Mildew, Rot, and Environment: 3 of the Most Common Garden Problems and How to Correct Them

Reader Contribution by Bryan Traficante and Gardeninminutes

Replicating nature’s seemingly effortless “green thumb” isn’t always simple. Along with rich soil, sunlight, and water, gardeners need to be attentive and patient or else their garden may succumb to a variety of issues. Choosing resilient plants and planting during the appropriate seasons improve the chances of a healthy garden, but natural problems can arise nonetheless.

The first step in treating a sick person is to identify the symptoms in order to categorize their ailment. From there, doctors can apply the appropriate treatment; hopefully before the sickness worsens. Similar to people, gardeners need to watch for symptoms of sickness in their gardens so they can identify what’s wrong and treat accordingly. The number one rule in coaxing plants back from ill-health: the earlier the treatment, the stronger the resolution.

Unfortunately, there are many problems that can arise in a garden. Some are openly visible, some can’t be helped due to the environment, and some are caused by poor garden maintenance. The following are some common plant problems and treatment options that every gardener should know.

Powdery Mildew

Easy to recognize, powdery mildew is a common fungus that invades any garden. It appears as white or gray abnormalities on leaves caused by a combination of reduced soil moisture and humidity. As the fungus advances, the leaves will turn brown, shrivel, and eventually die. It prefers younger leaves, so it’s particularly important to watch for during the early stages of plant development. Powdery mildew is also dangerous because it can travel from plant to plant via the wind and insects. Because of its ability to spread, treatment requires the fungus to be completely eradicated from the garden.

Vegetables such as tomatoes, pumpkins, and squash are especially susceptible to powdery mildew because their growth minimizes air circulation. Gardeners can use stakes or latticework to support the plants as they grow, increasing air flow to the plant and minimizing the chance for fungus growth. Adding a layer of mulch also inhibits any mildew spores in the soil from floating up onto the leaves. If powdery mildew is already present, prune the affected areas and remove from the garden entirely. For those who want to guarantee it powdery mildew is completely eradicated, destroy the plants once they have gone through their life cycle instead of reusing them in compost.


(img. courtesy of Root Simple)

Blossom Rot

Inconsistent watering, a lack of calcium, or high salt levels may result in this garden disease. Blossom rot can ruin an entire plant’s harvest, and is especially harmful to tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. Gardeners who are worried about blossom rot can look for brown, sunken spots on the fruit’s bottom. Fortunately, blossom rot can’t travel to other plants because it isn’t a fungus. However, most treatment is preventative and removal is the only option if the fruit is already compromised.

To prevent blossom rot, keep soil consistently moist. This means watering evenly throughout the garden and avoiding soil dryness. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways from using traditional watering cans to sprinklers. If you’re someone who is on the run or likes to ‘fool-proof’ things, a garden watering system is what you’re looking for. Additionally, adding water soluble calcium to the soil prior to planting can inhibit the effects of blossom rot along with a layer of mulch to maintain soil moisture. Blossom rot can be easily prevented, but if it does occur, remove the affected fruit and keep a close eye on the remaining produce.


(img courtesy of GardenInMinutes)

Environmental Injuries

Besides the threat of disease and fungus, gardeners must be wary of damage caused by extremes in the environment. The best advice? Protect your garden from extremes! Whether it be temperature or rain, gardens suffer from radical changes from the norm. They thrive in regimented, controlled environments that promote growth instead of stress.

Cold temperatures will cause stunted growth, cracks in the stem, and leaf loss. If these symptoms begin to appear coupled with cold weather, add a layer of mulch to insulate the soil. Covering the plants with a sheet can also help maintain warmth, ensuring the garden’s survival.

Hot temperatures will scorch the plants, rendering them incapable of growing. Symptoms caused by extreme heat include discoloration, dry soil, and crisp leaves. To combat these detrimental effects, gardeners can shade their gardens and increase the watering frequency. Keeping the soil moist up to two inches of depth or more is a good gardening tip to remember during the hot summer months.

Key Take-Away

Mildews, rot, and environmental factors are common problems every gardener should be familiar with. Proactive, preventative treatment is the best method of protecting a garden, but nothing is foolproof. The key to a successful garden is vigilant observance and a rapid response before the issue can grow further.

Wiley Geren III and Bryan Traficante. Bryan co-founded in 2013, a family-owned venture focused on making it easier to start a quality garden. GardenInMinutes is home to tool-free, cedar raised garden bed kits and the Garden Grid watering system – the only planting guide and garden irrigation system, in one. Along with unique gardening solutions, Bryan provides time saving gardening insights on their blog and social media pages. Find Bryan and GardenInMinutes on Facebook,  Instagram, and read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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