total brown thumb or what?

jardinerowaMay 9, 2011

I'm so disheartened. Pretty much everything in my garden is not doing well. A few things here and there but most is not.

My brugmansia had mites on them, I got lady bugs, and then the plant looked better. Then the earwigs decimated them, the sunflowers, beans, etc. I tried DM with not much help after several weeks. I gave in to Sevin for the earwigs and while it helped, I still don't think enough.

The Okra I planted from seed doesn't move from frozen cotyledon stage, I think I kept the ground too wet as they were seedlings. Now they don't move. My zinnias were all eaten and the ones that are still there don't grow. The nasturtiums grow up crispy, I was overwatering them and then apparently underwatering them.

The bananas I planted in March haven't budged; the mothers haven't grown. The pups have grown but very slowly. The zucchini and tomatillo from seed are growing but slowly and I am never sure if the ground is too wet or too dry. The Zantedeschia Aethiopica I bought a few weeks ago has a new leaf with several wide yellowish transparent lines through it. I've been watering it a lot. The hibiscus rosa sinensis put out new buds and then the buds just stopped growing. The new leaves have a yellowish tinge. Almost everything seems to have a yellowish tinge.

I am going through a horrible time financially, living in Mexico (Tijuana) with my family and "soil tests" aren't really done here. I guess sometime I could swing for a soil test kit at Home Depot but people have said they are not accurate. I have no idea if the soil has too little nitrogen, to much? or if it is too alkaline, or maybe I'm just simply sickening every plant/seed I touch.

I admire those people that can plant a seed and it grows into a beautiful flower or vegetable quickly, and often they never did soil tests or anything. It just happens for them. I almost want to assume that the soil is alkaline because I'm in the Tijuana/San Diego area, but who knows? Everything is a toss up. I'm trying to do this as a hobbie since I'm unemployed at the moment and going through a rough time. But even this passtime isn't going well.

I apologize for the long post but thank you for letting me express my frustration.

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hosenemesis(SoCal Sunset 19 USDA 8b)

That is frustrating.

You seem to have chosen a number of plants that are not always easy to grow. I have the same problem with the brugmansias. I cut one down to the ground because of mites, and the earwigs just decimate them. I may stop growing them.

It is probably the weird weather that is keeping your okra, zinnia, banana, and zukes from going. They all like nice hot weather, and it's been too cool. I usually don't even start zinnia seeds until now.

It may be the water rather than the soil that is causing problems. My water is too alkaline for Japanese Maples. I can't grow hibiscus at all. Always have yellow leaves. And my calla lilies have yellow leaves this year too- I was even thinking of using a chemical fertilizer on them. But I think it's the weather.

By the way, my nasturtiums are just about done for the year now.

So you are not alone. It may be that you are not putting the seeds in the ground at the best time for your area. Now is the time to plant cosmos, amaranth, sunflowers, morning glories, and okra. Water every day for two weeks, and then once or twice a week depending on cloud cover and temp.


    Bookmark   May 10, 2011 at 1:01AM
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Thank you so much for your response. You've actually made me feel so much better. I do think I started too early on a lot of seeds. I started cosmo seeds a month ago actually and they all out grew their cells and are now planted in the ground doing great, but they are easy anyway. But I agree, I'm trying to grow warm weather veggies in weather that's, well, lacking.
Are you the San Diego area? I have sunflowers growing from seed already but I've started some more. I will try Okra one more time. I never got into amaranth, but I will look into it.
I started nasturtium from seed a while back, but maybe Nasturtium is started even early, like in February in my area. I still think that if I got a grip one what they needed or lacked, I would still get some blooms out of them.
I'm not from the San Diego originally, but I look and see that most days are mid 60s to 70s or even higher sometimes. Those temperatures should be perfect for most things. But I think it is the night time temps that negatively effect things. It still just gets too cold at night.
I'm tempted to try an acid-type fertilizer on some plants to see if would help. But it is so risky doing it blindly when I don't know really how the soil is.
According to what I've read, the coolish temps we've had are perfect for common Callas. Of course mine is newly planted so maybe that has an effect.
Thanks again for your response and I wish you success in gardening as the year goes on.


    Bookmark   May 10, 2011 at 1:44AM
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With Renee's help I think you have it pretty well figured out, I only want to add that being out of work is kind of like being retired. I find that I look at my plants so often I am continually disappointed that they seem to doing NOTHING! I have taken to dating everything so when nothing seems to be progressing looking at the date on the tag shows its only been THREE days, and what the heck do I expect! Al

    Bookmark   May 10, 2011 at 7:31AM
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hoovb zone 9 sunset 23

Gardening is like any other worthwhile activity: it takes practice.

Nasturtiums prefer at least part shade and will do quite well in full shade. Keep trying and just wait out the bad times: "this too shall pass".

    Bookmark   May 10, 2011 at 1:56PM
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Dick_Sonia(Sunset 17)

In any given climate, the plants that will survive with the least amount of attention from humans are inevitably the most satisfying performers.

I like to propose that gardeners conceptualize their climate-adapted plant-selection palette as a circle. At the center of that circle are the plants that grow with no attention from you at all. As you head out toward the circumference of the circle are the plants that CAN be grown in your climate -- in theory -- but will require increasing degrees of intervention from you. The exact form and intensity of site modification can involve considerable effort and expense: large volumes of irrigation water, incorporating huge amounts of organic matter into the soil, terraforming for drainage, chemical correction of soil pH, regular spraying schedules of insecticides, cleaning up your water supply with reverse osmosis...the list goes on and on.

Where you live, the circle is quite large. Given the right kinds of intervention, anything from English cottage gardens to subtropical rainforest plants are possible...but not necessarily practical. Consequently, the temptation to make ill-advised plant choices looms large. At the center of your circle are firstly, southern California/Baja natives -- a plant palette so diverse and entrancing, it's all many people need. But there are many others: the wonderful succulents of the South African fynbos, plants from the Sonoran desert and the Meseta Central of Mexico, plants from the drier areas of northeastern and southern Brazil, and all the wonderful plants from both coasts of Australia. But it seems that you are drawn to the plants that are closer to the edge of your circle...herbaceous plants with large leaves that transpire a lot of water...plants that grow well in the southeastern part of the U.S. where summers are humid, and also grow fairly well, albeit with more intervention, in northern and central California gardens.

I think you're trying to pound a square peg into a round hole. Yeah, I know...these plants are listed as "recommended" in the Western Garden Book for Zone 24. Don't get me CAN be done. But do you really want to struggle this much with mitigation techniques when there are so many wonderful plants that will grow well in the conditions of soil, pH, sun exposure and climate that you have just as it is? Forget the brugmansias, nasturtiums and bananas. Get yourself some tabebuias, some agaves, some feather bushes, some guayacanes and caesalpinias (as a sample suggestion of thousands of well-adapted plants for your area). Gardening only has to be as hard as you decide to make it.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2011 at 2:37PM
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Thanks for the responses again. Al, I always enjoy your posts. You are very wise.

dick sonia, I really appreciated your comments about the circle of gardening. I totally agree with you. And while I love the idea of gardening with native plants. It is hard to know excatly which plants are that way given that nurseries themselves have plants "out" of the circle and/or they don't know how to help.

I would forget the nasturtiums, brugmansias, and bananas, except they are very common here. Actually there are spots with naturalized bananas and naturalized nasturtiums. Also, brugmansias are quite common here and do well. So I know it can be done. I just think I'm excpecting too much and I know I started some things too early, like the okra and zinnias.

I will now, though, consider more native plants though to balance it out. I actually recently got a multicolor agave that I love. I definitely appreciate your insight.


    Bookmark   May 11, 2011 at 1:47AM
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Min3 South S.F. Bay CA

If it is at all possible where you live, i would advise getting a couple of bantam hens to peck around in your garden. I havn't seen an earwig on my property for years now thanks to 'my girls' -PLUS they give me delicious fresh eggs and are good company.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2011 at 11:28AM
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Min, funny you should mention hens. Actually my sister-in-law has a hen and rooster and I always run them away from the garden. I know they eat little critters, but I've also seen them pull seedlings (not weeds) and make holes in the garden bed. I don't like them LOL. If I had no seedlings, I guess they would do well in the garden, but as it is, I think they are a menace.


    Bookmark   May 12, 2011 at 3:12PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

Try adding soil amendments with organic manures such as chicken/cow/horse manure and digging it into the soil before you plant and then mulching the bare soil. Adding organic amendments will help greatly with regulating soil moisture, which is the greatest problem with starting new plants from seed. A simple trap for earwigs is to leave rolled up newspaper in the garden, and the earwigs will gravitate to hide in them, you can then toss into the trash or shake them out and stomp them.

The Bananas, Brugmansia and Calla Lilies are all likely to do better in a sheltered spot with mostly shade, unless you are in an area with direct coastal fog influence, and all will want to stay moist in the warmer/drier months. Brugmansia in particular will look better if you give it some time release fertilizer such as Osmocote or feed with fish emulsion regularly. The Zantedeschia aethiopica is more of a winter grower in southern California/northern Baja California, and is inclined to go dormant once the temperatures get warmer. If it gets winter rains and is planted in a spot with shade or only morning sun, it will likely burst into full growth again next rainy season. If you want Calla Lilies, the summer blooming hybrids with yellow/orange or pink flowers are probably better for Tijuana conditions, just keep them well watered and fed. Nasturtiums are probably also going to do better for you as a fall planted seedling growing through the winter, and declining as it gets warm, unless grown with sufficient shade and water.

I'd suggest sticking with flowers that really prefer heat and can take a bit of drought, and African and French Marigolds should thrive for you, as should most Verbena species and hybrids such as V. rigida, V. bonariensis, and V. hybrida. If you have room for some rampant vines, I'd bet that common Morning Glory would do well, as would Bougainvillea, Thunbergia alata or T. gregorii. Succulents such as Cotyledon orbiculata, Sedum dendroideum, Euphorbia xantii and E. tirucallii 'Sticks on Fire', Echeveria agavoides and E. imbricata, Agaves such as A. parryi, A. bracteosa, A. attenuata, Aloes, etc.

Now that it has finally warmed up, it is safer to be overwatering new plants, and they won't rot/drown from too cold/wet soil conditions. It may have been mostly a problem of too cool conditions for new warm season seedlings, in combination with soil with insufficient organic content to hold onto to soil nutrients and water. Aged chicken manure or rabbit manure and/or liquid fertilizers such as fish emulsion on a periodic basis should turn your luck around immensely. Don't give up, enjoy your garden, and good luck on the employment aspect!

    Bookmark   May 12, 2011 at 5:36PM
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Min3 South S.F. Bay CA

Z- yes, if your sis in law has the large chickens, they can do an amazing amount of damage in a garden.
i have a few of the smallest bantam hens and, while they can scratch out seeds and small seedlings, those can be covered until they grow larger and its been worth doing that to have gotten rid of EVERY SINGLE EARWIG!
also, i happen to like the hens quiet companionable 'talk' as we all enjoy the garden together. min

    Bookmark   May 13, 2011 at 11:00AM
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kosherbaker(LA CA-10)

I'm in Los Angeles, Santa Monica area. About three miles from the ocean. I planted 3 tomatoes in the containers and purple tiger pepper 3 months ago. They have not grown an inch. I agonized over what it might have been. Being a noob, and doing this for only a second year, I realized thanks to this forum, that I was overwatering them. Because indeed most of them were showing me the yellow leaves. Apparently the classic sign of a plant being overwatered. So dropped the watering from every other day to twice a week. A month went by and still absolutely nothing. :O Finally last week I cut it down to once a week, and like a miracle every one of them showed me a new leaf within days. All of this in very well draining 5-1-1 mix that I mixed myself (Thanks to Al)

Also the banana plant I planted in my mom's garden in San Diego appears to hate to be watered more than once a week. Maybe this will change when the summer heat comes but for now this is what this noob has to report. :) :D


    Bookmark   May 16, 2011 at 12:25AM
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Tomatoes will just sit there, apparently frozen in time, unless we get a little sunshine and heat to warm the soil. When we have sun lately we also have a cold wind out of the north which keeps the air temperature down to where the gardener needs to wear a sweatshirt. Until I can shed my sweatshirt my tomatoes are not going to do much. Al

    Bookmark   May 16, 2011 at 9:45AM
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jkom51(Z9 CA/Sunset 17)

Soil prep is 90% of gardening. If you don't have good dirt, your plants will struggle.

As others have kindly pointed out, some of what you have planted are winter plants, not summer plants. Certain plants, like white callas (Z. aethiopica) and nasturtiums are sensitive to soil temps; once it warms up they're outta here.

Overwatering was the first thing I noticed about your post. Water is not a cure for non-growth. At the very least get yourself a water meter; they aren't that expensive and it sounds as if you haven't yet developed a sense for when plants need water and when they don't.

Just because certain plants can grow nicely in vacant lots or in other people's gardens, unfortunately doesn't guarantee success in one's own garden. I could name you a dozen plants that are growing around my neighborhood despite neglected yards, but in mine they struggle.

You've gotten some wonderful suggestions from bahia and dick_sonia. Every gardener has some plants that go gangbusters for them (I could give away extra glads, osteospermum, plectranthus, and bearded iris every year if I thought someone wanted them, LOL), and others that sulk and wilt and Just Won't Grow (doesn't matter the reason).

It sounds like you're doing a scattershot approach. That can be fun, but also wastes money/time when your efforts aren't well-organized and you haven't done your research. Slow down, learn from your mistakes, and start over again, more carefully this time.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2011 at 10:52AM
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Oh gosh Jkom... I want some glads and iris!!! LOL.

I have the same issues. Can't get bananas to grow. Two of my citrus are stunted and haven't grown in years. The rest are doing great. Last year my tomatoes were fabulous but the year before they never got ripe. My society garlic is doing awesome on my half of the shared strip with the neighbors but 2' away theirs is barely alive.

My strawberries are being eaten by pillbugs. I can't have chickens (codes in town)... any recommendations?

    Bookmark   May 16, 2011 at 11:20AM
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jenn(SoCal 9/19)

You've been given some excellent advice. I just want to add "don't give up". Your frustration is very understandable, especially in light of your economic situation.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2011 at 12:04PM
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