Garden Guide: 5 common garden problems (and how to solve them)

Garden pests and diseases can be severe enough to kill even mature plants over time. Here are a few tips to catch the problem early and solve it.

Alex Calamia

Aug 23, 2023, 10:17 AM

Updated 238 days ago

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The best way to find a disease in your garden is to check on landscaping every few days. For avid gardeners, watering plants everyday by hand is a sure way to find a problem long before it does noticeable damage. Here are a few of the most common problems for gardeners in our area.

Powdery Mildew

This is a fungal disease that usually develops in the middle of summer, usually with the arrival of humid weather. The fungus covers new growth in a web of white over the top of the leaves. This problem is very common on squash and zucchini plants (although some varieties of squash and zucchini have a whitish tint to the leaves that is completely natural). Left unchecked, the fungus will damage new flower buds and prevent the plant from collecting the energy it needs to protect itself from insects.
The best way to keep powdery mildew out of the garden is to prevent it from arriving in the first place. Space fruiting plants far enough from each other to give air to circulate through as they grow into their spots. This lowers the humidity levels around the plant and makes the environment less supportive for powdery mildew. When powdery mildew develops, look for an organic fungicide spray, or make your own. Potassium bicarbonate is a natural anti-fungal and is completely safe for people and pets. It’s actually a common substitute for baking soda in recipes.

Blossom end rot

If you notice tomatoes or squash with squishy bottoms, blossom end rot could be the cause. Fortunately, this problem isn’t caused by disease or pests and only affects the fruit. If you’re noticing issues with the leaves, it probably is not blossom end rot and could be anything from mosaic leaf virus, which is not curable, to just general plant stress.
Blossom end rot happens a lot when plants are being either over or under watered.The problem is plants aren’t getting the calcium they need for their fruit to properly mature. Adding calcium to the soil won’t fix the fruit with blossom end rot symptoms, but it will prevent the issue from happening to new fruit. This fix only works if more routine watering is introduced.

Holes in the leaves

Although it’s disappointing to see healthy leaves look blemished, most of the time, a plant can handle a few hungry slugs or caterpillars - which are usually the culprits behind these holes. Some plants are actually magnets for these “pests” like parsley, which are are hosts for caterpillars that become Swallowtail butterflies.
A healthy, adult plant can defend itself against issues, but hand-picking shrubs and caterpillars can be an easy way to control minor infestations. Slugs usually come out at dusk so bring a flashlight around that time to find them. Some gardeners have had luck putting out coffee grounds around their plants.

Deer

This may be one of the most destructive and common issues for gardeners in much of our area. Deer are becoming more common even in higher density neighborhoods and they will eat summer annuals as well as landscape shrubs. Raccoons, opossum, and squirrels are also damaging to landscaping. Deer are much larger and can eat an entire garden in just a few minutes. Sometimes that’s the only visit they’ll pay for the whole year so if there are deer in the neighborhood, it’s best to defend against them before they show up.
The only guaranteed way to keep deer out of the garden is a large fence at least 7 feet high (they can jump!). If that height isn’t feasible, then having two rows of fences or very uneven and rocky garden beds can deter deer. Deer don’t like to feel closed in. Motion activated sprinklers can frighten wildlife and there are some systems that are battery operated and very easy to set up with a hose. Animals see with their noses first and some gardeners apply products like coyote urine and blood meal to make the area appear dangerous to these animals.

Aphids & whiteflies

These pests are very tiny, but they’re easy to find because these sap suckers make a huge mess. Leaves will become glossy and sticky and unfortunately if left unchecked, plants will eventually die. It’s a common issue when plants move indoors during the winter. These pests have a lot of natural predators outside, so the only time the infestation is severe outdoors is if the plant came from a nursery that had an outbreak of them.
Spraying the plants with hose water can dislodge these pests. They also need frequent applications of Neem oil or insecticidal soap because these products only work on the adult stage of these insects.


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