Garden Detective

Veggie garden woes may be due to soil

Experts tackle readers’ garden questions.

Q: I hope you can help me with a problem with my vegetable garden. Last summer, my garden produced very poorly. My corn crop barely produced a half-dozen edible ears, and the second planting did not even come up. The tomatoes were small and not very tasty. The zucchini, which usually grows like crazy, only produced a few squash. Only the radishes grew well.

My daughter and granddaughter who live in Washington tell me I need to replace my topsoil. (They) gave me a list of amendments and fertilizers to use, but I live in the hot Sacramento Valley and need advice from a local expert. I would appreciate any help you can give me.

John Posehn, North Highlands

Master gardener Wendy Wilson responds: Many conditions can affect vegetable growth, such as fluctuations in temperature, over- or under-watering, and a variety of garden pests.

Corn and tomatoes are both heavy feeders, and Sacramento soil in general needs added nitrogen, both before planting your garden and again when the plants are 3 to 4 inches high.

It’s easy to check your own soil for deficiencies with a soil test kit, sold at most home and garden stores. These kits are relatively inexpensive and quick ways to check for nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and pH levels.

Amending your soil can be done with organic or synthetic fertilizers. The organic options, such as compost, have the advantage of being less caustic and also have a slower release time, thus providing nutrients to plants over an extended period. You may also want to plant a cover crop, known as green manure, in the fall or spring, to increase soil nitrogen.

For further information, visit the master gardeners’ website ( where you can find general vegetable garden information, as well as information on growing specific vegetables.

Editor’s note: See the master gardeners’ own vegetable garden during Open Garden Day, March 12, at the Fair Oaks Horticulture Center in Fair Oaks Park.

Wendy Wilson is a Sacramento County master gardener.

Garden questions?

Questions are answered by master gardeners at the UC Cooperative Extension services in Sacramento and Placer counties. Send questions to Garden Detective, P.O. Box 15779, Sacramento, CA 95852. Send email to h& Please put “Garden Detective” in the subject field and include your postal address. To contact UC Extension directly, call:

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