Things All New Vegetable Gardeners Need to Know

Do you have garden envy? Do you think seasoned gardeners have perfect looking gardens every year? Think again!

Thanks to my daughter-in-law, Lauren, I’ve become aware of so many things novice gardeners are unaware of. Each year brings different weather patterns and new garden challenges, but some perceived challenges sometimes just need a different perspective.

  1. Even professional gardeners grow odd looking tomatoes.

My daughter-in-law sent me these photos wanting to know why her tomatoes were growing together and not separate. And why weren’t they turning red?

My first thought was, why not leave it on the vine and see what happens? But legitimate questions deserve answers and she honestly wanted to know if she was doing something wrong so she could change her practices.

Larger varieties of tomatoes are more likely to expand unevenly. The scars on the bottom of the tomato could be catfacing which often happens when planting tomatoes too early.

I showed these photos to the Home & Garden Information Center (HGIC) Director and Extension Specialist Jon Traunfeld. He responded with this photo showing that the same thing occurred in his in-ground garden. The difference is that it remained on the vine until it was ripe. And his garden gets a lot of sun!

ripe tomato with catfacing symptom
Catfacing symptom on tomato

Keep in mind that the vegetables you see for sale in supermarkets are like runway models, not typical of what you’ll find in the real world. Homegrown produce doesn’t have to look ‘perfect’ to be perfectly good!

  1. Container gardens are great, but they can have their own challenges.

Once you see a tomato that looks like this it is too late to correct for that tomato.

blossom end rot of tomato
Blossom end rot is a nutritional problem, not a disease

Blossom end rot is a nutritional problem. It is not a disease. It can affect tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and other fruits. The cell walls of enlarging fruit need calcium for support. Most soilless potting mixes don’t contain calcium. But, even if calcium is available for the roots, water must be available consistently for the calcium to reach the developing fruit. Smaller cherry-type tomatoes typically don’t have this problem. Remove damaged tomatoes since they won’t recover. The unaffected part of the green tomato can still be used for cooking. Try fried green tomatoes for a Southern treat!

        Prevent blossom end rot

  • Mix in a handful of ground limestone with the soil in the planting hole prior to transplanting seedlings.
  • Keep well watered. Mature plants may need 2-3 gallons of water per week. This can be tricky in containers!
  • Mulch the soil – even in containers – to keep the soil moist.
  1. Not all odd things in the garden are a problem.

White bumps on the stem of a tomato plant is not a sign of an alien invasion.

adventitious roots on tomato
Adventitious roots on tomato

This is normal on some types of tomatoes and often on older rosemary plants. They are adventitious roots. If the stem came in contact with the soil the roots would grow like normal roots.

  1.  Resist the urge to plant containers too full.

Even seasoned gardeners are tempted to overplant containers in the frenzy of spring planting.

If you have limited space, containers are an obvious option for vegetables and ornamentals. But that doesn’t mean that you can throw any plant in a container and expect it to thrive without some TLC from you! Do your research to see what plants are best for containers and do well with the amount of sun you have. Most summer vegetables need a minimum of 6 hours of full sun every day for optimum growth. A hot deck or patio may cause water to evaporate quickly, requiring more frequent watering.

Don’t try to fill up all of the soil surface of a container with plants, especially if you expect them to produce a lot of fruit. Those babies will grow and fill out the container if you provide them with what they need – space, sun, fertilizer, and water. This applies to edible and ornamental plants.

crowded plants in a vegetable garden

The tomatoes and beans in this container are battling it out for sunlight and nutrients. The tomatoes are stretching up to try to reach for more sunlight. The beans should be in their own container. Both plants would be happier with more light.

Yes, plants can make some of their own food but they need sun, nutrients, and water for that to happen! And since they can’t move on their own, you have to make sure they get what they require.

If you don’t have enough sun for vegetables, there are a lot of shade loving plants just waiting for you!

  1. Not all plants can survive the entire season in the ground or in containers.

Lauren wanted to know what happened to the lettuce planted in her salad table. She said the leaves looked burned.

A salad table is wonderful for growing shallow-rooted crops like lettuce. But a gorgeous salad table in the spring can quickly go from this…

salad table

…to this in the heat of summer.

dead lettuce and weeds

Lettuce is a cool season crop. Even if ample nutrients and water are supplied, when the extreme summer heat arrives, lettuce will quickly send up flowers and go to seed! Even if you pinch off the flowers the taste of the leaves becomes bitter. Add those worn out plants to the compost pile and start over in late summer.

Luckily, there are not one but two opportunities for you to successfully grow cool season crops in Maryland.


Vegetable Planting Calendar for Central Maryland 


Whatever you do, don’t give up! Seasoned gardeners have epic gardening failures too! Each year is different. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and know that professional help is close at hand. Send your questions to Ask an Expert for free advice from the pros. Enjoy whatever you plant and consider the challenges a learning experience. 

Thanks to Lauren Malloy for the inspiration and the photos! Keep the questions coming.

By Ria Malloy, Program Coordinator, Home & Garden Information Center

2 thoughts on “Things All New Vegetable Gardeners Need to Know

  1. george lambert August 31, 2018 / 5:32 pm

    Glad you mentioned using undamaged part of tomatoes, but besides fried green tomatoes, consider the healthy alternative of cooking on grill, either with or without brushing with oil. Slices of about 1/2″ will be sturdy enough for the green tomato to remain intact as cooks. Unripe tomatoes have some sweetness but also some tartness, which when cooked melds into a flavor that rivals their vine ripened siblings.

    • george lambert August 31, 2018 / 5:47 pm

      you have created an awful and confusing form. i clicked on the option given to “confirm follow” which should have been enough, but it took be to your pg that showed “unsubscribe” across from maryland grows, so i clicked to change it to “subscribe” assuming then i would see a confirm or accept click, but instead a new pg stating i had unsubscribed.

      so pls correct my info and change your format so is understandable.

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