creiddylad78
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Stunted squash and tomatoes

Hi, I'm new to the forum and just learning to garden again. I've been reading through posts in order to figure out what's going on with my little garden patch. I'm in zone 8a growing a garden in a shared back yard in containers. I had knee surgery a couple of years ago so container gardens seemed like an excellent way to go. I have no real experience with this type of gardening, nor gardening in the south, I'm a transplant. Knowing that I knew less than nothing I started reading up on the whole shebang, then followed the lead of my in-laws. We started our gardens at the same time, same planters, same soil, same amount of sun, same watering schedule. Differences: I mulched the top of my planters to keep the soil from getting too hot (made sense to me, we're already in the 90s here), and they put lime on the top of their soil. Their plants are all huge, starting to fruit, and making me jealous. My plants, especially my squash and tomatoes, are mostly stunted, the squash plants are starting to turn yellow. My peas and my cucumbers are doing well. Did I make a mistake with not adding lime? Or did I mess up by mulching? In case it's important, the tomatoes are in large individual containers because I read they liked a lot of room of their own in container gardening. I've been reading this forum for weeks now, plus Pinterest, but haven't found the answer I've been seeking. If I missed it I apologize.

imafan26
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Re: Stunted squash and tomatoes

Are you using the same soil and the same fertilizer?
Are the pots the same size for the same plant?
When you mulch, the soil will hold on to moisture better and you should make sure your mulch stays about 4 inches away from the stem.

What else do you do different?



Besides the difference in liming what else is different?
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Java
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Re: Stunted squash and tomatoes

I have found is that the following to a big difference:
1. Amount of sunlight the plant get a day.
They need lots of direct sunlight. Atleast 6hrs.
2. Size of the containers.
Bigger the containers, larger the root system to support a big/large plant.
3. Fertilizer.
You need to fertilizers to give nutrients and food for the plants to grow.

and of course water.

If any of these are not the minimum amount the plants don't grow to its potential.

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rainbowgardener
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Re: Stunted squash and tomatoes

I wouldn't think the lime makes much difference unless the soil you were using is severely acid.

Turning yellow is the clue. That indicates a lack of nutrients. Either your in-laws are fertilizing more than you (more often, more quantity, and/or more concentrated nutrients) OR you are over-watering (or some of both). Over-watering makes the nutrients less available and flushes them out of the container faster.
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applestar
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Re: Stunted squash and tomatoes

Let's assume everything you said is true,creyddylad78 -- I see a big gap in the description between "same planters, {???}, same soil"

How did they use the same soil and proceed to plant in the same planters?
How did you?

These steps in between could have been the crucial difference. It would be interesting to know.
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creiddylad78
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Re: Stunted squash and tomatoes

I am trying this again because I haven't fully figured out how the forum works, if it shows twice I apologize. I appreciate the responses, thank you. Someone asked about what else might be different: we don't use the same fertilizer because I use organic and they don't. Also, our back yard is on a hill and I'm further down the slope than they are. I didn't think this made a difference because these are raised container gardens so I didn't mention it. It's a very gentle slope in case that does matter. Someone mentioned that there should be space around the stems that is clear of mulch, I didn't do that. It could be that they are too wet at the base and I just didn't realize. I'm gong to smack my forehead if that fixes the problem. Oh, we're watering until it starts to come out of the drainage holes every other day- that's both sets of gardens. Fertilizer once a week, working great for the peas and the cucumbers. Hopefully I will move mulch and it will be great all around.

creiddylad78
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Re: Stunted squash and tomatoes

applestar wrote:Let's assume everything you said is true,creyddylad78 -- I see a big gap in the description between "same planters, {???}, same soil"

How did they use the same soil and proceed to plant in the same planters?
How did you?

These steps in between could have been the crucial difference. It would be interesting to know.
We bought everything together from the same places. The back yard is red clay soil, hard packed about an inch under the surface, so we literally bought the same soil, same containers, etc. I figured I would start with this soil, add compost to it through the winter and use it again next year, an investment of sorts. We just dumped the dirt in the containers, popped the seedlings in and were good to go. Same sun is because we put everything in the part of the yard that gets the most sun. I'm slightly further down the slope but we're talking a matter of a few steps. Most of the sun is afternoon sun because there are a lot of trees blocking the morning sun, can't change that because it's not on our property. Honestly, I like the trees, reminds me of my grandpatent's orchard a bit, minus the fruit. (Pecans everywhere in the south!) I'm not sure why you're seeing a gap in my post, but we're doing mostly the same things. I did reply with more detail about differences, I hadn't seen your response though. Thank you for taking time to respond!

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applestar
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Re: Stunted squash and tomatoes

You are welcome and this sort of detective work is what I do in my own garden all the time, because seriously, every little detail could make a difference.

One glaring is the difference between organic and not organic. Now I tend to stick to strictly organic so I'm with you on this one. But typically, not organic fertilizers are more concentrated and immediately available to the plants. If you look on the package, you'll see three numbers separated by a dash. Organic fertilizers are slower release and tend have low numbers like 4-4-4. That means you will need a lot more of it compared to fertilizer that have numbers like 15-15-15.

On the other hand, it's nearly impossible to "burn" your plants with organic fertilizer. You can actually side dress (dig holes or trench and bury the fertilizer) if you are using dry, and if you are using liquid, then you can use it to water with every time. There is no need to "flush" the fertilizer from the soil because there won't be salt build up.

A trick that you could use because you are going organic, and they can't, is to add some composting worms -- red wigglers -- and some night crawlers in your containers. The wigglers will stay near the surface under the mulch, and night crawlers will delve deep in the bottom. You don't need or want to add too many -- depends on size of the containers. This would be like continuously adding vermicompost and vermicompost tea. If you don have any in your yard, you could just get a cup of them at any bait shop. DH gives me the leftovers from fishing if he doesn't think he will be going again soon.

Squash and tomatoes are heavy feeders, so it might be prudent to try significantly upping the fertilizer in any case. Tell us which kind you are using. Once they are growing well, you can go back to maintenance amount.

Too much lush growth is not necessarily what you want either.

Now, another element that actually might be making a difference is that warm air rises and cool air sinks. That means their garden higher up the hill might have been warmer, especially at night, which helped their plants grow better. It could have been that temperatures in your garden could have fallen below the critical for tomatoes and squash. Especially squash and cucumbers need warmer temps. Are you growing peppers and eggplants, too? Micro-climates can make amazing amount of difference, even in my own garden on one side or the other of the house.
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creiddylad78
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Re: Stunted squash and tomatoes

applestar wrote: One glaring is the difference between organic and not organic. Now I tend to stick to strictly organic so I'm with you on this one. But typically, not organic fertilizers are more concentrated and immediately available to the plants. If you look on the package, you'll see three numbers separated by a dash. Organic fertilizers are slower release and tend have low numbers like 4-4-4. That means you will need a lot more of it compared to fertilizer that have numbers like 15-15-15

Squash and tomatoes are heavy feeders, so it might be prudent to try significantly upping the fertilizer in any case. Tell us which kind you are using.

Now, another element that actually might be making a difference is that warm air rises and cool air sinks. That means their garden higher up the hill might have been warmer, especially at night, which helped their plants grow better. It could have been that temperatures in your garden could have fallen below the critical for tomatoes and squash. Especially squash and cucumbers need warmer temps. Are you growing peppers and eggplants, too?
I'm trying to answer everything, if I miss something let me know. I'm used to the loamy soil from my grandparents garden. We'd till it, add compost, plant the seeds then let things grow. I mean we watched for bugs, weeded, and such but it seemed so easy then. So what I did in my new container venture was choose nature's care for veg&fruit. It says it can feed for up to two months but with a container I figured more was needed as I'm washing the good stuff away, evidenced by the rampant growth below my containers. I'm having to cut that stuff down as often as I water! Oh the numbers are 3-4-2.

My in-laws are growing eggplants, I'm growing bell peppers. Both sets of plants are doing fine, getting bigger. I had to pick bugs off the bell peppers at first but not anymore.

Dh and I have been talking about getting some worms for the containers, I wasn't sure about how to keep them alive, though. This probably sounds silly but they were always just in the garden so I never thought about it. I'm new here so I don't have any good compost just ready to go, we are still building our little house though we are living in it. (In-laws and I have adjoining yards). I insisted on a garden just to make the place feel more like a home than a place that's only partially put together.

As to the temperature thing, I'm not sure about that. I try to stay in during the wee hours because there are bobcats and coyotes that roam the area. They'll come closer if you leave them alone and they're cool to watch-even if my dog hates them. Thank you for the responses, you've been awesome.

imafan26
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Re: Stunted squash and tomatoes

Unless your containers are very large it is hard to do organic in containers. Not only is the NPK in organic lower than synthetic, most organic fertilyzers are not available to the plants until they are converted by the soil organisms. So if your NPK is 3-2-2 less than half of that is available nitrogen. Read the label for percent of nitrate, that is the only fraction with available nitrogen. Most of it is slow nitrogen that might take up to 2 years to release. All of the synthetic nitrogen would have been available to the plants immediately when they needed it. You will have to supplement your heavy feeders especially with fish emulsion, blood meal, AACT, manure and compost teas weekly. The purpose of organic is to feed the soil and the soil should be able to sustain the plants. If you have to add more than 10% supplemental fertilizer then you are feeding the plants not the soil.

Some people do put soil in containers but in the long run, it gets hard and does not work well. Compost in containers, some people have good luck with that, but I cannot put more than a handful of vermicast in a 5 bucket container without getting into trouble. As you have noticed, containers leach nutrients so they have to be fed more often than in the ground.
Peas don't need a lot of nitrogen and cucumbers are not the heavy feeders that tomato and squash are. They need to be fed fish emulsion and kelp meal probably every week. The cucumbers will need it too. Yellowing on lower leaves, stunted growth and if the green is paler than your parents plants usually mean lack of nitrogen. The containers sound like they drain well so they should not be over watered. You should keep the mulch away from the stems to keep it from rotting.

Organic in small containers is hard because there is not a large population of microbes in the soil, especially new soil. The first crops should ideally be low requirement legumes and herbs that give the chance for the soil ecosystem to build.

If you choose the right container or you build the right kind of garden, organic can work better.
Using rotting logs at the base of the planter is hugulkultur
Incorporating a compositing basket in the planter keeps feeding the soil. Usually keyhole gardens are round, but they can be rectangles. The layering of the materials are important to making it work. A couple of scoops of garden soil will provide the starter organisms. The first crops should be low nutrient users like legumes. And organic fertilizers need to be applied often especially when plants are young and growing.
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creiddylad78
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Re: Stunted squash and tomatoes

Imafan26 and everyone that has responded: thank you so much. I've been learning a lot. I'm going through any allergic reaction to antibiotics so I'm not up to par. Will post more later.

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applestar
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Re: Stunted squash and tomatoes

Feel better soon! :bouncey:
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