Sunday, December 26, 2010

Plant Killer

they look ok from here...
I know I don’t have the greenest thumb in the world, but I never realized I was such a plant killer.  When we moved into this condo, I had grand plans of a patio garden – especially when the landlords left us three large pots and a huge bag of mulch.  Things started off well enough, my zucchini seeds grew into little sprouts, and my squash starter from Whole Foods seemed happy.  I bought tomato cages to help support the droopy tomato plants that had grown on their own after seeds fell from an upstairs neighbor long before we moved in.  I planted basil and a collection of other herbs in the window box my dad got me over a year ago.  Things were looking good.

And then…not so much.  The zucchini grew so quickly that it overcrowded the pot, and slowly died.  Whether this is due to the salt-air from the lake nearby, my lack of confidence in my pruning abilities (I probably should have uprooted a few of the plants to give them more space), or the fact that zucchini probably would rather be in the ground than in a pot, I do not know.  But the plants are sad.  I would come home from work to find them droopy in the heat, though they’d perk right back up again with some water and shade.  The leaves started to succumb to the fuzzy mold, though I sprayed them with edible-plant-specific antifungal spray.  The flowers bloomed in beautiful abundance only to wither and die without ever yielding squash.  I should have just plucked the blossoms and eaten them (stuffed with goat cheese) when I had the chance.
yum yum yum

They looked totally fine (albeit a little crowded) at this point!
The other plants didn’t fare so well either.  The squash I purchase as a starter also fell victim to the fuzz mold, though it did bear one tiny squash (which I never picked and ate because I was hoping it would continue to grow.  It didn’t.  It died).  The tomato vines withered, though I can’t tell if they are actually worse than they were before I got involved, or if it’s just more noticeable now that the vines are on display instead of hanging over the edge of the pot. The lemon tree seems to be doing ok, and the garden center lady at OSH said I shouldn’t have to re-plant it until next season (which is also when it will supposedly bear fruit). 

I don’t know why I’ve failed so heartily at this.  I always thought I was a good gardener, though I’m not sure where this confidence came from, as I’ve never actually had a garden of my own.  Perhaps it’s because as a child, I spent so many happy weekend days at the local nursery.  We would look at the model train set, wander through the beautiful, fragrant rows of flowers, take solace in the misty greenhouse on hot days, and of course, eat salty popcorn – they had one of those awesome vintage-y popcorn machines, and the popcorn was free (this was beyond thrilling to me as a kid).  We would usually go home with a flat or two of flowers and spend a few hours planting them in the yard.  I loved this weekend activity, and because of this, I suppose I just naively thought I had a green thumb.  Alas.

Perhaps growing food is different from growing flowers, and perhaps this spring, I’ll try my hand at flowers instead.  For now, I welcome any advice or tips you might have for my struggling “garden”.  Here are a ton of pictures.

zucchini plant. overcrowded?
you can see hints of the fuzzy mildew stuff.

sad, droopy leaves

but they totally perk right back up!
sad fuzzy mold on my squash starter. though it did grow a bit.

tiniest squash ever.


so so sad.

womp womp womp


  1. It is all about the soil. You need really good, organic soil composed of a variety of cow manure, compost material, and more. I am sending you my Victory Garden info. Help is on the way! Meanwhile:,, (Feb 19, Successful Small Space Gardening, $20)
    Education is the best way to grow a garden. xoxo

  2. I agree with Amy about the soil--the way the leaves got that droopy during the day means the soil wasn't retaining fluid at all, probably because it didn't have any poop in it. All the stress of droop-perk-droop-perk every day is exhausting--plus, without a ready reserve of water in the hottest part of the day (when you're typically at work) the core temperature of the plant itself rises, causing cell damage and reducing the likelihood the plant will produce female flowers. (Like how oysters don't turn female until they're a certain size in a certain temperature, which they don't reach unless there's plenty of food and flowing water. Moreover, if conditions are poor, female oysters can turn back into males, because it requires less effort and calories to be a boy-ster.)

    Zucchini is picky--I had terrible results in pots, but they went nuts in the ground, and were actually flowering and fruiting until the first snowfall (which zapped them instantly. I don't think they suffered.) Mine were susceptible to mildew, and the ones in pots never fought it off and were unhappy. The ones in the ground got partial sun and could slouch over and trail along the surface of the soil freely, which I think they liked. They're a funny plant--they grow more and more leaves out of their core as the lower leaves die off, and they seem to gradually scoot away. But they certainly do need space. The leaves on my healthy plants got Huge. Like, bigger than both my hands together with my fingers splayed out. I know you may have a smaller variety, but the ones in pots had much smaller, spindlier leaves even when they were comparably healthy. 2 healthy plants took up about 5 cubic feet of garden.

    Tomatoes. One word: fungicide. If the stems were turning black in patches, or the leaves were suddenly dying, it may have been Blight. Tomatoes, Potatoes, and several other members of their family are susceptible to it, and it wiped me out in the space of three days. Heavy rain accompanied by strong winds will blow it in out of nowhere and totally wipe out your crop unless you respray fungicide every time. They're also incredibly thirsty plants, so if they had the same soil as the zucchini, they'd have the same stress. Sad!

    I'm no master when it comes to establishing good soil or rescuing it, but I've come to appreciate when it goes bad. I think that and more space will help. Make sure to thin your crops--a 9" pot should only host 1 zucchini, and try to avoid direct sunlight for more than a couple hours a day.