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Why Isn't My Garden Growing?

This is one the questions I’m most frequently asked regarding both vegetable and flower gardens, especially this time of year. Chances are your garden probably IS growing but you’re just not noticing the changes because they’re happening so slowly.

If you think your plants aren’t growing, the first thing I want you to do it take a photo of them. Make sure it’s from a vantage point where you can see the whole plant(s). Wait one week and take a photo again from the same vantage point. You will likely be surprised at just how much your garden grew! But if it still seems like nothings growing, check out the troubleshooting tips below:

This is my rudbeckia bed. The photo on the left was taken on May 6 and the photo on the right was taken May 16. There's clear growth!

  • Check your water pH and alkalinity. If you’re watering with anything other than rainwater, check the pH and alkalinity of your water. Water should be slightly acidic with a pH of 5 – 7. Alkalinity should optimally be between 30-60ppm. High alkalinity (100+ppm) paired with a pH of 7+ can really impair nutrient uptake in plants. A simple search on Amazon or Google will bring up a host of inexpensive testing kits to check this out at home.

  • Test your soil. Head to your local library (you don’t have to be a member) to pick up a couple free soil test kits. These kits come with instructions for collecting a good soil sample and info on where to send it. Most of the year this service is free and only costs the shipping fee. This test will show you exactly what type of amendments and fertilizers to put down to get your soil just right for the crop you’re trying to grow. Healthy plants start with healthy soil. Planting things into bad soil is like building a roof before laying the foundation! Check out this article to learn more.

  • How frequently are you watering? Obviously we’ve had plenty of rain lately but we have a whole southern summer of hot, dry weather ahead of us. Providing adequate water is a must to keep plants going. Stick your pointer finger in the soil up to the middle knuckle. If it’s dry, it’s time to water. Too much water can also be a problem by causing roots to rot, ironically preventing the uptake of water and other nutrients. If you have more questions on this, I wrote a blog about it last year that you can check out here.

  • Check for pests. I planted 3 squash plants on the same day three weeks ago and one of them just wasn’t growing. Everything looked fine but upon closer inspection, I noticed some insect had munched the stem at the base of the plant almost clean through. It wasn’t enough to kill the plant but it stunted its growth. Make sure to really check your plants to pests – check under the leaves, around the base, and the stem even just below the soil line. Very occasionally, you might notice your plants are dying and there’s no visible cause. If this is the case, pull the plant up and check to see if the roots have been munched away. If they have, you have voles.

This plant looks healthy and even has a lot of squash on it, but they haven't grown in over a week due to pest damage on the stem.

  • Sunlight. This is a lesson I’ve learned the hard way. If something says it needs full sun, part-shade, or shade, it really does. Sure, your full-sun garden plants might grow in 4 hours of sunlight, but they’ll never produce nearly to their full potential. Growth will be slow or nonexistent.

  • Soil temperature. Some vegetables and flowers really need warm soil to thrive and they’ll just sit there, not really growing, until conditions hit what they like. Some examples of these would be okra and celosia. Once the soil is the right temperature, these guys will take off!

  • How closely did you space your plants? I’m all for spacing things closer than recommended, but you have to make sure you have adequate nutrients and sunlight for everything. If you planted 4 squash where there should be 1 and your conditions aren’t absolutely optimal, all the plants will suffer and likely won’t even produce what one healthy plant would. Don’t force your plants to compete for limited resources!

I hope this troubleshooting guide helps you have success with your garden over the course of the summer growing season. If you’re still having problems with you garden and you feel you need additional help, you can always reach out to your local extension agent:


Happy Gardening Friends!

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