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Solutions to 10 Common Garden Problems

Probably one of the most abundant crops I grow is questions. Every time I walk out in the garden I'm presented with something new to ponder. What's that? I wonder what's going on here. How am I going to handle those? But that's one of the aspects of gardening that I love; the learning never stops.

In addition to my own conundrums I receive a lot of questions from viewers and it's always interesting to learn that we share a lot of the same gardening problems.

  1. Deer – In terms of size, the biggest garden 'pest' is definitely deer. There are many different views about having these creatures in the garden, but one thing is for certain: there's really not much you can do to keep them out completely. Even plants that are deer resistant become appealing if the animal is hungry enough. If you have an invasion on your hands your best bet is a double fence. Gardener and author Betsy Clebsch showed me how to build a deer-proof fence. Deer can jump pretty high, but they don't like to jump across a double barrier. So a fence inside a fence is much more effective than one tall fence. At the Garden Home Retreat I built two 4-foot-tall fences that are 5 feet apart. The space between the fences is wide enough for a wheelbarrow or lawn mower, but too far apart for a deer to jump across.

  2. Squirrels – Another controversial creature is the squirrel. They can quickly go from cute and cuddly to annoying and downright rude when they dig up bulbs or rob your vegetable garden. Plants with a strong astringent fragrance such as santolina or artemisia are good deterrents. Spray your edibles with a hot pepper spray. To make hot pepper spray, simply puree two large cayenne peppers in a blender or food processor. Strain the puree to remove any seeds or solids. Add the strained puree to 1 gallon of water. When you are ready to spray, dilute ¼ cup of the hot pepper concentrate with 1 gallon of water. To help the spray adhere to leaves, also add about 1/4 tablespoon of dishwashing soap to the mixture. When working with hot peppers it is important to wear gloves and keep your hands away from your face and eyes.

  3. Moles – If you've got moles chances are good there are white grubs around too. White grubs eventually turn into Japanese beetles and they are a favorite food of moles. Get rid of the grubs and the moles will most likely move on as well. Look under lawn grass or flower bed mulch for a grayish-white caterpillar-like insect. They usually lay curled in the shape of a 'C'. Treat the area with an organic insect killer or try dusting it with Milky Spore disease.

    Buried walls are effective for keeping moles out of specific areas. Create a stone or compacted clay wall around the area you want to protect. The walls should be at least 6 inches thick and extend into the ground 2 feet. Note that this will not prevent a mole from entering the area by climbing over the barrier.

  4. Powdery Mildew on Oak Leaves Powdery Mildew – Powdery mildew is a fungus that looks like a powdery coating over the leaves. Remove infected leaves and put them in the garbage to help cut down on the spread. Don't put them in your compost because you will just harbor spores for another round next season.

    Spray infected plants every 7 to 10 days with an earth-friendly fungicide. Make sure the plant is well hydrated first. Water deeply a couple of days before spraying and don't spray during the heat of the day.

  5. Blackspot – Blackspot is a fungus that is exacerbated by hot, humid weather. It appears as – you guessed it – black spots on leaves. It's most common on roses. The best way to control blackspot is to spray every 7 to 10 days with an earth-friendly fungicide. Try to get the plant completely saturated from top to bottom with the spray. You should also spray the ground around your roses and put any diseased leaves in your trash, not in your compost. As with any spray, make sure the plant is well hydrated first.

  6. Garden Insect Pests – There are more problem insects than I can cover in a list of 10 so I've lumped them all together. The first thing to do is properly identify the bug. It could be that the insect is beneficial in some way. Find out the least toxic methods for controlling the pest. Hand picking and trapping are often sufficient. The next step is spraying with an earth-friendly insecticide. Look for one that is OMRI Listed, which means it is approved for organic use in the United States. Rather than spraying everything in the garden, only treat the affected plants.

  7. Fertilizer Burn – I receive a ton of questions from gardeners who have accidentally over-fertilized a plant. Once it's happened there's not much that can be done other than flush the soil with water and keep your fingers crossed. You can prevent it by applying a slow-release fertilizer and only using well-composted animal manures.

  8. Perennial Weeds – Perennial weeds spread by seeds and roots. One way to rid the garden of perennial weeds is by digging them up, but you must get all the roots so the plant won't come back or spread. If you are over run with perennial weeds or establishing new bed space try a non-selective herbicide made with ammoniated soap of fatty acids, which is easier on the environment. Non-selective means it will kill any type vegetation so use caution when spraying around your other plants. The best prevention of perennial weeds is a healthy lawn and garden. Grass, flowers and vegetables will do an awesome job of choking out weeds when they are well tended. A 3-inch layer of mulch will help suppress weeds.

  9. Annual Weeds – Annual weeds are spread by seed. You can prevent them from sprouting by using a pre-emergent in spring for warm-season weeds and fall for cool-season weeds. Corn gluten is an effective, organic pre-emergent. Hand-pull those that sprout before they have a chance to go to seed. As with perennial weeds a happy garden and a 3-inch layer of mulch will go a long way toward keeping annual weeds in check.

  10. Weather – When it comes to the weather about all you can do is keep your fingers crossed and your eyes toward the heavens. Strong wind, ice or hail can wreak havoc in a garden leaving behind broken tree limbs and torn foliage. The best thing to do is after a storm is to remove the damage and be patient. Let the plant recover before taking any drastic measures. This is especially true for spring frost damage. Don't start pruning until new growth appears. This will help you determine where to make the cut.

    To keep your garden lovely through most weather conditions choose plants that are native to your area. Native plants are those that have evolved in a region over thousands of years, adapting to the changing environment. Having thrived in an area's climate, soil conditions and moisture levels and survived competition from other species, these plants are highly resistant to drought, insects and disease, which makes them some of the easiest plants to grow in the garden.