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Why Your Vegetable Garden Won’t Grow

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Gardening… it’s one of my favorite things to do. I enjoy getting my hands in the dirt and I love growing plants to harvest. But, it’s not always baskets full of tomatoes and beans. But, there’s usually a reason why your vegetable garden won’t grow.

Pumpkin flower blooming. It can be difficult to get your garden to grow

Beginners and seasoned pros alike often make mistakes when it comes to gardening. It doesn’t mean that you’re a black thumb and can’t grow anything, it happens to the best of us. It simply means you need to retrace your steps and figure out where you made a wrong turn.

I think that everyone everywhere should grow some of their own food. Now, more than ever. But, a lot of folks are discouraged because they’ve tried before and nothing, or very little, grew. And, I get it. It’s discouraging, but the beauty of gardening is you can try, try again.

I’ve definitely experienced my share of mistakes in gardening. And I’m not an expert, but generally, I can troubleshoot and figure out where I went wrong fairly easily. Let’s see if you’re making these common gardening mistakes and learn to right the wrongs while you still have some time.

9 Common Gardening Mistakes that Keep Your Vegetable Garden From Growing

Not planning the garden ahead of time

It’s so easy to just jump all in, isn’t it? You get some packets of seeds, plant them in some dirt and wait…. If nothing is sprouting at all, you can look into reasons why your seeds aren’t germinating.

But, usually, when we jump all in… we start without any type of plan whatsoever. And it backfires.

Gardening is part science, part art. And while it’s likely you can get something to grow with little preparation, you’re going to have a lot better chance if you start with a plan.

And this doesn’t have to be a fancy plan, either. I do have a helpful, free garden planner you can print out to use. But, you can simply grab a notebook and a calendar as well.

Seedlings should be started at different times, and other plants need direct sown at different times. I simply make notes on a calendar on which date I’m starting which seeds. Peppers and tomatoes, for instance, need quite a bit of time to grow. Where things like cucumbers only need a short time before they’re transplanted.

Same goes for things that are direct sown. Your colder crops like spinach will be put out before your last frost, where warm weather crops like corn will be planted after the last frost.

But planning what you’re planting, when, and where is essential to a successful garden.

The garden isn’t in the right spot

I know some of us are incredibly limited on where we put our gardens. But, the truth is, there are some places that just aren’t suitable for growing vegetables.

Vegetables need quite a bit of sun to grow. Especially things like tomatoes. Without at least 6 hours of full sunlight, they’re not likely to be as productive. Planting near trees can put you at a disadvantage, especially if you do not use traditional raised beds or another form of “above the ground” gardening like hugelkultur or back to eden.

If you don’t have a lot of space to choose from, containers are going to be your best bet, or you could even try your hand at growing some greens indoors utilizing shelves and grow lights. In fact, I even found a person the other day growing tomatoes inside, with fruit!

The soil wasn’t amended

If you’re creating a traditional garden using the soil in your yard, it probably needs amended. Here, we started out with terrible, clay soil that needed improved. And clay soil, doesn’t drain well. And that creates a whole host of problems all on its own.

But, even if you’re using traditional raised beds or have fairly loamy soil, a bit of soil improvement can help you. You can typically get a really comprehensive soil test from your county extension office and it can help you appropriately amend, but most people can benefit from a bit of leaf compost.

And if you can’t get your soil tested, simply adding that compost can help. Just make sure whatever you add is well composted (no “hot” manures) and wasn’t fed hay sprayed with persistent herbicide.


Intensive planting and gardening can be great when you’re strapped for space. But… if you plant things too close together, you’re going to run into problems.

Be sure to check your seed packets, a gardening book, or an online resource for how to space your plants and try to stay within that guideline when planting.

Planting too close means that your plants will start to overcrowd and be competing for not only sunlight, but the nutrients in the soil and starve each other out.

It also invites disease, especially fungal problems, and makes it hard to locate and combat pests. Those plants need air flow and space to breathe.

This is why I’m not actually a fan of square foot gardening. I know many people make it work, but for a lot of things, I personally feel, that the spacing is too close.

If you planted too close and you’ve already got everything out in your garden, you’re going to have to thin it. Which, is both good and bad. It’s great because at least one of the plants can thrive, but bad if you planted enough to feed your family and you are now a plant (or several plants) shorter.

Not watering enough (or too much)

Some plants love to soak up the water, some… not so much. Which, is partially where planning comes in, companion planting and planting water lovers with water lovers can help make growing food so much easier.

But, allowing the soil to completely dry out and only barely wetting the surface isn’t going to give plants the water they need. Infrequent deep watering is going to get the nutrients to the plants, but if you only wet the surface, your plants will wilt and struggle to get food and not produce fruit.

Overwatering and allowing water to pool and puddle because the ground can hold no more… will kill plants and invite fungal issues galore. They can succumb to root rot as well as the inability to grab the nutrients they need because the excess water washes nutrients away from the roots.

Letting the pests get out of control

Pests are a fact of gardening. They’re going to get on your plants no matter how many companion plants you plant and how many beneficials frequent your plots.

The best combat for any pest, is to take control of them as soon as you notice a problem. And they move and reproduce quickly.

Aphids can be particularly detrimental to your garden as they will stunt plant growth.

Some pests you can pretreat for and some you need to pick off and put into a bucket of soapy water. There are plenty of organic methods to help combat pests, but even so it can be very unpredictable.

The weeds got out of control

I’d be lying if I said I always kept weeds under control. There have been many years, especially the last few, where life has kept me from keeping the weeds to a minimum in the garden.

And every year I let them take over, I pay for it in yields, sometimes… substantially.

Weeds are a constant battle for any gardener. And there are plenty of ways to organically keep them in check, so I never recommend using herbicides. But, once they start taking hold, it can be almost impossible to get ahead of the problem.

Weeds can smother out your plants as well as stealing all of their water and nutrients. Things like mulching around plants, really pay off and keeping them in check using the other suggestions linked in the above article are your best bets.

Planting the wrong varieties

I love perusing the garden catalogs in the winter and planning out my future garden. It always lifts my spirits to see some of the amazing heirloom varieties available.

But, just because they’re beautiful and look like prolific producers does not mean they’re going to be beautiful and prolific in my gardening zone. Sometimes we see something and our hearts take over and we buy all of the seeds.

Then, we get them going only to find out, they’re not so great for our area. Growing tropical plants in zone 5b isn’t going to work out for me just like growing some cooler weather crops and other varieties that do well in northern gardens is not going to work well in Florida (especially in the dead of the summer heat).

Make sure when you’re selecting things to grow in your garden what zone they grow best in. Most of the catalogs have notes to tell you what zones the plants will thrive in. As well as online nurseries if you’re buying plants online.

Generally, you can be assured that starts and plants in your local nurseries are suitable for your zone, otherwise, just read the fine print and do a little homework so you aren’t disappointed later.

Another problem with buying and planting all the seeds is, it may not even be things you and your family typically eat. This can be a problem and make it so that you don’t even want to go in the garden to harvest because there’s nothing out there for you to enjoy. So, make sure you’re also buying things you and your family will consume, which makes you more motivated to keep it going.

Going too big… and then going home

Gardening can be overwhelming (as well as time-consuming). Try not to let the excitement get the best of you and start too much at one time.

I know that I always want to grow all of the things and have a tendency to just jump all into everything we start here, but taking your time and starting off small can have so many benefits.

When you go too big right out of the gate, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and let it go because you don’t know what to do or it simply gets to be too much.

Growing something is always better than nothing. Maybe this is your first garden, just start with a few of your favorites. Next year, go a little bigger, and so on. Gardening does not have to be an all-or-nothing venture.

And if you do want to start on a larger scale, simply make sure it’s something you’re going to be able to maintain long term. It takes dedication, hard work, and time to keep things growing. And realize there’s nothing wrong with expanding year after year.

Gardening can be incredibly rewarding, but there are definitely mistakes that we will inevitably make along the way. What mistakes have you made when planning and planting your garden?

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