Common Problems in the Garden

We here at Halton Food hope you are having a successful growing season. We are all too aware though, that sometimes things don’t go as planned. We have listed eight common problems our readers have encountered in the vegetable garden.

  1. Tomatoes are cracked or split around the top or sides 

Tomatoes can split in concentric circles or in radial lines starting at the stem. To prevent the fruit from splitting ensure the plants receive regular moisture. Excessive water following a period of drought causes the fruit to swell and burst. Choose crack resistant varieties (beefsteak tend to more prone than other varieties). If the plants have dried out, slowly increase the amount of water they receive over a period of a few days, rather than soaking the soil all at once. Excessive nutrients can also cause cracking. Try compost to gradually replenish the nutrients in the soil, instead of the quick fix of chemical fertilizers.  

Edible? Yes, but cut off the cracked end at the top. Avoid eating tomatoes with mold. 

Solution: Consistent watering 

2. Leaves on tomato plant are curling

There are a few reasons why the leaves on a tomato plant curl. One is herbicide damage; tomatoes tend to be sensitive to herbicides (including herbicides used for lawn care). Another is infection from a plant virusA viral infection will present itself as irregular twisting and curling of the leaves. On the other hand, iyou have noticed the older, bottom leaves start to curl up with the leaflets curling inward, it is possibly the plant’s reaction to environmental stress. High temperatures combined with a lack of moisture often result in the leaves curling. It is a defense mechanism by the plant to reduce water loss. Unfortunately, once the leaves curl, they never uncurl, even with regular watering. The good news is that the fruit should not be affected, unless the plant is severely neglected.  

Edible? Yes.  

Solution: Consistent watering 

3. Carrots are thin and small 

There are few things more frustrating than waiting all summer to harvest your carrots only to find out they are thin and small. And no, you cannot replant them once they have been picked. A common reason for skinny carrots is neglecting to thin the plants in the first few weeks of growth. If the seeds are sowed liberally, some baby carrots should be removed a few weeks after sowing to allow the remaining carrots to reach full size. This can be done multiple times in the season if needed.  

Edible? Yes, carrots are edible at any stage. 

Solution: Thin carrots a few weeks after sowing 

4. Animal damage

Unless you plan to sit by your garden morning, noon and night, animals will try to eat some of the wonderful vegetables you have been growing at some point. The main suspects are raccoons, mice, voles, rabbits, chipmunks, and squirrels. Rather than having an epic battle, some gardeners grow extra, knowing their harvest will be shared with the wildlife. Fences work, but remember to use fine mesh wire fencing (mice can fit through a hole the size of a dime) and dig down 2030 cm. Over the past growing seasons, I have tried chilli powder, rubber snakes, and dog hair with some degree of success. Tell us what works for you –  

 Edible? No, discard any vegetables with visible claw or bite marks  

Solutions: Fences, chilli powder, dog hair, coyotes… 

5. No sprouts on Brussels sprouts 

Have you ever tried to grow Brussels sprouts but then found no spouts worth picking? Or at all? This is likely due to a lack of nitrogen in the soil. Brussels sprouts are heavy feeders – they need a lot of nutrients to grow. Make sure the soil has plenty of nutrients by adding compost before you plant Brussels sprouts next season. Heavily worked soil produces loose sprouts, so be sure to use the no dig method of vegetable gardening (simply add compost in the fall and early spring without turning it into the soil).  

Edible? Yes, but really small. 

Solution: Ensure soil is rich in nutrients before planting 

6. Cat-facing

This abiotic disease is believed to occur when the developing flowers are subjected to temperatures below 16° C and incomplete fertilization occurs (remember those 6° C nights in June?). Heirloom beefsteak tomatoes are more susceptible to having these deformities, which include scarring and holes at the blossom end. Excessive pruning may also contribute to catfacing in tomatoes.  

Edible? Yes, but cut off the scarred end.  

Solution: Make sure plants are properly hardened off before transplanting outside. Plant after the last frost date in your area, and protect plants with cloches or row covers on cooler nights.  

7. Brown spots on leaves

Tomatoes suffer from a myriad of diseases. Brown spots on the leaves could be anything from blight to leaf spot to Septoria leaf spot to any number of viruses. The picture above may be leaf spot or Septoria leaf spot. Let’s compare the two: 

Leaf spot: caused by the bacterium Xanthomonas vesicatoriaNumerous small, irregular shaped spots occur on the leaves. The spot may have a yellow halo. The fruit is affected, but only green tomatoes, not red.  

Septoria leaf spot: caused by the fungus Septoria lycopersiciMany circular spots with dark borders will appear on the leaves lowest to the ground. The center of the spot will be beige. The fruit is not affected. Septoria leaf spot tends to occur when the humidity is high.  

Edible? Yes, if the plant can produce mature fruit. 

Solution:  Both are difficult to control once established. Avoid overhead watering (water the roots, not the leaves), and do not touch the wet leaves. Use a copper fungicide to control, but not eradicate, either disease. Allow air circulation between plants. Choose disease resistant plants and practice crop rotation. 

8. Blossom end rot

Blossom end rot is usually caused by a calcium deficiency in the tissues of the tomatoes. It can also occur on peppers, squash and eggplants. The bottom of the tomato becomes dark, sunken and leathery, eventually rotting. The problem is due to a lack of calcium uptake by the plant. Contrary to popular belief, putting eggshells in your soil or spraying with milk will not help. Inconsistent watering is the biggest culprit. If the tiny root hairs dry out and die, the plant cannot adequately uptake nutrients, like calcium. 

Edible? Yes, but cut off the rotten end and use for fresh eating only. Do not use for preserving.  

Solution: Add plenty of compost to the garden before the growing season. 

Question? Please email us at  

Contributed by Helen Stephenson, Oakville Community Garden Coordinator 



Clemson Cooperative Extension. 2020. Tomato Diseases and Disorders. Clemson University. [Online]. Available: [24, Aug. 2020]. 

Grant, Amy. Catfacing Fruit Deformity: Learn about Catfacing on Tomatoes. Gardening Know How. [Online]. Available: [23, Aug, 2020]. 

Michigan State University. 2013. Septoria leaf spot on tomatoes: More ways to prevent spots before your eyes. [Online]. Available: [24, Aug. 2020]. 

University of Missouri. 2019. Tomato Leaf Curl. [Online]. Available [24, Aug. 2020]. 


Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest
Share on email