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13 Common Reasons Why Your Vegetable Garden Is Struggling

Sometimes it’s hard to know the Reasons Why Your Vegetable Garden Is Struggling.

It’s at this point when it’s time for the gardener to play plant detective. It doesn’t take rocket science to figure out problems but it isn’t hard to get to the root of the issues. I think you’ll find that most common reasons why your vegetable garden is struggling stems from soil or environmental conditions. Let’s explore more.

In this post, I will share:

  • 13 reasons why your vegetable garden is struggling
  • Some of my personal experiences with each problem
  • A few ways to overcome the struggle

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1. Poor Soil Quality

Soil fertility and quality is the foundation of growing a healthy vegetable garden. Soil can breed pests and disease. Inadequate nutrients, too much nitrogen or imbalanced soil pH can negatively impact plant growth and the entire plant. Whether you have loamy soil or sandy soil, it’s important to know what lack of nutrients are in it. Knowing what is in your soil can greatly expose possible causes of why your vegetable garden is struggling. 

So, what do you do? Testing and amending the soil as needed can address the issue of poor soil quality. Also, crop rotation and cover crops are ways to take care of your soil beds. Of course, you can also add in fertility treatments and nutrients, such as bone meal, organic matter, and more. 

Trust me when I say that embracing healthy soil is the key to fixing common vegetable garden problems. 

2. Inadequate Watering

Overwatering or underwatering can lead to stressed and unhealthy plants. It’s important to provide consistent and appropriate watering based on the specific needs of each vegetable.

Drought years teach us how much vegetable plants can really handle. For example, last summer it didn’t rain the entire month of June. We turned water on about every 7-10 days and everything made it through. And the reason for only watering once a week is because we were only able to water a portion of our 4-Acre entire garden at a time. But we had no diseased plants and still had good yields and less weeds because the weed seeds burned up in the dry soil. 

The good news here is that plants can handle drought conditions better than we naturally think they can. So, the best option for watering your veggie garden is that less is more. If you have a rainy season with heavy rains, then so be it. But if you can monitor watering once a week with good drainage, that might be the way to go.  

I really like using drip irrigation in the form of a soaker hose to water. We set up our watering system at the beginning of the season during planting so it’s ready to go in case of hot weather and dry spells. It cuts down on plant diseases and helps manage water during the growing season.  

3. Pest Infestations

Insects, such as aphids, caterpillars, or mites, can damage or destroy vegetable plants. Regular inspection and appropriate pest control measures are essential. Enjoy going out and looking at your plants each day. Daily scouting is the best way to locate pest damage and pest eggs before disaster strikes on your vegetable crops. 

When you’re scouting, be sure to look closely at individual plants. Check their leaves, flowers and stems for holes, eggs or damage. You might see healthy plants from afar but you can really spot problems early if you just look closer and often. Much of a garden’s success is the home gardeners checking the plants. The only way you’re going to spot problems early is if you spot closely and often. 

So, if you know what to look for on your plants, you’ll be able to get a handle on pest problems early. 

4. Disease Outbreaks

Fungal diseases, bacterial, or viral diseases can spread quickly among plants. Proper spacing, good air circulation, the best watering methods and disease-resistant varieties can help prevent and manage diseases.

Of course, soil structure is your best bet against disease outbreak. There are many diseases living in your soil in garden beds. 

Blossom End Rot, dark spots, and powdery mildew are just a few examples of diseases your garden plants can have. 

5. Improper Plant Spacing

Planting vegetables too closely together can lead to competition for resources like sunlight, water, and nutrients. Mature plants need plenty of space for air flow to go through. Planting too close together can also cause affected leaves and insect infestation. Follow recommended spacing guidelines to allow for proper growth.

Plant spacing is typically listed on the back of seed packets. Be sure to check as you’re making your vegetable gardening plan next year. 

6. Lack of Sunlight

This really applies to indoor gardening OR planting full sun veggies in the shade. Many vegetables generally require enough sunlight for optimal growth. Insufficient sunlight can result in leggy, weak plants with poor production because they grow up towards the light. 

One thing to note: Seedlings after planting can look a little sad. It’s important to note that with proper care, the seedlings will come out of it in time. I like to give a little fertilizer to perk them up and soak them with water. After that, just give them a few days and they will be looking more perky soon.  

Tomato plants and pepper plants are examples of veggies that will die if they don’t have enough sunlight. It’s a good idea to pay attention to seed packets and planting instructions to discover how much sunlight the variety needs. 

7. Overcrowding

Again, plants need room to breathe. Check your plant spacing. Planting too many varieties or too many young plants in a small space can lead to overcrowding. This can contribute to poor air circulation and increased risk of diseases and common problems.

Plants are living things just like us. And I don’t know about you, but I really love my space as well. When I get into a crowd of people, I find it hard to breath, too – Especially on a hot day with the sun beating down on me. 

So, it makes sense that plants that are overcrowded seem to wilt and under perform. However, you’ll need to watch out for more weeds if you have more space between plants. 

8. Inappropriate Plant Selection

At the garden centers and in the plant catalogs, choose vegetable varieties that are well-suited to your climate, soil type, or available sunlight. Failing to do so can lead to poor performance in your plants. There are so many different varieties of vegetables, fruits and herbs out there. It’s easy to pick the wrong one. 

I like to go through my favorite garden web sites and garden seed catalogs. The garden web sites and catalogs do an amazing job in detailing the statistics and advantages of each seed variety. Every year, I go through and compare the different varieties I might want to grow in my garden. It takes extra effort to do this but it is so worth it in the end. 

You can also speed up time by talking to other seasoned gardeners in your area about the right selections for your zone. 

9. Nutrient Deficiencies

Lack of essential nutrients, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, can stunt plant growth and reduce yields. Regularly soil testing and fertilizing the garden soil based on the needs of the specific vegetables being grown. Some gardeners prefer to just fertilize each year without testing. That’ll get them by for a while but eventually, the nutrient levels might be off-balanced. Also, the pH could change without warning. 

So, it’s a good idea to just test your garden spot. If your soil tests have been good and nutrient levels ideal, you could get away with testing every 3 years. 

However, if you have been testing your soil and the numbers have been off the charts, you’ll need to focus on amending your soil to fit the needs of your plants. You’ll need to test your soil yearly to see how the nutrient levels have changed after adding in needed nutrients. You can also amend the soil by rotating your crops, adding in nutrient building cover crops and building organic matter. 

​Here’s what it comes down to: If your nutrient levels aren’t up to par, your plants are going to be deficient. As a result, they won’t perform and your vegetable garden will suffer. So, soil is very important to keep in check. 

10. Invasive Weeds

Weeds compete with vegetable plants for nutrients and water. Regular weeding is necessary to prevent weeds from taking over the garden. 

And sometimes, these weeds can get nasty. They just take off under the right conditions and can easily take over your plants. 

My worst one I deal with is either Bind Weed or Morning Glory. Ugh – such a pain to deal with. 

Some options for controlling weeds include: Row covers, Planting in Raised bed, Beneficial Insects, Container gardens, Using the time of year to plant around weed growth and keeping your compost pile clean from weed seeds.

We also try to keep our isles free from weeds by tilling in between rows and around the edge of the entire garden. 

11. Extreme Weather Conditions

One of the most common reasons why your vegetable garden is struggling has to do with things you cannot control. Unfavorable weather, such as extreme heat, cold, or drought, can stress vegetable plants. Protective measures, like mulching and providing shade during hot periods, can help mitigate these challenges.

12. Inadequate Mulching

Mulching helps retain soil moisture, suppress weeds, and regulate soil temperature. Lack of proper mulching can contribute to moisture loss and weed growth. Also, the wrong layer of mulch could have weed seed in it, resulting in introducing new weed varieties into your garden. 

So, the type of mulch you choose to use is very important. You’ll want to cover the ground enough to make the mulch work for your garden, too. 

13. Poor Drainage

I’ve talked about watering above but if the water doesn’t have anywhere to go, it will just sit on top of the soil. Excessive waterlogged soil is too much water due to poor drainage can lead to root rot and other issues. Improving soil drainage may be necessary in such cases. More often than not, the terrain is the problem when it comes to drainage. Also, clay soil tends to hold water in more than sandy soil does. 

What are some ways to fix drainage? 

One way is to make raised beds or hills in your rows. You can use a raised bed attachment for a tractor or just use a how and make hills that way. Then, the water will drain out of the raised beds and into the trenches in between. 

Another way to fix drainage is to change up your soil and make it more “water releasing.” On the other hand – More sandy. That way it won’t hold in the water as much. 

Common Reasons Why Your Vegetable Garden is Struggling

​You deserve to be able to grow your own food successfully and growing a vegetable garden is extremely rewarding. But if your vegetable garden is struggling, that is just plain discouraging. Many gardeners quit gardening because they are disappointed that their garden isn’t performing. They are just done. 

Don’t let that be you. I’ve given you 13 Common reasons why your vegetable garden is struggling as well as some solutions to watch for. Some of those reasons might not seem very “common” to you. A few of them might even be brand new concepts. But they are all very common ones that I see as a Master Gardener and as a Garden mentor for many local gardeners. 

So, I do hope that this was helpful for you to uncover some common garden problems in order to solve why your vegetable garden is struggling so you can succeed. Even if you just discover one of these things and try it out – That’s one step in the right direction for you in becoming a successful gardener. 

Happy Gardening!