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.
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.
Gardening for beginners - 10 tips
Find out how to deal with common garden problems, below.
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 aphid can be a nuisance in greenhouses, where numbers can quickly build.
- Overrun by slugs and snails? Buy organic slug pellets from Crocus, Gardening Naturally and Amazon.
- Alternatively, if vine weevils are the issue, try buying nematodes from Crocus, Gardening Naturally and Amazon
- Buy Cryptolaemus montrouzieri larvae from Amazon to control mealybugs
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. Find out how to spot and manage honey fungus, control peach leaf curl and deal with rust. We've also put together guides on powdery mildew and dealing with potato blight.
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.
Looking to tackle weeds organically? Choose the right tool for the job with our expert guide to 10 of the best garden hoes. We also asked a group of BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine readers to put a range of hand weeders to the test, so you can buy in confidence. In a hurry? Here's our pick of these test's best buys:
- Buy the DeWit Dutch Hoe from Crocus
- Buy the Sneeboer Royal Dutch Hoe from Crocus
- Buy the Fiskars Xact Extractor from Amazon
- Buy the Niwaki Weeding Hoe from Crocus
- Buy the DeWit Cape Cod Weeder from Crocus
- Buy the Spear and Jackson Select Stainless Weeder & Fulcrum from Amazon
And, if you're worried about stiff joints from bending down to use a hand weeder, our bumper guide to the best garden kneelers will help you pick one to make the job more comfortable.
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 – read on to find out if you can use bathwater in the garden. It's also worth using mulch to conserve water in the garden, with compost, leafmould or stones. Alternatively, you could consider choosing drought-tolerant plants to grow, which require less watering. Find out more about dealing with drought in the garden.
Water butts are an essential bit of kit if you want to be more water wise. Check out our guide to the best water butts, and if you're in a hurry, here are our favourites:
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