Usually sometime in the spring planting something doesn’t germinate, some plant fails to grow at all, other plants are mowed down by slugs or earwigs. It is just how the garden works. I have been doing this so long that I come to expect it. I find many newer gardeners or gardeners with different personality types really struggle with this. They want me to explain to them what happened and why, even if it is just a few bites out of a leaf. I do like to try to understand why things fail to grow but I don’t feel it makes me less of a gardener or that anything is going wrong, it is just nature. We need to expect a pretty high rate of loss. I always assume that 20% of what you plant might not make it.
What are the reasons?
- This year I have had two plantings of carrots that just didn’t germinate well. It wasn’t complete failure just really spotty. The possible causes are not keeping the bed evenly moist while the seed was germinating, old seed (carrot seed has a very short life), birds love to eat carrot seedlings, too hot when they were germinating (unlikely this time of year but it was hot the end of April) Then my last planting is doing great so who knows, three is a charm I guess.
- In the spring I assume the slugs, snails and earwigs are out and hungry. Always sprinkle some Sluggo around your new seedlings. Some people use copper bands to protect seedlings as slugs don’t like to cross copper. Little bites off the leaves could be slugs, completely mowed down little plants are most likely them.
- Migrating songbirds seem to like seedlings more than the permanent birds, so I usually have to cover peas, lettuce, chard, kale, carrots and a few other things to prevent them from being nibbled.
- Failure to thrive- plants do slow down a bit after transplanting them (its called transplant shock) but they should recover and start to grow. If your plants are not really growing at all, it could be not enough fertility (give them some liquid fertilizer like fish emulsion or MaxiCrop), not enough water- new plants don’t ever want to have water stress they don’t have a large enough root system to handle it, or root damage during transplanting. I find squash plants really don’t like to be transplanted and sometimes will just sit there if they are planted when they are root bound and been around too long in the pot.
One of the biggest problem I am having in the garden right now is leaf miner. These guys go after chard, spinach and beets leaves. Leaf miners are small maggot creatures that live in the mid-tissue layer of plant leaves. They “mine” out the nutrients in a rapidly-widening path that skeletonizes plant leaves. If you break open the remaining layers of the leaves, you may find a tiny maggot wiggling around in its speckled black poop. You can also see their eggs on the back side of the leaves, small clusters of white dots. I find the only thing I can do this time of year is to grow under an agriculture cloth like Remay or Agrifabric. I used to beable to control them with breaking off the leaves as they got infested and smashing the eggs but I think they are getting worse and I can’t seem to keep up with them. Since I like kale more then chard I grow a lot less chard now because of those little buggers.
I seem to need to say this every spring. As I check out people’s gardens all over I notice once again that people put way too much compost on their garden beds. And this time of year the compost is really hot coming out of places like Sonoma Compost. I recommend 2 to 3 inches of compost on a bed on a yearly basis. Compost is a soil amendment not soil, it should be used to replenish your soil and build your soil but it doesn’t replace it. If you need to fill a raised bed- use a soil mix or find some soil and add some compost to it, do not fill it with compost.
I guess my message is that you just need to let it be OK if there is some loss in the garden. Doesn’t mean you are a failure, try to figure out the problem and see if there is a remedy and then try again.