Top Gardening Challenges and How to Overcome Them

Get solutions for common organic vegetable gardening challenges, including pest control, soil fertility issues, weed control and summer drought.

  • Address gardening challenges as they come, such as putting down weed cloth barrier to combat severe weed problems.
    Photo by Terry Wild
  • Lubber grasshoppers are often a food-grower’s foe. For control, gather and drown the hoppers in a pail of soapy water when they’re still showing the black-and-yellow coloring of youth.
    Photo by Dwight Kuhn
  • Critters covet your fresh veggies. Keep out raccoons and other wildlife with secure wire fencing.
    Photo by Dwight Kuhn
  • Fencing excludes small animals, including pets, and can pull double duty as support for climbing plants.
    Photo by Dwight Kuhn
  • Where springs are short, grow greens in a “salad table” that you can move to a shady spot when hot weather arrives.
    Photo courtesy University of Maryland Extension
  • Drip irrigation is especially apt for drought-prone regions.
    Photo by Janet Horton
  • Give a boost to soil health by growing a cover crop such as buckwheat.
    Photo by Saxon Holt
  • Garden netting held aloft with simple hoops is an effective way to protect crops from birds.
    Photo by judywhite/
  • Use a broadfork to loosen compacted soil and, in rainy areas, to aerate soil so it dries out quicker for planting.
    Photo by Harvey Ussery

The perfect garden — free of all pests, weeds and weather surprises — does not exist. Nor does the perfect place to garden, because every climate is friendly to some crops and hostile to others. Thankfully, tackling gardening challenges, while frustrating at times, is part of what makes growing your own food such a lively adventure.

Smart garden troubleshooting is often crucial to successful food production, and working out the best solutions may require years of trial-and-error experimentation. To help you get a jump-start, we asked more than a dozen longtime organic gardeners to share their expertise on tactics for solving common organic vegetable gardening problems. Following is a roundup of their collective wisdom.

Organic Pest Control and Critter Control

Dealing with insect pests, rabbits, deer, voles and other critters is perhaps one of the most frustrating and ubiquitous gardening challenges. Organic vegetable gardening can make this issue trickier in that you’ve wisely opted not to use harsh chemicals to keep such troubles at bay. In the case of critters, good fences can make for good harvests (and offer the kindest solution), and diligent monitoring for pests will prove well worth your time.

Irritating insects. An hour north of St. Louis, in New Douglas, Ill., Carol Lentz aims to check her plants for insect pests at least every other day. “Check the whole plant for signs of trouble, especially the leaf undersides,” she says. Squish any eggs you see, and handpick adult potato beetles, squash bugs and Mexican bean beetles and put them in a pail of soapy water to reduce their damage to plants and prevent a second (or third) generation.

Those darn rabbits. In Fargo, N.D., Joe Calvert says rabbits are second only to his short growing season on his list of gardening challenges. “Even in an urban environment, if you don’t have a fence around the garden, you may as well not even plant because the tender young plants are too tempting to rabbits,” he says. To keep rabbits out, add inexpensive poultry wire around at-risk beds or around the bottom of a perimeter fence. Folding 6 to 12 inches of the wire out from the bottom will also fend off critters that may try to dig under the fence.

In the piney woods north of Covington, La., Carrie Lee Schwartz says containers are sometimes safer than an open garden. “I hang delicate crops, such as lettuce and strawberries, in planters on my porch to keep them close to the kitchen and away from rabbits,” she says.

4/12/2019 7:17:50 PM

I live in a small rural area in Eastern PA on the border of New Jersey along the Delaware River. Our problems are Deer, Ground hogs, and Bunny Rabbits! We used to have a HUGE Garden until my dad's back got bad and then my back got bad, and then my mom's back started getting worse. Now we have cut it down to about 1/8th to 1/10th the size it used to be! Now we put a fence around most if not all the garden, but still the deer jump the fence, and the rabbits, and the ground hogs still manage to get in! So we plant a little extra for them. lol The rabbits like the shoots when they come up out of the ground, as do the ground hogs. But the deer they are hogs! They will eat anything and EVERYTHING!! At first we thought it was the rabbits and ground hogs eating the plants, But then when I looked closer I spotted deer tracks in the soil!! Then one day as I was coming into the garage to go into the car, I spotted a deer near the garden, that is when I saw the deer Jump the fence and start munching the tomato plants, tomatoes and leaves!! Then the deer moved on to the pepper plants, and then to the cantaloupes and watermelons!! The deer would have eaten the beans too but the Rabbits had already eaten them!! LMAO Fortunately the deer left the cucumber plants alone for another day! The only other problem we have is WEEDS!! Hate them things!!! lol

4/16/2016 12:49:41 AM

Monofilament fishing line makes a good deer fence. 10-14 lb line seems to work well and it can be the cheap store brand it doesn't need to be name brand. three strands about a foot apart above 18-24 inch poultry netting keeps out both deer and rabbits. Corn can be started as bedding plants to avoid germination problems. I have done that for several years and my yield is the same as it is with the corn I start later direct sown. I also start my Okra as bedding plants.

7/11/2014 2:17:55 PM

Lois, I think that your problem is likely cabbage worms. these pesky worms are the same shade of green as the broccoli making them hard to see. Check the underside of the leaves in the evening and hand pick them off.

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