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Vegetable Plants – Not Growing? Stunted? Yellow Leaves?

How many of us have transplanted our cucumber and squash seedlings (both winter and summer squash) to the garden and had them sit there for what seems like an eternity (3 weeks) and not do anything but get worse looking than when we put them in the ground?

And how upsetting is it when we lovingly and with great anticipation plant our tomatoes and see one plant take off gang-busters and attain a height of 3 feet almost over night while other tomato plants sit there and stay about 7 inches?

Have you patiently waited until May to set out your peppers and eggplant, only to have them sit there at the same size for 3 more weeks?

If you’re a person who requires lots of scientific detailed information for your answers, you’re not going to find it in this post.  But I am going to give you some possible reasons and some observations that I’ve made over 35 years of gardening that may ease your pain when experiencing the situations I’ve described above.

Major Culprit in My Opinion

I think the major culprit behind most gardeners obsessing about what is described above is how our society promotes “perfection” and “attaining everything quickly”. In our world today bigger is better and everything (men – women – and vegetables) are pictured as being without blemish. And everything has to be fast. To one degree or the other, we are all influenced by this.  It’s almost impossible not to be.  (Notice I said almost!)

False Goodness

One of the reasons Miracle Grow got to be a standard household product for so many people is because they promote “fast” and “perfect”. To heck with the harm it does — they don’t see the harm right away — but they do see that quick flourish of growth and green —- and then they can tout that their plants are bigger and more beautiful than others!

The Truth About Nature

What I’ve found to be true in my organic garden — (and by the way, I have always gardened organically — all 35 years worth) is that nature is not on that same schedule.  Plants have there own schedule and do best in their own time.  Just because your calendar says it’s time for them to grow — they sense the delicate variables and when those variable all line up just right — look out!  We’ve all seen it in our gardens if we’ve gardened for a while.  Something languishes and all of sudden it rains and conditions become just right and we see a foot or more of growth per day!

Laughing at Myself

A friend who use to live close by was always amazed at my garden. I always got a laugh — because there were times he was here and would see my pepper seedlings of years back or my languishing squash seedlings in the garden and you could see that he was thinking — “How in the world does she ever get all that bounty with these awful looking plants.” (For more on this story see my post, Peppers, It Ain’t Necessarily So.)

Happening Right Now with Squash and Tomatoes

  • I have young squash plants that have been in the garden since May 24th.  They’re maybe 4 inches high.  The original leaves turned yellow right away and for a while they almost looked like they weren’t going to make it.  I endured it and resisted the urge to pull them up, because I’ve seen this same thing with my squash for 35 years!  But when they start growing they are one of the most beautiful plants in the garden.  They just do it on their own time table.

And tomatoes—— I can’t believe that with all the success I’ve had with tomatoes over the years I still succumb to worrying about my young tomato plants.  (Last year I had what I considered to be the worse years for tomatoes that I’ve ever had —- and yet, I still had plenty of tomatoes for roasting and eating fresh.  I was only a bit short on the number of quarts of sauce I wanted to freeze.)

  • This year I have 40 tomato seedlings planted so far.  All raised from seed.  All looking fine — but here I am worrying about the ones not looking as full and lush as others.  Then standing over one that’s been deprived of it’s due space by a big broccoli plant and worrying that it will stay skinny and not give me a good return of tomatoes.

Different Varieties Perform Differently

If you’ve gardened for a while you know that “varieties” can be responsible for languishing growth especially with tomatoes. Some have deeper green, grow bushier, and get taller faster than other varieties.

The same with cucumbers.  Both the varieties in my garden were planted at the same time.  One looks deep green and great.  The other variety looks pale green and not so great.  I have backup waiting in the wings, but in all probability — both varieties will do fine.

Organic Garden vs. the chemical garden

If you have an organic garden and don’t use chemicals to “force” the soil or “force” your plants (like Miracle Gro) — you probably are going to experience what I call “languishing” with seedlings in the garden.  If they’re transplants, they’ll sit for a while using their energy to taking hold of the soil and putting their roots down rather than using it for growth above ground.  And all — whether direct seeded or transplants — will wait for the weather to be to their liking before showing lush growth.

One More Example

This is a little off target, but makes the point well.  At one time in every gardener’s life they have felt the lure of the bargain table at a nursery or plant stand at the end of the season.  All these awful looking plants for an irresistible low price.

There are millions of success stories telling of taking those plants home, putting them in good soil, and having them give some of the best crops ever!  If this can happen with chemical grown seedlings from a bargain table in June —- don’t you think our organic homegrown seedlings have an even better chance!

Pro-Active?

If you’re pro-active like I am (and I know many of you are 🙂 ) you’ll always want to have back-up just in case.  The only cost is a few seeds and some time in sowing. You still have time for hot weather crops like tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, beans, and eggplant. (At least here in Virginia.)

Final Thoughts — What You Really Need to Do

But mostly, all you need at this point in the game is patience and the realization that nature has things under control.  Work with her by improving your soil; she’ll do the rest.

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Organic Gardening is easy, effective, efficient  —- and it’s a lot healthier.

_____

All content including photos is copyrighted by TendingMyGarden.com. All Rights Reserved.

29 comments to Vegetable Plants – Not Growing? Stunted? Yellow Leaves?

  • Heather

    Theresa, This is such timely information for me. I’ve been looking at my cucumber and squash plants which do seem to be doing a bunch of nothing above ground. Plus the zucchini and yellow squash have some spotted yellowing on their leaves which I don’t recall happening last year. I was planning to do search for info today on these issues and you have saved me the trouble!

    Speaking of backup, my summer squashes succumbed to the squash vine borer last year before I ever got any actual squashes (I think I had planted them where they weren’t getting quite enough sun due to shade from other plants, and perhaps even too late). I was thinking I should plant backups to go into the ground when that happens again this year, hopefully after some harvest this time! When would you suggest I start those seeds? I am in your general region (Bowie, MD – suburb of DC).

    May I ask where in Virginia you are located?

    Thank you, Heather

  • Theresa

    Hi Heather.
    I was in such a hurry to get this post up when I found that so many people were experiencing what I described in the post. BUT — I doubt that you would find my advice for that anywhere else on line. Most people want to get very technical and “scientific” about the problem and approach it in a totally different manner than I would. My advice and take on things is almost always a bit unconventional — but it gets the job done. 🙂

    As of yesterday my squash and cukes are looking a lot better. Nonetheless, I plan to start a few backups on Saturday. They’ll germinate and come up quickly and hold for a little while in a small pot to give me time to see whats happening. You could do the same — or you could wait a week or two and see how things are going. Squash and cukes are easy to start even in the heat of summer especially if you’re able to water.

    Squash takes about 50 or 60 days from start to finish (cucumbers are also in that range) — so theoretically you should be able to plant as late as the end of July or the first of August. I never have because I’m tired of squash bugs by then. One go round with them and the SVB is plenty for me. But if the cuke beetles are not too bad this year — I’m thinking of planting cukes the end of July -IF there is no drought.(I’m not set up to water.)

    I hope you are searching out and destroying those SVB that attack your squash. If you don’t, they can go into the soil and plague you next year.

    I’m in the land (peninsula) between the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers. So yes, we are in the same “general region” of the country.
    Let me know how your squash and cukes do.
    Theresa

  • Love this! Thanks Theresa!

    Although these ticks I’m getting from this constant reprogramming are becoming quite comical to observe at this point.

    This has happened to me this year for the very first time. I’ve never seen such a difference in growth patterns – even b/t plants w/i the same variety planted at the same times!

    I have a friend down the road who keeps bees. She says that the weather (especially the warm winter we had!) changed the normal production pattern of her bees. Why wouldn’t the plants behave the same? Makes a lot of sense.

    Thanks again for such a great post!

  • Sandra

    OK Theresa, now you are reading my mind! I was outside this morning obsessing about this type of thing, exactly.

  • Sandra

    Heather, I’m just up the road from you near Annapolis.

  • Theresa

    Sandra, I figured if I was doing it — everyone else would be to. 🙂

  • Theresa

    Glad you liked the post Bearfoot Mama. You said, “This has happened to me this year for the very first time.” Probably it will happen many times again. It happens to me almost every year.
    There are always variables each year and all those variables are sensed by plants.
    As long as we get to the end with great crops I guess we can’t complain.
    Thanks for commenting!

  • Heather

    Hello Sandra, nice to “meet” you.

    Thanks Theresa, I’ll think I’ll do as you are and start a few backups in the next week or so. Unfortunately last year was my first year with a vegetable garden and I knew nothing of SVBs until it was too late. So I’m sure I do have some that overwintered in my garden. I haven’t been searching yet – should I be? I haven’t seen any of the moths flying yet. Have you?

    Thanks,
    Heather

  • Theresa

    The larvae of the SVB that kills the squash plant goes into the soil and pupates. The pupae is about an inch long (maybe less) and is brown and is in a dark, silken cocoon. Kill any you find. This year try to kill them as larvae. It’s easier.
    Haven’t seen the moth yet.

    Gardening is a learning experience. No matter how long you garden, you’ll never know it all. The encouraging thing is — you don’t have to. Just work with nature — you’ll be fine.

    I’ll look forward to hearing about your experiences this season. 🙂
    Have a great evening!
    Theresa

  • don

    My garden is doing the same. Actually, my cucumber seedlings have all been eaten down to the ground. First rabbits got them, so I put in the backups. All the leaves got eaten and nothing but little stems sticking up out of the ground. I do have an organic nursery nearby that I’m going to check out tomorrow to see if they have any cucumber plants. I think its too late to start seeds again.
    Thanks for the timely post to remind us all to hang in there.

  • Theresa

    Hi Danita,
    I’m going to start more cucumbers from seed tomorrow. If you really want to start from seed I think you probably have time. As you know, it doesn’t take them too long to germinate. But — it would be nice to have an organic nursery nearby to get a jump start on things.

    Hope you won’t have any more trouble with rabbits!
    Good hearing from you. Let me know how things progress.
    Theresa

  • anne

    Thank you for this post!

    I planted my 1st veggie garden 1 and a half weeks ago, and have obsessed by the lack of growth of my transplants.

    I guess I will need to learn to be patient.

  • Theresa

    Glad it was helpful Anne. Let me know how you do.
    Best of luck!
    Theresa

  • Rebekah

    I just wanted to say thanks for your article. I’ve been growing veggie starts from seed and I was wondering why there was some yellowing. I used a diluted mixture of alfalfa meal and fish fertilizer hoping to give them a boost but I cant say I’ve noticed much of a difference yet.

  • Theresa

    Hi Rebekah,
    I think all of us need to review the facts in the post from time to time. If we have backup and patience we’ll all do just fine. 🙂

    A little bit of what you used is fine. It probably did give them a little boost — but you’ll see a big difference when the weather warms a bit.

    Nice to have you reading.
    Theresa

  • Summer

    Hey I have a bunch of vegetable plants; all them have grown a lot and look good but they are not blooming vegetables at all, what do I do?!??

  • Theresa

    You question is unclear Summer. Too much nitrogen is most often the cause for lots of vegetation and no bloom or fruit. If you have bloom — then you will just have to wait for the fruit to develop.

  • Kelly

    I live in south Louisiana. We have had a vegetable garden for the past few years. The 1st year was great. We had tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, etc. After that, the plants would grow to about maybe a foot high and then just stop growing. This year, we put a new garden in a different section of the yard. We had the plants growing under a light and they were growing great. Then we planted them. They are still healthy looking like when they were under the light, but again, are not growing ANY taller. I had green onions in the garden already and they are growing super! The other plans are tomatoes, cucumbers, bell pepper, and eggplant. Maybe you can offer any suggestions. Please let me know if you need to know any other info about our garden.

  • Theresa

    Kelly, I need to know LOTS more about your garden! Email me (Theresa@tendingmygarden.com) and tell me all the details. What kind of soil you have? What was there before you moved in? How did you prepare your garden? What are you putting on or in your soil? Are you using anything that would have residual herbicides? (search TMG for more info on residual herbicides) What temperatures have you had this month? It’s still way too cold here for warm weather crops like tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers. If temperatures are 60 and below you won’t get much growth from them.
    Are your neighbors spraying any chemical that would blow onto your property? Is your garden near public land that would be sprayed by your county, etc?
    This is a busy time for me, but I will try to help you and answer you as soon as I can.
    Theresa

  • PniB

    Thank you so much. This article is exactly the one that I needed, after obsessing about trying to find the ‘solution’ for my stagnating seedlings from other sources lol! This is my first time gardening and only have a tiny balcony on which to do it. The room off the balcony is full of earth!! By the end of the week my balcony will be crowded with plants mostly in fabric containers. I have a mexican sunflower, carrots, tomatoes and pickling cucumbers out there so far, with kale, peppers, chrysanthemums, chamomile and some herbs to follow. It is my cukes and tomatoes that are taking their own sweet time, and I pray that is the case and that I have not done too much or too little of something to make them suffer 🙁 So strange, (or maybe not) one of my tiny 3 true leaves cukes has not grown in height or leaf size or number of leaves in at least a week but today a tiny tiny flower has been produced on it. Well, I don’t know what any of it means, but I will take heart in your wise words, take a few deep breaths and give my plants some space to do their thing. I live where the growing season is ever so short and I so want to harvest the fruit of my love and hard work, so send some happy – healthy gardening vibes my way! Thanks again.

  • Theresa

    All my happy-healthy gardening vibes are being sent your way, PniB.
    It’s probably just the cool temperatures that are preventing the cukes and tomatoes from growing like gangbusters.
    It’ll warm soon!
    Let me know how you do. I think you’re doing a fabulous job to grow all that on a balcony!
    Theresa

  • Natasha

    I live in Roy, Washington. I have been growing indoors and finally moved everything outdoors. I am sad to see that it seems the growth has stopped. I am not sure of the issue. All of the plants I have grown from seed outside are doing well, and the transplanted ones seem angry, which makes me feel like the soil is not the problem. I have used only fish fertilizer and water on them. At first I was watering them daily and now I have begun watering them twice daily. I feel sad 🙁 Thanks for any input you may have.

  • Theresa

    Natasha, I have several thoughts based on the information you’ve given me.

    Regarding your transplants seeming angry: Whenever I’ve transplant things to the garden (over a 36 years period) – they never take off and start growing immediately. They always seem to go backward just a bit and sometimes it takes 2 to 4 weeks for them to “catch” the soil and really start growing and loving their new home. That’s especially true with tomatoes. I’ll plant the most beautiful tomato seedling in the garden only to have it lose a bit of fullness and turn a bit yellow. One it takes hold it can transform itself to a lush green quickly growing plant in a matter of days.

    It could be that patience is all that’s required for your plants to make a comeback. Especially, since you seem to be doing great either indoors or outdoors, it must be that transition that is slowing things down. (And, as I explained, that’s pretty much normal in my garden.)

    The other things that comes to mind immediately upon reading that you were watering daily and not have begun to water twice daily is: TOO MUCH WATER!
    Plants need air. They need air above the ground and air in the soil. Not pockets of air, but soil that is loose rather than compacted, to allow air to get to roots. When the soil (or grow mix) is continually wet it can’t allow air to the roots. This will stop growth.

    Water only when the soil (or grow mix) is bone dry down 1 1/2 to 2 inches.

    Let me know what happens, Natasha.
    Theresa

  • Johnf783

    Your style is really unique compared to other folks I’ve read stuff from. dekegegekacf

  • Brooke Doyle

    Hello and Good morning,

    I found your email on your garden blog. My name is Brooke and I’m from Mississippi.

    I am needing some garden advice. This is technically my second year gardening. The first year I was renting a house and started a contained vegetable garden indoors. I started around October. And of course it didn’t go so well. I was lacking in a lot of knowledge. I didn’t even know bees where needed to pollinate.

    This year, I have 2- 4 ft x 16 ft raised garden beds. Using cinder blocks. They are about 12 inches deep. The first 8 inches is filled with dirt that I dug up in what used to be an horse pasture. So the clay dirt has had horse manure naturally composting it for the past 3-5 years. It came out loamy and black with some clay.
    The rest of the soil I bought from lowes, so the top 4 inches in the 1st bed is 12 cubic feet of top soil and 12 cubic feet of cow manure compost.
    The other bed has 8 cubic feet of top soil and 16 cubic feet of humus compost.
    I have a 10 big containers with herb seedlings with about the same mixture of soil to dirt ratio and 2- 2ft x 6ft raised beds that are 6 inches deep with pepper plants and garlic and a potatoes box that seems to be doing better than anything.

    I’m growing seedlings indoors under a light with cheap potting soil. I’ve used fish fertilizer on them once. They seem to come along very slowly but they look healthy. Just no growth for the past couple of weeks.

    I transplanted some seedlings to the big garden bed 1 about 3 weeks ago. Cabbage, kale, spinach, brussel sprouts, broccoli, lettuce. They don’t seem to have grown a bit and I have lost all the spinach twice. The leaves are a bit yellow on the cabbage but are stating to get a pink/purple tint to them. The cabbage is about 2.5 inches in height with 2 leaves. I direct seeded tomatoes, carrots, bell peppers. The carrots where lost when I watered them to hard. The tomatoes and bell peppers are about 2 inches tall.
    They receive full sun all day. The garden has been drying out everyday for the past week and a half so I water thoroughly in efforts to keep the soil moist.

    Do u have any advice for me please?

    Thank you,
    Brooke

  • Theresa

    Hi Brooke,
    I’m not sure just what advice you would want from me.
    I could spend a lot of time making various comments, that may or may not be of use to you.
    I’m thinking that you just found my site and have obviously not searched it for information, nor read enough to know how I garden and what I’m all about.

    I will, however, comment on your last statement about soil drying out. If you garden with nature, your soil should not be drying out everyday. Mulch and plenty of organic matter in the soil keeps that from happening. If you don’t know either of those terms you have much to learn and it’s all available to you here on TMG. Or if you prefer, you can order my book which is a great guide to success in the garden.

    Wishing you the best!
    Theresa

  • Lois

    haha thanks for your light-hearted approach to organic problems Theresa! Will bookmark your website… languishing squash in my garden this year, way way north west of you, in Canada. Thanks for the reminder to be patient and have faith in their own internal timing, and stop dosing them with alfalfa tea lol. Oddly enough the sweet potatoes are vining nicely, and they would normally be more fussy. No matter how old we are or how many years in, always more to learn, and every year is different..

  • Gee

    Hi,

    I planted a variety of vegetable plants approximately 3 weeks ago today is 07/15/2017. I used fertilizer prior to planting. I left the plants (cucumber, tomatoes, bell peppers in the biodegradable pots. I have also supplied Miracle-gro plant food 10 days apart. No plants died. The peppers produced little bell peppers. The plants haven’t taken or grew larger, remaining pretty much the same size since planting. Now there is one issue. I believe I left them too long in their pots/planters. It took 3 weeks for me to get them in the ground. I believe the plants rooted (roots grew large instead of plants growing up). Any suggestions? Thank you for any help you can provide. Central NJ in the middle of the state.

    Regards,

    Gee…

  • Theresa

    Gee, you must be new to gardening.
    Also you (along with the majority of folks) choose to use chemicals rather than nature’s way to grow plants. That’s not what’s talked about on this site.
    The post you left your questions on should have answered some of your questions.
    There are over 640 posts on this website that teach how to be successful with gardening using nature’s principles.

    Space here is short but I will give you a few observations that might help.

    1. If you feed your soil, chemical fertilizer is not necessary. In addition, just using chemical fertilizer does not give you nutritious plants (assuming that’s what you want.).
    2. It’s been my experience that those biodegradable pots don’t work.
    3. If your peppers produced little bell peppers in that short a time it’s because they were “forced” with your Miracle Gro and/or other fertilizer.
    4. Plants take time (more than a week) to get established and “hold” to the soil.
    5. Roots are what plants use to grow. Without good roots that go deep into the soil they can’t grow larger.
    6. In NJ your vegetable plants would have had a better chance planted 6 to 8 weeks ago.

    Theresa

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