It can be difficult to find the time and energy to garden as much as we’d like to — and some gardening challenges stop us from ever getting started. This week, I’m sharing my tips for overcoming frequently encountered gardening challenges.
To identify the most common gardening challenges, Amy Prentice, my Director of Marketing and Communications, put out questions to my followers on Instagram and the members of the Online Gardening Academy™ community. Amy compiled their answers, and she joins me on the podcast this week to facilitate as I analyze the responses and provide teachable moments.
It’s important to remember that gardening is a journey, not a destination. It can feel more intimidating than fun at times, so you need to keep in mind that you can’t expect to learn everything there is to know in your first year. In fact, what I love about gardening is that there is always more to learn and room to improve.
It’s undeniable that gardening will come with challenges, but each challenge is an opportunity to educate yourself and become a better, smarter, more confident gardener.
If you would like to read the entire rundown of my solutions to common gardening challenges, you can check out the show notes from the original release of this episode.
While you’re here, I want to pause a moment to remind you that I have a new book out, “The Vegetable Gardening Book: Your complete guide to growing an edible organic garden from seed to harvest.” It’s chock full of insider tips and new-to-you information that will help you step up your gardening game and tackle challenges.
At the end of this month, I’m offering free, live, online training sessions at my Organic Vegetable Gardening Summit. The summit runs from March 28–31 from noon to 1 p.m. Eastern each day and will cover topics such as organic gardening fundamentals, the importance of planning ahead, and setting up your garden to conquer the many challenges that Mother Nature throws our way. Get the details and register.
And on tap for this spring is my new Online Gardening Academy™ premium course, Organic Vegetable Gardening. Sign up for the waitlist here.
Common Gardening Hurdles
Being a renter is one of the reasons most frequently given for why someone doesn’t start the garden they desire. Gardening options can be restricted when you live on a property that you don’t own yourself, but that doesn’t mean that gardening is out of the question.
You may not be able to convert the lawn into a planting bed, but you can still raise indoor plants with a grow light or near a sunny window. I know that’s not exactly what people have in mind when they talk about starting a garden, but the reality is that you have to make the most of your living situation.
Even if you can’t have a garden while you’re a renter, you can still improve your skills by studying, watching videos, attending courses and joining gardening communities to get to know gardeners and see what they’re doing. When you eventually get a piece of land of your own, you’ll have the knowledge to hit the ground running.
If you have access to a balcony, deck or patio, you can get some grow bags or containers and some potting soil, and get started. You’ll be surprised by how much you can accomplish with limited space.
Some gardeners reported that they didn’t know what to plant and when they should plant it. Getting over this hurdle is a matter of getting to know the seasons, and that comes with practice, education and making mistakes. Take these learning opportunities to grow as a gardener.
If you are having a hard time understanding the correct timing, the first thing you need to look up is your local last frost date — the date in spring after which there is no more risk of frost until fall. That date will give you a good idea of what plants will survive outdoors.
Knowing the first frost date of fall will tell you if a plant will have enough time to mature before frosts start. You can look up the frost dates for your ZIP code at almanac.com.
The cost of starting a garden and not having the materials you think you need are more examples of common gardening hurdles. If that’s the situation you’re in, I want you to know that you can make do with less than you think, and many materials are available for free if you know where to look.
If you reach out to online groups on apps and social media in search of seeds, pots and other materials, you’ll likely find that at least one of your neighbors has an abundance of supplies and is happy to share.
I also like to reuse materials that otherwise would have ended up in the recycling bin or the trash. For example, I have upcycled pizza boxes for seed trays and birthday cake containers for humidity domes.
You may also have access to free municipal compost from your town that you can use rather than purchasing soil.
A lack of sufficient space is another hurdle I often hear of, but as many gardeners have proven, no matter how little land you have to grow on, it’s enough to have a garden. Even the strip of grass between the sidewalk and the street presents an opportunity.
There are an increasing number of plants on the market that were bred specifically for small spaces. They are just like the crops we know and love, but they will stop growing once they have reached a certain size. Look up “patio plants” and “dwarf plants,” and you’ll find options that fit your space.
Not having enough direct sunlight is a common challenge for gardeners who live among tall buildings or many trees, but this hurdle too can be overcome. Though most vegetables require between six and eight hours daily of direct sunlight to produce fruit, if your space receives fewer hours of sun, you can still grow leafy greens such as lettuce, spinach and arugula. Plus, there are shade-tolerant and shade-loving ornamentals, such as hostas, ferns, azaleas, and rhododendrons.
Gardening Pain Points
Pests, diseases and weather are the top three pain points that discourage gardeners. But if you pick a plant that is suited to your area and grow it in the ideal conditions, it will thrive. When you put the right plant in the right place, it will withstand considerable pest damage and be less susceptible to diseases as well.
Being proactive will allow you to get ahead of pest and disease issues before they get beyond your control. Go out into your garden once or twice a day to observe the changes happening day to day, hour to hour. You can detect pest activity and do something about it before it becomes a full-blown infestation. Take, for example, the squash vine borer. If you know when the squash vine borer moth arrives in your garden, you can install row cover to stop it from laying its eggs on your squash plants.
To mitigate disease problems, practice good garden sanitation by removing diseased plant material and disposing of it away from your garden and compost pile. Build healthy soil that has good microbial activity to fend off pathogens, and apply mulch to serve as a barrier between soil-borne pathogens and foliage. Refrain from overhead watering so pathogens won’t splash around. And clean youR tools between cuts with alcohol or a bleach solution.
Periods of drought, too much rain or intense summer heat can create aggravation, but you can get through it. You just have to be prepared. Work on the things that you can control, like adding organic material to your soil so it drains well in heavy rain and will retain enough water to keep your plants happy.
You can also learn season-extension techniques, like using a frost blanket to protect your plants during a cold snap.
Overcoming a Lack of Experience
People who are interested in gardening but aren’t sure of where to begin sometimes let that hold them back indefinitely, and that’s too bad. The fact is no one really understands gardening until they have gone out and done it themselves, so the key to getting started — is getting started. You’re only really going to learn when you have your hands in the soil and you’re out there making the mistakes that teach the lessons that stick.
When you do get started, don’t compare yourself to others, especially the picture-perfect gardens on Instagram. Social media never shows the whole picture. The gardens you may feel jealous of have problems that you’re not seeing. The pursuit of perfection is a waste of time, especially in gardening. Pursue progress, not perfection.
Where Success Begins
Many gardeners shared that behind their success stories are education and online learning. My Online Gardening Academy courses on Growing Epic Tomatoes, Master Seed Starting, Beginning Gardener Fundamentals and other subjects have helped struggling gardeners make breakthroughs. Beginning Gardener Fundamentals covers everything from soil building to planting and harvesting. It’s designed for new gardeners and anyone who wants to improve their skills.
And I’m excited to debut my new premium course, Organic Vegetable Gardening, this spring. Sign up for the waitlist here.
Make sure you get your gardening information and advice from a reliable place. When you’re new, it’s hard to separate bad gardening advice from good, so turn to proven sources of gardening information, such as your local cooperative extension, rather than social media.
If you haven’t already listened to my solutions to common gardening challenges, you can do so now by scrolling to the top of the page and clicking the Play icon in the green bar under the page title.
What gardening challenges have you encountered? Let us know in the comments below.
Links & Resources
Some product links in this guide are affiliate links. See full disclosure below.
Episode 157: How to Prevent Weed Overwhelm: A Practical Organic Approach for Real Results, With Margaret Roach
Episode 167: Managing Plant Diseases Organically, with Jeff Gillman
Episode 174: Season Extension Practices for Getting More from Your Garden, with Niki Jabbour
Episode 219: Troublesome Garden Pests: Organic Control Strategies That Work
Episode 236: Gardening in Grow Bags: Answers to All Your Questions
Episode 251: All About Chile Peppers: Good to Know and How to Grow, with Dr. Paul Bosland
joegardener blog: Squash Vine Borer Prevention & Control
joegardener blog: How Do I Grow Peppers?
Organic Vegetable Gardening Summit – Attend this free workshop series March 28th – 31st each day from noon to 1 p.m. ET to discover the importance of planning ahead and setting up your garden to conquer the many challenges that Mother Nature throws our way.
joegardener Online Gardening Academy™: Popular courses on gardening fundamentals; managing pests, diseases & weeds; seed starting and more.
joegardener Online Gardening Academy Master Seed Starting: Everything you need to know to start your own plants from seed — indoors and out.
joegardener Online Gardening Academy Organic Vegetable Gardening: My new premium online course membership opens in 2023. Sign up for the waitlist here.
joegardener Online Gardening Academy Beginning Gardener Fundamentals: Essential principles to know to create a thriving garden.
joegardener Online Gardening Academy Growing Epic Tomatoes: Learn how to grow epic tomatoes with Joe Lamp’l and Craig LeHoullier.
joegardener Online Gardening Academy Master Pests, Diseases & Weeds: Learn the proactive steps to take to manage pests, diseases and weeds for a more successful garden with a lot less frustration. Just $47 for lifetime access!
joegardener Online Gardening Academy Perfect Soil Recipe Master Class: Learn how to create the perfect soil environment for thriving plants.
Earthbound Expeditions: Great Gardens of Italy & France with Joe Lamp’l
Farmers’ Almanac: First and Last Frost Dates Finder
USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Finder
Proven Winners ColorChoice – Our podcast episode sponsor and Brand Partner of joegardener.com
Earth’s Ally – Our podcast episode sponsor and Brand Partner of joegardener.com
Soil3 – Our podcast episode sponsor and Brand Partner of joegardener.com
Greenhouse Megastore – Our podcast episode sponsor and Brand Partner of joegardener.com – Enter code JOEGARDENER for 15% off your order
Disclosure: Some product links in this guide are affiliate links, which means we get a commission if you purchase. However, none of the prices of these resources have been increased to compensate us, and compensation is not an influencing factor on their inclusion here. The selection of all items featured in this post and podcast were based solely on merit and in no way influenced by any affiliate or financial incentive, or contractual relationship. At the time of this writing, Joe Lamp’l has professional relationships with the following companies who may have products included in this post and podcast: Corona Tools, Milorganite, Soil3, Greenhouse Megastore, Territorial Seed Company, Earth’s Ally, Proven Winners ColorChoice and Dramm. These companies are either Brand Partners of joegardener.com and/or advertise on our website. However, we receive no additional compensation from the sales or promotion of their product through this guide. The inclusion of any products mentioned within this post is entirely independent and exclusive of any relationship.