Pests, diseases and unpredictable environmental events can cause damage on vegetable plants. Injured plants may become weak and less productive, reducing the available harvest. To minimize harm, you can identify the source of the damage and take the steps necessary to protect your plants.
Insects are the main source of vegetable plant damage. Misshapen and mushy fruits, skeletonized or yellowed leaves and general plant decline can often be traced to insect damage. This includes curled and yellowed leaves (aphids), skeletonized and hole-ridden leaves (beetles), interior fruit damage (codling moths or maggots), misshapen root crops (weevils and nematodes) and damage at a plants base (cutworms).
Mammal and Bird Damage
Deer, rabbits, gophers and birds are attracted to garden crops. Rabbits tend to focus their efforts on lettuce and carrots. Deer will sample almost anything in the garden and they can topple, trample and strip plants in their quest for food. Bird damage is usually confined to ripening fruit, stealing it just before prime picking time. Gophers and moles can dig tunnels through your beds, disturbing and sometimes toppling plants.
An unexpected frost or freeze can damage vegetable plants. Cold night temperatures in early spring can kill tender seedlings so it is important to set plants out according to your local United State Department of Agriculture hardiness chart. Protect plants during light frosts with a floating row cover, lightweight sheets or blankets or cardboard boxes. Remove coverings when temperatures moderate.
Hail and wind can damage plants. Hail can develop suddenly and cause damage that resembles insect or animal damage; torn leaves and broken branches can appear after a storm. Protect vegetables from wind injury by staking taller plants. Simple wooden stakes, cages and trellises keep fruit off the ground and stabilize plants during wind storms.
Scabs, blights and rots can look as unpleasant as they sound. The fruit will be misshapen and dark spots will appear on the fruit and leaves. Blights can attack a variety of fruits and vegetables, causing severe damage to leaves, blossoms and branches. The entire plant can die. Some rots occur at the root of plants, causing rapid decline. Stems turn black at the base, wilt and die. Blossom rot affects tomatoes, melons, peppers and cucumbers. It causes soft brown spots on the base of the fruits. It is caused by a calcium deficiency in the soil and is worsened by uneven watering.
Sometimes human error is the cause of poor growth and plant damage. When selecting vegetables for your garden, be aware of their specific needs, including water, sunlight, nutrients and temperature. Neglect during the hottest months of summer can cause poor fruit and vegetable development. If your garden is located in an area with poor drainage or too much shade, your plants will appear leggy and weak. Cold season crops like peas and spinach will wilt and die during the heat of summer.