard leaves are covered with black spots or half-eaten leaves, you might be dealing with a pest; flea beetles or caterpillars could be to blame, according to Funk. To take back your garden, she recommends adding in companion plants like radishes or other bristly-leaved iterations. Your plants could also be dealing with burns. "Water early in the morning or late in the day to prevent sunburn," she says. "Water acts as a magnifying glass in the sun and can ultimately burn the leaves."
Have you ever waited with bated breath for your plants to begin their transformation from flower to fruit, only to discover that absolutely nothing is happening? You may be dealing with a pollination problem. Certain vegetables and squash (like pumpkins) frequently fall victim to these types of issues, partially because there's only a six-hour window where the blooms are open to be pollinated, says Springer. "This is the window for bees and other pollinators to get the pollen from a male to female flower—after that, they are closed for good." Additionally, your soil might be the problem. "Nitrogen-heavy fertilization can cause excess vegetative growth (shoots and leaves) and will result in changes in resource allocation within the plant—leaving less resources for the developing fruit pollinators to get pollen from a male to female flower."