Everything was fine in your new food garden when all of a sudden your plants are dying! Learn the top 5 reasons for dying plants and how to avoid it.
Your food plants in your vegetable garden, herb containers or fruit trees/berry patch are all in a harsh environment. Being outdoors brings all kinds of challenges.
The weather doesn’t always cooperate, the plants may not get everything they need to grow strong and healthy and provide you with a good harvest and there are creatures out there that think your plants are as tasty as you do!
You can’t just leave your plants alone to fend for themselves. Especially for annual vegetable plants. Or if your growing plants in containers.
And I’m sure you’ve had some plants die on you. It’s happened to me too! However you can do a lot to ensure your plants survive, despite the hostile environment they sometimes find themselves in.
Here are the five reasons you may have dying plants and what to watch out for.
Not Enough or Too Much Water
Plants take up water mainly from their roots. While you might be lucky and have regular water during the summer months that keeps your plants well watered, you may also have plants that are under cover in a greenhouse or porch or covered balcony or deck.
Plants need enough water but also can’t have too much. With not enough water plant cells will literally dry out and die, eventually killing the whole plant. Some plants are more resistant to drought such as herbs and cacti.
Too much water can cause the plant roots to suffocate because they need some air around their roots to take up food and without air the roots will rot. Saturated soil also is not the best environment for most beneficial insects and microorganisms and you might actually attract pests such as slugs and snails. Also too much water can also cause plant diseases such as mildew and mold.
So make sure that your plants get enough water and that you have an easy way to water all your plants on a consistent schedule.
Not Enough or Too Much Fertilizer
Plants like humans and animals need food. While they don’t have a digestion system like us, they still take up nutrients from the soil and air.
Most nutrient deficiencies will be quite obvious. Plants will either not grow well and be stunted or there will be visible colour changes in the leaves. Plants will also become stressed in trying to find food and more likely to develop diseases and attract pests.
Traditionally synthetic chemical fertilizers have been used and are still used mostly in commercial farming, especially hydroponic greenhouse growing. While these do work and produce large harvests, they have a few downsides. If applied at the wrong ratios, these fertilizers can burn the plants, either the roots or foliage. They are also short-lived, meaning that they need to be reapplied regularly to get the best results. They have also been found to contaminate ground water.
The alternative that is catching on, especially for home growers like us is organic fertilizers. These are generally more slow-acting which means they have less chance to burn plants roots and leaves. They also break down into organic compounds that generally cause less environmental concerns. And they generally are long-lasting, meaning that one application of a granular fertilizer could last the whole growing season, saving you money in the long run.
Weeds Outcompeting Your Plants
Weeds compete with your plants for nutrients, water and most importantly space. Often the weeds are much more resilient against drought, pests, disease and lack of food.
You definitely want to keep on top of weeding and keep at least a few inches around your plants free of weeds. Not keeping on top of it will not only cause the weeds to affect your food plants but also will be more work to get rid of them later.
Despite this weeds are beneficial to gardens as they do bring up nutrients from far below the surface of the soil. So composting weeds (other than those that have already seeded or spread through rhizomes or other underground means) is actually a good idea as the nutrients then go into the compost for when you use it later on your garden or containers.
For more tips on weeding, check out the article on the best time to weed your garden or containers.
Disease Problems on Your Plants
There are numerous plant diseases, especially ones that affect only food plants. However most disease have their favourite types of plants to target.
Everything from mildew and mold on zucchini and other squash plants to blight on tomato and potato plants. While these diseases can wipe out a whole crop, most diseases just affect the size of harvests. Either way you want to minimize disease as much as possible.
The best way to avoid diseases is to keep your garden clean. Pick up dead foliage around plants, disinfect tools, especially pruners, between uses and keep an eye out for the first signs of disease. If you see it, time to nip it in the bud and prune away the affected foliage so that it doesn’t spread to the rest of the plant and other plants. Sometimes you do have to make the hard decision to remove a plant completely, even though it is productive or an entire crop, lest it affect other healthier plants next by.
Pests Eating Up Your Plants
There are many types of pests that can wreck havoc on your food garden. Everything from the smallest, almost invisible insect pests such as aphids to the large mammal pests such as deer.
Some pests do like a messy garden so the recommendation above under plant diseases can also apply here. Keep your garden clean. Slugs and snails especially like to hide under damp leaves and other foliage in early spring. And piles of wood or smelly composts can attract rodents and other mammals that are seeking shelter, only to feast on your plants during the day!
Being vigilant and keeping an eye on your plants (remember to look underneath plant leaves!) will help catch the beginnings of any infestations. And attracting beneficial insects that eat pests will help to keep populations in check.
For mammals the best deterrent is fencing of some sort, even if you have to literally cage in your entire garden. There are certain sprays and other deterrents but they can have limited success, especially after a rain if you forget to reapply them.
So keep these five reasons in mind as you head out into the garden (hopefully everyday to do a quick check.)
Take care of your plants and they will take care of you by giving you healthy, fresh homegrown food.
If you enjoyed this article, have something to add or have any questions, please leave a comment below.
Wishing you all the best!
Tranquil Urban Homestead, Victoria, BC