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10 Common Gardening Frustrations (And How to Fix Them)

Though gardening can be very rewarding, everything doesn’t always go as planned.  But that doesn’t mean you should give up or become discouraged.  Gardening, if anything, teaches us to be patient and pragmatic and finding a solution to a problem you once thought annoying at best, hopeless at worst, can be empowering.  So we’ve come up with a list of 10 common challenges that we face in the garden and how to see your way past them.

deer_eatinggrass1. Deer

After being posed the question: “Do you get deer at your house?” I once heard a customer retort: “Do I live in this area?”  Meaning that yes, she had a deer problem, as do many of us in the DMV (DC/MD/VA).  Deer have the potential to devastate a garden and once they establish a feeding routine, they’ll keep coming back for more.

So how do you keep them at bay?  An 8-ft fence is a sure bet, though perhaps a bit cost or HOA prohibitive, only to be undertaken by those who can’t live without their hostas.

An easier alternative is to cultivate deer-resistant plants in conjunction with a regimen of deer repellents.  And if all else fails, get a sling shot.

2. My hydrangea won’t bloom

Hydrangea-paniculata-LimelightThere are a number of reasons why this may be happening.  If you have a hydrangea that only blooms on old growth (not a reblooming variety that blooms on old and new growth), it may have suffered from a particularly cold winter, damaging the branches where buds would have formed.

If you took a fancy to pruning after the buds were set, you may have clipped stems that would eventually lead to blooms.  And then there’s the aforementioned deer; they may have made a snack of your hydrangea’s budded branches.

3. Poor soil drainage

soilSo many plants call for “good drainage,” but chances are, if you live in this area, you have clay soil that holds on to water with a death grip.  But if you’re unsure, test your soil by digging a hole 12 inches deep and filling it with water.

If the water takes longer than 30 minutes to drain, your soil has poor drainage.  Fix it by incorporating organic matter (like Leafgro) and perlite.  The organic matter will decay, making humic acid.

This will take small clay particles and clump them together to form larger particles, making bigger air spaces.  And, the bigger the air spaces, the better the drainage.

4. Slugs

slug-damageIf you notice ragged holes in your flowers and leafy plants (especially if accompanied by the infamous slime trail), chances are your garden has slugs or snails.  A little bit icky and a good deal destructive, these slimy creatures are worth the effort to deter.  Especially because it’s not actually that much effort.

Just get yourself a shaker of Sluggo and apply per instructions on the container.  Sluggo is an excellent option because it is safe to use around children and pets (you know, in case they have slug problems, too) and is OMRI certified (meaning it has passed rigorous tests by the Organic Materials Review Institute and was found to be truly organic).

5. Sowing fine seeds

It’s really difficult to sow fine seeds, like carrot seeds, without, say, throwing a thousand seeds into a one foot strip. The answer?  Sand.  Thoroughly mix a packet of seeds into about 2 cups of fine sand and sow the sand.  Genius!

6. Weeds

dandelion-weedEvery gardener has to deal with weeds; it’s just part of the game.  These unwanted plants can make your wanted plants look slovenly and your garden unkempt.  Plus, they’re notorious robbers of vital nutrients and resources.  The easiest way to cope is to make weeding part of your daily routine.

Set aside 15 minutes in the morning or after work and pull what you can in the allotted time.  This way you’ll be able to stay on top of it and get weeds while they’re young, before they get big enough to be resource hogs and put out seeds.  And, you won’t wind up hating your garden because of the hours you spend once every month or so pulling weeds.

A little tip: don’t turn the soil where you don’t actually need to, e.g. in between rows of vegetables.  Some weed seeds only germinate in sunlight and may be sitting dormant in the soil, waiting for the unsuspecting gardener to till.

7. Squirrels are digging up my bulbs

squirrelWell, everyone gets hungry.  Some animals just are a little more annoying in their feeding habits than others, even if they do have cute, fluffy tails.

If your bulbs are being attacked by squirrels, simply cover the soil above the bulbs with chicken wire, burying it about a half inch deep to hide it.

8. I water and water, but my once beautiful hanging basket is still wilted

Knowing how and when to water can be a real challenge, especially with container plantings that dry out quickly.  There are two watering mistakes on either end of the spectrum that will cause a plant to wilt: the plant has had too much water and the roots have subsequently rotted, killing the plant or it has received too little water in the past and any water you give it now is not being absorbed by the soil.

To find out which you’ve got, lift the pot or stick a finger in the soil: if it’s heavy/moist, then the soil has stayed too wet and you have a dead plant.  This is usually a problem when they plant is in a pot with no drain holes and sits in standing water.   If it’s light/dry, then the potting soil has dried to the point that it has shrunken a bit and pulled away from the side of the pot and water just runs down the sides. The best thing to do is water it slowly and thoroughly several times, about ten minutes apart, focusing the water with your water wand at the center of the soil, not the edge.  Or, set it in a container of water for an hour.  (Don’t submerge it, it just needs to be several inches deep).

The idea is to saturate the soil ball so it swells up again and fills the pot.  If it’s the middle of summer, hanging baskets are often difficult to keep watered because the plants have grown, the roots have replaced the soil, and there is not enough soil left to hold the water you are applying.  In this case you can: a) throw it away; b) pot it up to a larger container with more soil; c) cut it back, take it out of the container and plant it in the ground.

9. Surface tree roots

exposed-tree-rootsTree roots on the surface of the soil can be tripping hazards, are difficult to plant around and make mowing a real puzzle (the mower blades shouldn’t come into contact with the tree roots as they might damage the tree).

There isn’t a perfect, get-everything-you-want solution to this one. You can’t just cover the roots with soil and pretend they aren’t there because that could disrupt oxygen intake.

Instead, cover with mulch, which will keep you from tripping on exposed roots and keep mower blades at a safe distance.  And as for those plants you really want under the tree?  Put them in pots.

10. Digging holes for planting and making pathways is backbreaking work

3-shovelsThis is one where knowing the right tool for the job is really helpful.  First of all, don’t try to dig a big hole with a small trowel, unless the soil is really supple (ahem, some of us had to learn this the hard way).  Then, when you have graduated to big boy shovels, it’s good to have the right one for the type of digging you’re doing.

There are three types of shovels: one with a flat end to a wide blade (for lifting, making pathways, etc); one with a round end, for general digging; and a tree spade with a narrow blade, flat or round, good for planting, cutting roots, etc.

It’s also important to know when to dig.  It may be easier to dig when the soil is wet, but if it is too wet, you may accidentally compact the soil, reducing its drainage.

Posted By Adrienne Neff

Stephanie Fleming was raised at Behnke’s Nurseries in Beltsville. Her Mom, Sonja, was one of Albert & Rose Behnke’s four children. She was weeding from the moment she could walk and hiding as soon as she was old enough to run, so many weeds, so little time. Although she quickly learned how to pull out a perennial and get taken off of weed pulling duty.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Voles did not make the list?! The tunneling alone is an eyesore, but there is nothing sadder than inspecting a hosta that seems to lean sideways all of a sudden, only just to end up with the loose leaves in my hand because all of the roots have been eaten away. Or loosing hundreds of spring bulbs to those pests.

  2. Yes, please post preferred vole methods. I have them on the run with castor oil but they sure are a pain.

  3. I am sure you have researched voles since you have a severe problem with them. I have a few but I’ve never considered it to be a serious problem in my garden. The things that I would try if you haven’t already: when you are planting your bulbs, include a handful of sharp gravel in the soil around the hole. (Sharp means pointy, not water-smoothed like pea gravel.)

    The thought is that this makes it harder for the voles to tunnel thru the soil and they will go elsewhere. Don’t mulch or at least keep the mulch away from the trunks of your plants (at least a foot) and don’t make it more than an inch deep. Mulch gives them added cover for their above ground burrows. Especially don’t mulch boxwood; voles love to eat boxwood roots and to girdle the stems.

    Keep your grass mowed, especially if you have sort of wild areas abutting your garden. You might mow an extra low height boundary zone. Say 1 inch high instead of three. Fence them out with a fine wire cloth. They say it has to be buried 6 inches deep and should be a foot high. If you have problems with them gnawing bark in the winter, then make it higher than the level of snow in a normal year.

    I don’t think repellents are that effective, but one writer swears that garlic plants work very well as repellents. I see that you are using castor oil to some extent, that’s good to know.

    Traps: you can use mousetraps but to me, the issues are trapping and killing or injuring other animals like chipmunks and squirrels or ground feeding birds. They suggested putting something over the top like a milk jug with a hole cut in each side to keep squirrels out, but I’m not immediately seein’ that as working.

    Poison: same deal. It seems like it would be a problem with non-target animals–dogs, hawks, etc.

    Predators: cats help a lot, of course they’ll also take non-target prey.

    So, if you haven’t tried the gravel, give that a shot and see how it works. Don’t use marble or limestone chips, they will slowly make your garden more alkaline than you would want.

    Larry Hurley

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