Garden Troubleshooting Guide
|Plants are weak or pale.||Not enough sunlight.||Move garden or veggie boxes to get more sunlight hours.|
Reduce shade from trees and structures.
|All veggies need 8 hours or more of direct sunlight daily.
Warm-season crops need 12 or more hours of direct sunlight for production.
|Not enough nutrition.||Add biologically active compost and/or well-composted manure.|
Add a balanced organic granular fertilizer or plant-derived soil amendments.
Add soils inoculants and earthworms.
|Compost does not have enough Nitrogen, trace minerals, and other nutrients necessary for optimal plant metabolism. Kelp has most trace minerals and other beneficial elements.
It's important to use organically derived fertilizers or plant-derived soil amendments that don't inhibit or kill your soil's microorganisms.
Mychorrhizae, trichoderma and humid acid are essential inoculants.
|Not the right season.||Plant only seasonally appropriate crops. |
You may be able to nurse out-of-season crops through their off-season using crop protections like shade cloth or row covering.
|Warm-season crops don't do well when it's cold, and seldom produce. Frost will generally kill them.
Cool-season crops tend to flower when days grow longer.
Any vegetable being available year-round exists only in supermarkets.
|Plants are leggy or stunted.||Not enough sunlight.||Reduce competition from other plants (more thinning).|
Provide more light.
|Thinning is important for productive gardening.
Plan your garden strategically so tall plants don't shade shorter plants, unless that's what you intend.
|Conditions are too warm (leggy).||Provide more shade.|
Wait a little longer in the fall before planting.
|Cool-season crops will bolt when conditions are too warm or days are too long.|
|Plants wilt between watering.||Stress response. Plants are drawing water from their leaves down into the roots during the heat of the day to reduce evaporation from leaf surfaces.||Add compost, which holds more moisture and should be incorporated deeply into the soil. |
Add more mulch to keep the ground cool and to reduce evaporation.
Gently open up the soil 4" to 6" with a digging fork for greater water penetration.
|Soil should be moist 6–12" deep or more. Deep, less frequent watering in compost-rich soil promotes deep roots which store ample moisture available for the plant during the heat of the day.
Frequent, shallow watering builds fewer, shallower roots that don't store as much moisture for the plant to use when it's stressed.
Many plants in the Cucurbit family — squash, cucumber, melon — do this normally and usually perk back up after the sun goes down.
|Plant leaves are turning white.||You have powdery or downy mildew or a similar foliar fungal disease.||Water only at the base of the plants. Avoid getting water on leaves.|
Water less frequently but more deeply.
Install drip irrigation.
Remove the affected leaves but do not add them to your compost unless you know your pile heats sufficiently (160º) to kill the mold.
|Powdery and downy mildew are common in Southern California, especially closer to the coast where there's more ambient humidity.
Some SDSC varieties have been bred to be resistant to powdery mildew. If this is a common problem, try a different variety.
While unsightly, minor outbreaks are not a major problem. Severely infected plants may have reduced yields, shortened production times, and fruit that has little flavor.
|Bugs or snails are eating my plants.||Not all bugs are bad! Some bugs are bad only at certain times, but can be otherwise beneficial.|
If you suspect something as a pest, investigate first! Check the UCIPM website for current and accurate pest information. http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/menu.homegarden.html
|Introduce and foster beneficial insects in your garden. Plant companion flowers to feed and house them. Shop Flowers here: https://sandiegoseedcompany.com/product-category/flowers/|
Sprinkle Diatomaceous Earth or create a physical barrier around seedlings to protect them from pests.
Sluggo Plus is an organic, mineral-based solution that's effective against many seedling-eating pests.
Copper strips are an effective barrier for snails and slugs. Line the outside of raised beds or pots with copper to keep them out.
|Holistic gardening — a combination of companion planting, beneficial insects, and development of rich, living soil — creates an ecosystem that produces robust plants that are naturally resilient to many common pests.
Many pests love young and tender plants; this is when they're most-susceptible to assault. If you can get your seedlings past this vulnerable stage, many problems take care of themselves as the plant matures.
Pests generally attack weaker plants, so pest issues can indicate an underlying systemic problem in the soil or environment.
|You do not notice butterflies, lady bugs, bees and other insects in your garden.||A healthy garden is a habitat that fosters many levels of organisms — from the microscopic to mammals — that serve to pollinate flowers and predate on pests.||Introduce and foster beneficial insects in your garden. Plant companion flowers to feed and house them. Shop Flowers here: https://sandiegoseedcompany.com/product-category/flowers/||Holistic gardening — a combination of companion planting, beneficial insects, and development of rich, living soil — creates an ecosystem that produces robust plants that are naturally resilient to many common pests.|
|I have gophers or squirrels (below-ground furry things).||Check out Gophers Limited for many non-toxic gopher-control strategies.|
|Gophers and squirrels are gardener's banes. Physical barriers (fencing and underground wire), trapping, and well-trained garden cats are your best bets.|
Left unchecked, vertebrate pests will conquer your garden so it's important you stay on top of them.
|Except when nursing, gophers live alone in their tunnels, so you may have fewer gophers than you think.
Gopher blood does not clot; if injured they will likely bleed out. If your traps are tripped but there's no dead gopher, it may still be dead.
|I have rats, skunks, possum, raccoons (above-ground furry things).||You notice your soil disturbed, small holes or plants dug up (especially young ones).||Physical barriers (fencing and ground-level wire), trapping, and well-trained garden cats are your best bets.|
Aromatic barriers for skunks include citrus fruit peels (lemon, orange, or grapefruit), predators (e.g., dog or fox urine), and mothballs.
If the problem persists, before planning a bed, try putting chickenwire on top of the soil before planting so that the plant grows through the wire. Animals cannot dig through the wire and will lose interest.
|Many night-time predators dig in beds hunting for grubs and worms, using their keen sense of smell to locate them. Most often the pest is not interested in your veggies, which get uprooted nevertheless.
Possum are actually a good thing to have as they love eating snails, slugs and other pests. While you may lose a few plants to them while they dig for grubs, overall they are beneficial to have around.
Never approach a raccoon. They can be aggressive and are not afraid of humans. A small cute one is probably accompanied by mom, who will protect her young at all costs.
|I have dead dirt, not rich soil.||You don't see worms, white mold (mycelium) and other soil biology such as grubs, insects, etc., when you dig in your soil.||Add compost, well-composted manure and a well balanced organic granular fertilizer to feed the essential microorganisms. Rich soil is a combination of sources and inputs. Plants need a wide range of nutrients for top performance. |
Add soil inoculants and earthworms.
Stop using non-organic chemicals, which kill soil microorganisms.
Once your soil comes alive, reduce tillage as much as possible and leave roots in the ground when a crop is done (cut at soil level).
|Biologically rich soil helps build resilient plants. Soil microorganisms feed your plants, but your plants also feed the organisms! This positive feedback loop creates tremendous benefits for everything you do in the garden.
White mold in the soil (mycelium) is a good thing, helping break down compost into nutrients.
Earthworms are Mother Nature's plows. Do all you can to promote them!
|I am unsure of what to fill my garden beds or containers with.||Gardens are only has happy as their soil. Filling and building garden beds, boxes or containers with a biologically rich soil is key to a thriving garden.|
Rich soil is an outcome, a combinations of sources, inputs, stewardship and time, not something you can purchase. Patience in soil development pays big dividends over time.
|Add compost, well-composted manure and a well balanced organic granular fertilizer to feed the essential microorganisms. Rich soil is a combination of sources and inputs. Plants need a wide range of nutrients for top performance. |
Add soil inoculants and earthworms.
Avoid using non-organic chemicals, pesticides and fertilizers, which kill soil microorganisms and worms.
|Biologically rich soil helps build resilient plants. Soil microorganisms feed your plants, but your plants also feed the organisms! This positive feedback loop creates tremendous benefits for everything you do in the garden and can reduce your efforts and costs.
White mold in the soil (mycelium) is a good thing, helping break down compost into nutrients. Do not eat the mushrooms!
Worms are Mother Nature's plows and beneficial microorganism factories. Do all you can to promote them!
|My seeds didn't sprout or died.||Seeds were planted too deeply.||Seeds must be planted at the right depth. Rule of thumb: plant seeds twice as deep as the width of the seed.||Seeds only have so much stored energy to push through the soil. If seeds are buried too deeply, they won't reach sunlight in order to manufacture food to keep growing.|
|Seeds were old.||Try again with seeds planted for the current season.||Check your seed pack to see when they were packed or for which year/season they were grown. SDSC sells only fresh seeds packed for the current season, and all varieties are checked for viability before we package them for sale.|
|Seeds not kept moist during germination.||Water frequently enough so that the soil remains moist during the heat of the day, but that allows the surface to dry overnight.|
Make sure your starter mix is able to hold and slowly release moisture while still draining adequately.
|Seeds must remain moist during germination and protected from drying out during the heat of the day.
If seedlings are kept too wet, they can drown from the lack of oxygen or die from damping off.
|My transplants died.||Not transplanted at the right depth.||Plant in a hole twice as big as the root ball, backfilled with light compost so that all roots are covered. If root-bound, gently massage the root ball to loosen the potting soil and release the outer roots.|
With a few exceptions (tomato, basil, potato), be sure the stem of the plant is not covered with soil.
Do not mulch around the stems.
|Before transplanting, make sure the garden soil is thoroughly irrigated. Water wicking to the surface from deeper down will help irrigate young roots.
Backfill the hole with light compost mixed with native soil to provide the roots easy room to grow and establish. Do not over-compress.
Planting too deeply or mulching the stems may cause them to rot. Keep roots below the surface and stems above.
|Transplanted too young.||Allow starts to develop longer before putting out.||Seedings should have strong root systems formed and be healthy when transplanted in the garden. Keep seedlings cool and moist to ease their transition into their new home.|
|Insect damage.||Use Diatomaceous Earth or physical barriers to protect small seedlings from pest damage.||When seedlings are small they are more likely to be mowed down by small insects.|
|Conditions are too harsh for young plants.||Use shade cloth to protect seedlings from excessive heat, or row cover to protect from frost damage.|
SDSC Garden Shade Cloth: https://sandiegoseedcompany.com/product/tools-and-merchandise/garden-shade-cloth/
|Strong direct sunlight is often too much for young plants. Your nursery area should have dappled shade from a tree, or provide shade cloth coverings for your trays. Keep seedlings cool and moist to ease their transition into their new home.|
|Damping-off.||Improve soil drainage by adding compost. |
Water less often or earlier in the day so that by evening the surface can be dry overnight.
Thin more to provide better air circulation around seedlings.
|Damping off is fungal disease that typically occurs when seeds are planted in cold, wet soil with poor drainage.
Overwatering, especially keeping the surface too wet without percolation, encourages fungal growth. Water less frequently, but more deeply.