Gardening for beginners - problem solving

Gardening for beginners: problem solving

Learn how to deal with common garden problems quickly and efficiently.

No matter how accomplished your gardening skills, you’re bound to face problems from time to time. These can include anything from pests and diseases to drought, weeds and even poor germination.

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There’s no need to panic – dealing with problems comes second nature to experienced gardeners. It can be tough to lose plants, but the more you learn how to deal with common problems, the fewer plants you’ll lose. But take heart in the knowledge that we all lose plants from time to time. That’s just part and parcel of being a gardener.

Find out how to deal with common garden problems, below.


Pests

Aphids on the underside of a leaf
Aphids on the underside of a leaf

Garden pests can be a nuisance. Some, such as sawfly, eat all the leaves of your plants, leaving only skeletal remains. Others, such as leafminers, cause unsightly markings on leaves, while some, such as slugs and snails, eat young plants whole. Try to remember that all of them are part of your garden’s ecosystem and you shouldn’t worry too much – you’ll be surprised how quickly even the most ravaged plants will grow back. Most ‘pests’, such as aphids (pictured), rarely harm your plants at all, and provide food for those further up the foodchain. The golden rule of pest management is to ensure you attract as many pest predators, such as ladybirds, birds and hedgehogs, to your garden as possible. This army of natural pest control will ensure you rarely have to deal with pests yourself.

However, some pests can, and do kill plants, and it’s these you should concentrate your efforts on. The most common are slugs and snails, which have a tendency to eat very young plants, killing them before they get a chance to become established. Vine weevils are a problem with pot-grown plants as they eat the roots, often causing them to die before you’ve noticed them. Mealybugs and woolly aphids can be a nuisance in greenhouses, where numbers can quickly build.


Diseases

Peach leaves with peach leaf curl fungus
Peach leaves with peach leaf curl fungus

Most plants can be affected by disease at some point or other and it’s important to be on the lookout for diseases so you can deal with them as soon as you identify them. This will ensure they don’t take hold and become a serious problem in your garden. Common problems that aren’t too serious include rust and mildew. More serious problems include honey fungus and blight, while fungal diseases such as brown rot and leaf curl are easily nipped in the bud but can become serious if not dealt with straight away.


Weeds

Horsetail weed
Horsetail weed

Just like pests and diseases, there are some weeds that are easy to manage and cause very few problems at all, while other weeds are very hard to eradicate completely. As a general rule, annual weeds such as chickweed and annual mercury, are relatively trouble-free, while perennials such as horsetail and nettles, and biennials such as dandelions, can be more difficult. Non-native weeds such as Japanese knotweed and Himalayan balsam are a cause for serious concern.

Dealing with weeds depends on the weed itself. Brush up on your ID skills and learn how to identify the worst culprits. Do try to remember that many weeds are foodplants for a range of native wildlife, so it’s worth allowing some to flourish in a corner of your garden. Chickweed is a valuable foodplant for some species of moth, nettles are eaten by the caterpillars of many garden butterflies, and dandelions provide an important early source of nectar for bees.


Drought

Watering container-grown plants
Watering container-grown plants

Long hot summers are the stuff of dreams for many of us, but they can make gardening a chore. Plants need extra water to cope with the hot, dry conditions, and those growing in pots will need watering daily. Bear in mind that flowering plants produce less nectar in dry weather, so bees and other pollinators may go hungry. Therefore it’s essential that we keep watering plants so they provide food and shelter for wildlife, as well as enjoyment for us.

When watering the garden it’s best practice to be as frugal as possible – you don’t know when it will rain again and some companies may impose a hosepipe ban if water stocks become low. Use grey water as much as possible, and mulch plants with compost, leafmould or stones after watering to keep the soil moist.

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