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Vegetable Garden Problems and Solutions – Troubleshooting your Garden

There are many vegetable garden problems that can plague the average gardener. Fortunately, there are also easy solutions to those problems. 

Not everything about vegetable gardening turns out as expected.  Whether you choose to garden in raised beds or in the round, troubleshoot your vegetable garden with these easy tips to get a bumper harvest this year!

You have spent the first part of spring getting vegetable garden seeds into the ground.  You think you gave your garden just the right amount of water and added compost and still your vegetable garden is not producing as you want it to. 

You are not alone! Many vegetable gardens have similar problems when it comes to producing.  Often the cause is the weather, the water or wishful thinking on your part.

Problems in the vegetable garden

One of my favorite things to do is to go out into my vegetable garden first thing in the morning to see what surprises await me.  (Last year I grew my whole vegetable garden on a deck!)

Usually, I come back in with a basket of goodies for the evening meal.   But there are some days when there is not a vegetable in sight.

This got me thinking about vegetable garden problems that many people may have. Why do some gardens produce very well and others have a hard time getting a crop for you?  Vegetable Garden Problems. Click through to find the solutions

Common Vegetable Garden Problems and Solutions

If vegetable gardening is a problem for you, rather than a pleasure, you may find these tips helpful

Troubleshoot your vegetable garden for solutions to common gardening problems. I ♥ growing vegetables! Click To Tweet

Seeds that do not Germinate

One of the biggest vegetable garden problems has to do with the seeds, themselves. Nothing is worse than planting a bunch of seeds and finding that none of them germinate, or that the germination rate is very low.

Why does this happen? There can be many reason that this happens (and don’t worry – you are not alone!)

  • You haven’t given them time.  This one is easy, just wait a while. Some seeds take several weeks to start growing. Check your packages to see how long it normally takes for germination. You may be surprised!.
  • The soil is too cold.  Don’t be in such a hurry to get the seeds in the ground that you plant too early.  The soil needs to be warm for most seeds to germinate. Some seeds can be started indoors or in cold flats.
  • The seeds have dried out in the ground.  Watering is essential in the early days of planting. Be sure the ground is kept evenly moistSeed germination problems have many reasons.
  • The soil it too wet.  In the same way that dried out ground can have an impact on germination, so can soil that is too wet. This will rot the seeds.  The solution is to replant and make sure not to give them too much water.
  • Your seeds are too old. Most seeds will keep well, particularly if kept in the fridge but every dog has its day. If your seeds are really old, you may just need to purchase new ones!
  • You soil is really lacking in nutrients. If you plant in heavy clay soil, you’ll have germination problems, for sure!  Keeping a compost pile going and adding compost to your soil can really improve germination rates for your seeds.

Plants that Tastes Bitter and have bolted

Many plants will bolt and go to seed. This is normally caused when the temperatures are hotter than is ideal for the particular plant.  It is the plant’s survival mechanism. The plant knows that death is the end is near and it is producing seeds for the next generation.

Once a plant has bolted, it generally will taste bitter. Lettuce, spinach and broccoli are plants that bolt easily.One of the biggest vegetable garden problems in hot weather is Lettuce that has bolted making it taste bitter

You can avoid this happening by making sure that you get the plants in the ground earlier in the spring.  Generally, plants that bolt easily in early summer are cool loving plants.  Planting them in a shadier spot will give them a bit more growing time, as well.

The best thing to do with bolted plants is to remove them, and replant the area with some that are more heat loving. Then, later in the season, as fall approaches, you can plant another crop of the cold weather lovers.

Spindly seedlings with long stems and few leaves

Many beginning gardeners experience this problem. Vegetable plants need plenty of sunlight to grow properly. 6-8 hours a day is idea for most of them.Spindly seedlings need more light

Other causes of spindly plants is soil that is too wet, and overcrowding of plants, so that they don’t have room to grow properly.  Over-fertilizing of seedlings is also a problem of plants that don’t grow correctly.  Wait until they are a bit more mature to add fertilizer.

More Vegetable Garden Problems.

Yellow Leaves

This is perhaps one of the most asked about vegetable garden problems, particularly for those who grow tomatoes.  if the lower leaves are the ones that are yellow, this is not too much of a problem.  This is fairly common and the plant will still produce.

Yellow leaves may mean a potassium deficienty

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

But if the leaves are all turning yellow, something is amiss. It could be a problem with your soil.  Many localities will test your soil for free.  Take advantage of this and if you find that the soil is missing nutrients, you’ll know what to add in the way of fertilizer.

A common cause of yellow leaves is a lack of potassium.

Another cause of yellow leaves on plants is not enough light.  Move or plant new plants in a sunnier spot, if this is the case.

Tomatoes won’t produce Fruit

The sunlight seems right, your soil is fine, the tomato plants had flowers just fine, but you don’t get any tomatoes, or get very few.  It’s most likely the weather that is to blame.

If you live in the area of the country where the nights are colder than 55 degrees (or warmer than 70 degrees) tomatoes won’t produce very well. 

Too much humidity can cause a low yield of tomatoes since it affects pollen production, and scorching hot days for weeks on end can just be more than the tomatoes can take.

I get the most out of my tomato plants here in NC by making sure that I get them in as soon as I can in the spring and then growing a fall crop as well.Tomato plants but no fruit

Another cause of tomatoes that don’t produce is too much nitrogen in your fertilizer.  This will make the plant foliage get over active and grow to the exclusion of fruit.

Choose fertilizer that are light on nitrogen and choose tomato plants that are fast maturing varieties so they will form fruit before it gets too hot.

Tomato plants that won’t ripen the fruit

Nothing is worse that a tomato patch full of fruit that stubbornly stays green. There are many reasons this happens but it is mainly due to high temperatures which bring the production of lycopene and carotene to a screeching halt in hot summer days.

Bunch of tomatoes starting to ripen on the vine.

There are several ways to ripen tomatoes on the vine. Topping the plant helps, as does pinching suckers, removing dead leaves and pinching off late flowers.

Get my tips for ripening tomatoes on the vine here.

Trouble shooting your Garden

Blossom end rot

Tomatoes and peppers often have this problem  The cause is a calcium deficiency.

Blossom end rot occurs when the moisture in the soil is irregular or when there is too much fertilizer containing nitrogen has been over applied.

If you have periods of hot dry spells and then heavy rains this can cause blossom end rot to occur. Blossom end rot is caused by irregular soil moisture

Be careful about fertilizing and apply mulch.  Mulch will keep the moisture in the ground more even.

Cracked Tomato Skins – a common vegetable garden problem

You have been watching your tomatoes develop and can’t wait to bite into a juicy beefsteak tomato.  And then it happens!  The skins crack and then split. 

The cause, once again, is irregularity in the soil moisture.  The plant drinks the extra moisture but can’t hold it and this causes the skins to crack. The solutions are similar to helping prevent blossom end rot.  Cracked tomato skins are a cause of irregular water supply to the soil

Be careful to keep your moisture levels consistent and mulch to control this. Also choose varieties that are known to be crack-resistant such as Jet Star.

Also, harvesting very large tomatoes before they are completely ripe and let them ripen on the counter indoors can help prevent cracked skins..

Misshaped and Twisted Carrots

Carrots are very susceptible to over crowding. If you don’t thin them out as seedlings, when they grow, the roots will grow around each other, resulting in twisted carrots when they are mature. 

Another cause of weirdly shaped carrots is soil that has a lot of clay, rocks or tree roots that are getting in the way of them growing properly. 

Going heavy on the fertilizer can also make carrots get multiple roots.

Misshapen carrots are caused by obstructions in the soil or lack of thinning.

The solution is to thin your seedlings, go light on fertilizing and making sure that the soil you plant your seeds in is free of obstructions.

The plants grow, but don’t grow WELL

All vegetable gardeners need to know their hardiness zone.  Many vegetable gardening problems stem from not understanding your local area, or not planting correctly for you.

If you live in North Carolina, like I do, and decide to grow Brussels sprouts and lettuce in the summer months, you won’t be a happy gardener. These plants do well here in the spring and then again in the fall.Sick vegetable garden

Know your planting zone and plant accordingly.

Cabbages with holes in leaves

This problem can also occur with kale, and broccoli. If your leaves have lots of small holes in them, the cause could be flea beetles.cabbages with holes in leaves

These pests infect members of the mustard family (cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts and broccoli) and can also infect those in the nightshade family (tomatoes, eggplant and potatoes.)

One answer to the problem is to grow the plants that are affected between hairy leaf plants like radishes. Flea beetles don’t like hairy leaves, so this type of planting can keep them away.

Growing your plants in a raised bed vegetable garden seems to help deter pests, too.  Those that crawl along the ground are not as  likely to have easy access to the plants if they are elevated.

Split head cabbages

Another problem that can happen with cabbages is that the head splits instead of staying smooth and round. This normally happens after a heavy rain after the heads have formed, which causes the roots to absorb extra moisture and the head splits.split cabbage head caused by heavy rains

There is no easy answer for preventing this but planting early and watching the water intake helps.

Irregular corn kernels

If the cobs of your corn have irregular kernels, the cause is usually pollination that is not sufficient.Irregular corn kernels

One reason for this is that most gardens have corn planted in rows. To get better pollination, plant your corn in blocks instead so that the pollination will be more even.

Black spots on leaves

If the leaves of your plants, or their stems are covered in black spots, this can indicate a disease or chemical burn.

Black spot fungus on Swiss chard is one of the common vegetable garden problems

Photo Credit: Scot Nelson on Flickr

Be careful of using too much fertilizer which can burn the leaves. Black spots can also be caused by too much moisture, so care should be taken with watering too much.

If the plants are diseased, they should be removed and disposed of, since diseases can pass from one plant to another.

Powdery Mildew

If you notice leaves that appear to have a white coating on them, your problem is likely powdery mildew.Powdery mildew on pumpkin leaves is one of the common vegetable garden problems

This fungus happens when the weather is humid a lot of the time, but the leaves of plants are dry because the plants are spaced too close together.

Space plants further apart helps to improve air circulation and helps to keep powdery mildew at bay.

Local Critters are one of the biggest vegetable garden problems

One of my big vegetable garden problems has been the local critters.  We’ve all been there.  We go into the garden and find a dozen tomatoes on the ground, all red with ONE bite out of them.

The cause is most likely squirrels. Other animals that love your garden as much as you do are rabbits and deer.  

If you have a lot of local animals that love to visit, you will need to fence your garden well.  I once had a crop of green beans in a row about 15 feet long.

One day there were there and the next day they were one inch stems. Rabbits and deer can decimate a garden very quickly. Vegetable garden with fence to keep out critters

To fence properly, you’ll need at least a four foot fence to keep out rabbits and much much higher to keep out the deer. (or even a double fence which is almost impossible for deer to cross.)

Even though today’s excursion gave me not a single vegetable, I am hopeful about tomorrow.  There are plenty of veggies to come soon, of course, since I am careful to follow my tips shared above. 

After all, I am still waiting for this 10 foot wide watermelon patch to convince me that it WILL produce for me.  Yesterday it looked as though one of the flowers might actually be trying to be a melon!

Then my only problem will be figuring out when to harvest watermelons. I’m not good at the clunking the end test!

If you love watermelons as much as I do, be sure to check out my post on the types of watermelons. There are more than 50 varieties grown around the world.

no vegetables

What vegetable garden problems have you experienced?  Do you find something to harvest every day, or does your garden need troubleshooting?  Please leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

Pin these vegetable garden problems and solutions for later

Would you like a reminder of these problems that happen in your vegetable garden and ways to deal with them?  Just pin this image to one of your gardening boards on Pinterest so that you can easily find it later.Vegetable Garden problems and solutions for dealing with them

Admin note: This post first appeared on the blog in January of 2013. I have updated the post to add more problems and solutions, a printable project card, new photos and a video for you to enjoy.

Yield: Reasons why your vegetables won't grow well.

Vegetable Garden Problems Printable

Vegetable Garden Problems. Click through to find the solutions

This printable shows the cause of problems in the vegetable garden. Print it out and keep it with your gardening journal.


  • Glossy photo paper or cardstock


  • Printer


Set your printer to "fit to page" and print out this chart and keep it in your gardening journal.

  1. Low Germination rate = poor soil.
  2. Bolting plants = temperature extremes.
  3. Spindly seedlings = Low light.
  4. Yellow leaves = lack of potassium or other nutrients.
  5. Low tomato yield - high humidity or too high heat.
  6. Blossom End Rot = too much fertilizer with nitrogen
  7. Cracked tomato skins = irregular or too much watering.
  8. Mis-shapen carrots = poor soil with rocks or too much fertilizer.
  9. Too many critters = lack of fencing.
  10. Holes in cabbage leaves = flea beetles.
  11. Powdery mildew = too much humidity and lack of spacing.
  12. Split cabbage heads = too much rain.
  13. Black spot = fungus or chemical burn.
  14. Irregular corn kernels = low pollination.

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