Gardening Challenges

Planning and planting your garden while imaging how it will look in the future is creative and fun. Sometimes challenges happen to challenge your vision. These can include pest invasions, plants failing to thrive or things beyond your control such as the weather. What can you do to prevail over these challenges?

Options to help plants recover: For pest problems from aphids to gophers, the UC IPM resources accessible through the Master Gardener web site offers science-based solutions. Whether you know the critter invading your space, or are only seeing evidence of their attack, you can access information by pests or plant type. Under plants, there will also be a list of abiotic problems not related to pests, which can occur with that particular plant, including diseases such as powdery mildew or symptoms of nutrient deficiencies.

If you are consulting the Master Gardeners on the phone line or at an outreach event, we tend to ask you many questions. A primary question I ask is if anything has changed in the garden or yard. Did you adopt a new pet? Especially in a new home, pets explore and are curious about their surroundings. Some plants tolerate a bit of digging or damage, but some can be overwhelmed. 

A change in sun or shade available is a major stressor for many plants. A tree or large shrub removed, or a new structure blocking the sun may have occurred months before you noted the changes to the garden. At the Tulare County Courthouse rose gardens, a set of solar panels shades one of the rose gardens part of the day. We’ve been observing the plants for a year so far and while they may have some fewer blooms, the angle of the sun still allows for sufficient sunlight to keep them growing. In the wilting heat of summer, those plants looked less stressed than the fully exposed gardens. However, some plants may need to be relocated to another site when the season is appropriate to do this. Less than six hours of sunlight per day will not be sufficient for some plants to have lush vegetative growth or full flower bloom.

If the plant is receiving more sun than usual and it’s the heat of summer, setting up a shade cloth or umbrella can provide a nicer environment. Also check your irrigation timers, lines and settings, as a power outage may have reset the programming. Use a moisture meter near the base of the plant–the surface may seem dry, but the roots might be too wet.

Check around the root zone of failing plants: Is the soil totally dry or very wet with pooled water or a sulfur smell? Gophers and voles will chew irrigation lines diverting water away from plants, leaving the resulting leaky tubing to cause excess water elsewhere. Damage to a main irrigation line from equipment may not be obvious on the soil surface, but could be flooding the root zone, impeding oxygen to the roots. Mushrooms growing in the area indicate soggy soil. 

Are there obvious pest problems such as nematodes attached to the roots? Are the roots healthy, with little root filaments, or dry and brittle?

A wait and see approach, along with making some accommodations for the plant, such as providing a shade cover for a plant previously in the shade and now in full sun or adjusting the irrigation, may return the plant to good health. 

If the challenge has overwhelmed the plant, how can you prevent a recurrence? Evaluate the site in terms of sun and shade, drainage, existing plants and trees, and ease of irrigation. In selecting plants, think about gardener issues such as time to care for plants requiring a lot of attention to thrive, or the ability to perform the labor needed for a plant to look its best.

Soil testing can be done for pH, nutrients and trace elements. Home test kits are fairly inexpensive, but the accuracy varies. A commercial laboratory will provide an accurate analysis, but they are more costly. Home tests which can provide helpful information include squeezing a handful of soil to check how it clumps together, dig a hole and measure how long it takes to drain, look for worms in the dug up soil, and test for soil pH with a test kit or probe.

Planting in containers is easier on the gardener and can protect the plants from pests and environmental issues. Pots set out on the porch are easier to monitor for pest invasion, can be moved for sun or frost protection and provide herbs or vegetables close to the kitchen. 

Learning new information, such as plant selection best suited to your site or cultural care to produce the garden of your dreams, is a good starting point. Working around unavoidable challenges makes us more well-rounded gardeners. Imagine how you will feel next year having met the challenge and created a lovely garden.

The Master Gardeners will be live to answer your questions on Saturday, May 21, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Kaweah Oaks Preserve in Exeter for Go Native: A Native American Cultural Celebration. They can also be contacted between 9:30 and 11:30 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays to answer your questions at 559-684-3325, or visit their web site at

Start typing and press Enter to search