Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Improving Chances of Gardening Success

Twisted Curly new Tomato Growth
Imagine that a new gardener in Tucson, AZ (USDA Zone 9a) buys some generic tomato seeds and plants all of them in mid-May. What happens? The few that grow quickly die because the odds of success are over 1,000 to 1. Will planting more seeds increase the gardener’s chances of success? Probably not much.

What will increase the gardener’s chances for success while decreasing his chance of failure is knowing and applying concepts about planting dates, climate conditions, soil conditions, what conditions help tomatoes grow best.

I recently had to pull out almost half of my tomato plants because of disease. I am hoping that, over the last few years I have improved my chances of success with growing tomatoes from odds of 1,000 to 1 to closer to 30 to 1. Meaning that I fail 30 times for every 1 time I succeed. Good thing most tomato seed packets contain over 30 seeds. My success rate is much higher with plants that grow well in Tucson’s climate.

Mottled and curled leaves from Disease.

Each time a gardener fails at something a more insightful learning is exposed.

Here are a few things I have learned through study or plain experience about a garden’s temperature and disease that have helped me.


- Radiant heat in winter is good. Radiant heat in the summer is bad. Walls, buildings, some trees, and plastic bottles can provide radiant heat.

- South facing slopes, walls or buildings in winter is optimal. East facing slopes or west side shade in the summer is optimal.

- Troughs or furrows in the garden keep plants cooler and wet in the summer while hills keep plants warmer and drier in the winter.

West Side Corn, Lowered Tomatoes while still needing radiant heat at night.


More diseased tomato plants
 - Once a disease attacks, remove the whole plant immediately (roots & all). This will decrease the spread of disease and hasten the time when that vegetable variety may be grown there again.

- Composting diseased plant material spreads the disease. Don’t do it! Burn it or throw it away.

-Once disease hits do not plant the same plant in that soil for at least a year (or more depending upon extent of disease). Options to overcome this is to move next year’s planting location for that crop, growing other vegetable crops there, or using new soil that has never been used for growing that crop before.

- If you plant a disease-resistant variety in a diseased bed, it will most likely get the disease.
Disease can mangle a tomato plant

- Growing legumes next to other plants or before other plants helps to increase beneficial bacteria in the soil and may decrease the chances of disease (as a preventative measure). My best success with this has been to start the legumes a few weeks before introducing my main crop. As long as they are not competing for light, experience has taught me that growing a crop of beans near other plants has only benefited the nearby plant.

- Learn about each vegetable variety you plan to grow. Know its needs, its strengths, it weaknesses, and how to combat potential problems.

- It is good to occasionally take a break from higher maintenance crops so that you can appreciate your other plants.

-Do not treat disease as a bad thing. Learning about plant disease enables the gardener to adjust his gardening practices and increase his chances of future success.

Empty Spot where I pulled tomato plants out of the garden.

My chances of seeing my tomatoes live may be as good as 1 in 20
To anyone who lives in a climate where the odds are stacked against you – I feel for you. As you find out all you can about growing things you want within your climate you will be increasing your chances of success. Everyone fails at sometime. It is only those who learn from their failures who can cut their losses and improve their opportunity for success. The more I learn about my garden, the better I increase my chances of getting something right. As Thomas Edison once said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.”


  1. A very interesting and educational post, useful for gardeners like myself living in a colder area of the UK.

    1. Thank you for the reply. Everything new that I learn and can apply to my garden increases my gardening success.

  2. So true. My veg garden is a well ordered machine with companion planting and rotation of crops that like it. I seem to experience tomato blight every other year. It is always a gamble with veg gardens no matter what I do but I still work on bettering my chances...so different here since we have to tease out the cold climate with covers and guards until that last frost since our growing time is so short...then we hope no pests or diseases attack...if they do we are done since there is no time to start another crop of warm weather veggies like tomatoes.

    1. Thank you for sharing your experience, Donna. I appreciate your perspective. It is a wonder that short season farmers were able to manage in the northern climates with the long winters and having an occasional year of little-to-no harvest.

  3. I always found that location of growing is important and each season changes. Our summer is really hot so I grow them in partial shade but tomatoes really need good spacing and airy condition if humidity is high.

    1. Dear Malay-Kadazan girl,
      Thanks for your reply. It is a little difficult here to determine exactly how to plant for the early cold, the dry hot early summer and the humid later summer. The fall (second dry summer) seems to be the best time to grow tomatoes as long as it doesn't freeze in early November as it did this year.

      Many people here do grow tomatoes near shade trees, which works well if the trees give only partual shade or shade only in the afternoon. Thank you again for your reply.

  4. Great advise! I discovered that I am much more successful growing winter garden veggies here in Alabama. This year I am only planting tomatoes and peppers in the summer garden. In fall and winter I don't have to deal with scorching temps, bugs, and disease, so those veggies like collards, chard, broccoli, and others that can take cooler temps really do well.

    1. Thank you so much for your comment, Deb!
      I'm glad to hear things are going well for you in Alabama. It seems like winter gardens are the most fun in the South. The summer garden takes a whole lot of maintainence. On top of all that I have been dealing with my tomatoes, just last night I sighted a hornworm moth attempting to lay eggs on my remaining tomato plants!


Dear Gardening Friends,
I look forward to learning more about gardening with you. Your comments help me recognize that gardening is a life-long journey.

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